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Supporting children and students with self-harm or suicidal thoughts

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This page outlines how education staff, care services, parents, guardians, and health professionals work together to manage a child or student with self-harm and suicidal thoughts in education and care settings.

About self-harm and suicidal thoughts

Self-harm is a deliberate act of self-inflicted injury intended to cause physical pain. It’s used as a means of managing difficult emotions, or as a way of communicating distress to others. Self-harm is different from suicidal behaviour, but some people who self-harm are also suicidal or can become suicidal. 

Suicidal thoughts refers to thoughts that life isn’t worth living. Suicidal thoughts do not always lead to suicide or attempted suicide, but should always be taken seriously.

Health support plans and agreements

If the child or student has self-harm or suicidal thoughts, the education or care service should refer to health support planning for children and students in education and care settings to ensure that the appropriate plans and agreements are in place. This is in addition to the self-harm or suicidal-thought specific plans and agreements listed on this page. 

Emergency care and first aid procedures

Mental Health First Aid Australia offers a range of mental health first aid guidelines for developing mental disorders and mental health crisis situations. This includes:

Site support and safety plan 

A site support and safety plan (staff login required) must be completed by education or care staff, in consultation with the student or child, their parent or legal guardian and any mental health professional where a child or young person has attempted suicide or disclosed suicidal thoughts or self-harms.

Duty of care

Education and care staff must:

  • take reasonable steps to protect children and students from a foreseeable risk of injury
  • pass on any concerns to parents or guardians if they become aware of children and young people who are self-harming or expressing thoughts of suicide.

Social Work Incident Support Service (SWISS)

Education and care service leaders must contact the Social Work Incident Support Service (SWISS) team and their education director as soon as they are aware of a suicide death.

SWISS can also support education and care services to respond to and support children and students who are self-harming, experiencing suicidal ideation or have attempted suicide.

Wellness questionnaire for children and teachers

The wellness, stress and distress questionnaire – HSP426 (XLSX 264KB) is an emotional and behavioural questionnaire to capture the perspective of children and students, and their teachers.

The 25 items in the questionnaire comprise 5 scales of 5 items each, covering:

  • emotional symptoms
  • conduct problems 
  • hyperactivity or inattention 
  • peer relationships problem 
  • prosocial behaviour.

The questionnaire can be used for various purposes, including clinical assessment, evaluation of outcomes, research and screening. 

Training and education for education and care staff 

Children and young people who self-harm or experience suicidal thoughts may have low levels of interoception, which means they are unable to understand or connect with their bodies in ways that would enable them to self-regulate. It is important teach interoception to help children and young people develop skills in this area. 

Learn more about interoception and how it can be applied in the classroom including:

  • benefits of teaching interoception 
  • interoception tools and resources
  • models of interoception in the classroom.

How parents and caregivers can help

Parents or guardians must:

  • notify the school, preschool or care service if their child is experiencing self-harm or suicidal thoughts
  • complete health care plans and agreements with their health care professionals and provide them to the school, preschool or care service
  • provide required medication to the school, preschool or care service.

How health professionals can help

Health professionals support schools, preschools, care services and families by helping to develop the care plan and any supporting medication and care agreements.

Disability advice and research

Phone: 8226 0515
Email: education.health [at] sa.gov.au