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Suicide response and postvention guidelines

These guidelines help staff support their school community as they respond to a student’s traumatic death. The student’s death might be a suspected suicide. Be careful about how you refer to the student’s death.

When talking to families and students say ‘traumatic death’. Do not use the term ‘suicide’.

Who these guidelines are for

The site leader is responsible for all actions. Anyone at your school can read these guidelines. If we say ‘you’ or ‘your’, we mean the school’s site leader. Any actions must be delegated and guided by the site leader.

Any school can use the guidelines. When we say ‘school’ it includes high school, primary school and preschool.

If we say ‘student’, we mean any child or young person enrolled at an education site.

How to use these guidelines

If you have not used this information before, you can find out how to use the guidelines.

Postvention checklist

This website explains postvention in detail, but you can use this checklist to quickly see what you need to do.

Immediate response

On-site safety

  • The site leader must make sure everyone is safe, if on-site. For example, first aid, ambulance, police, quarantine areas or substances, on-site psychological support for staff.
  • If your school’s emergency response team has a document prepared for this event, use it.
  • Support witnesses.

Check the facts

  • If not site-based, find out the facts and circumstances as far as possible.
  • Do not ignore rumours—look into them straight away.
  • Confirm facts with your sector office. If you cannot do this, check with the family or police.

Cultural or religious practices

  • Find out if there are any cultural or religious practices you need to follow. For example, whether to use the deceased student’s name.

Safe people and places

  • Make sure affected students, parents, carers and staff are not left alone. Set up a culturally safe place for them to cope with their grief.

First 24 hours

Inform and contact

  • Contact CAMHS and a relevant mental health professional. For example, the local headspace centre or SWISS. Independent schools are advised to contact headspace first.
  • Contact the bereaved family.
  • If you need a translator use a professional. Try not to rely on family or neighbours to translate at this emotional time.
  • Seek family consent before you act.

Specific student needs

  • Think about your student’s specific cultural or religious needs.
  • Respect the wishes of the student’s family and community.
  • If the deceased student is Aboriginal, let the department’s Aboriginal Education team know. All sectors can email education.aboriginalservices@sa.gov.au – they can give culturally appropriate support.
  • Talk with local Aboriginal education staff, if available and appropriate.
  • Identify and plan support for vulnerable students. Think about school-aged family members too.

Let staff know

  • Inform staff. Do this in person if possible.
  • Do not describe the details of how the student died.
  • Make sure you also inform support staff and non-teaching staff. For example, coaches, bus drivers, music tutors.

Support your staff

  • Support your staff.
  • Government schools only – call Employee Psychological Services on 8226 0744.

Inform and support students

  • Set up a support room in the school. Think about cultural safety for your students.
  • Inform students in small groups. Do not use a whole school assembly.
  • Offer Aboriginal students a chance to come together in a safe space.
  • If any siblings are at another school, let their school know.

Let the community know

Monitor people and media

  • Monitor student wellbeing.
  • Keep a check on unexplained student absences.
  • Contact your sector’s or school’s media liaison advisor. Refer all media enquiries to them.
  • Keep a check on social media.
  • Keep a check on and support your school’s emergency response team.

Days 2 and 3

Routines

  • Restore school to regular routine.

Funerals and ceremonies

  • Think about your school’s presence at the family’s funeral.
  • Seek advice if the deceased student is from a culturally and linguistically diverse community (CALD). Dedicated community liaison officers are available for schools with:
    • the Department for Education 
    • Catholic Education SA.
  • If the deceased student is Aboriginal, contact an Elder or community member. Ask them if a cultural ceremony is needed at the school.

Keep staff up-to-date

  • Let staff know about all relevant actions. Seek their feedback and observations in debriefs. These should happen regularly over the first few days.

Keep checking on students and staff

  • Keep a check on students. Monitor vulnerable students. Refer to a mental health professional for support and assessment.
  • Keep a check on staff wellbeing, including Aboriginal staff.
  • Suggest and approve leave for staff if they need it for community obligations.

Keep families informed

  • Keep parents, carers and community informed. Let them know about any changes to routine and available support.

Student belongings

  • Protect the deceased student’s belongings for the police and family.

Monitor, communicate, document

  • Keep a check on communications that go to the school community.
  • Remember any automatic notifications — remove the bereaved family from these.
  • Continue to document all actions.
  • Continue to keep a check on social media.

First month

  • Keep a check on student wellbeing.
  • Review staff wellbeing. 
  • Plan for relevant school events. For example, year book photographs or award nights. You might need to remove references to the deceased student, including their name and images.
  • Hold a critical incident review.
  • Continue to document all actions.

Later

  • Continue to support and check on student and staff behaviour.
  • Keep parents, carers, staff and students informed.
  • Plan for anniversaries, birthdays and other significant events.
  • Act on recommendations from the critical incident review.
  • Include a postvention plan when inducting new staff.

Tools: messages, scripts and letters

Messages to inform other site leaders

Talking to students and staff

Letters and information for parents and carers