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How to set up a support room

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A support room is a safe space set up by your school’s emergency response team after a student’s death. It is a place students can go to receive support and have some quiet time to reflect.

Also use a separate culturally appropriate space for any Aboriginal students. This is so community and family can gather. This lets Aboriginal people feel culturally safe. It allows them to express their grief without being judged.

Support rooms are:

  • on the school site
  • open in school hours only
  • a safe, supervised location
  • somewhere students can express grief.

While there, each student’s needs and expressions of grief must be:

  • responded to
  • monitored.

Set up these support rooms 24 hours after finding out about the student’s death

The space

If possible, these rooms should:

  • be set up in a small or medium-sized room
  • be private and easy to access
  • be appropriate for local cultures or religions
  • protect from noise, bright lights and high student traffic.

What to include

You could have:

  • water
  • coffee and tea, depending on student ages
  • tissues
  • cushions and bean bags
  • pens, paper and drawing materials
  • reflection pad
  • games and playing cards
  • information about appropriate support services
  • a sign-in sheet for students.

Why use a sign-in sheet

This sheet lets your staff check against the attendance role. It’s a way to identify any students who might need extra support.

Room supervision

At all times, staff should supervise these rooms.

To prepare for the role it can be helpful for staff to:

The most appropriate room supervisors have the skills to support student wellbeing. It’s vital they can confidently manage a group of distressed students.

Make sure room supervisors can easily communicate with your school’s emergency response team.

Role clarity

Talk about and define the role of each staff member who supervises the room. For example, someone could:

  • monitor the sign-in sheet
  • be free to offer support as needed
  • be the connection between the room and the rest of the school.

The room’s coordinator should know the school’s student wellbeing processes.

Do not use wellbeing staff as room coordinators

Wellbeing staff should not coordinate the room. This includes:

  • school counsellors
  • student wellbeing leaders
  • wellbeing coordinators
  • student support service officers.

Keep these staff free to support individual students. They need to do this in a safe space.

Access to the room

Let distressed students access the room for several days after the incident. Monitor student movement to and from the room. Make sure students:

  • return to class
  • are collected by parents or carers, or
  • return to the company of supportive friends at recess or lunch.

How supervising staff can help

Students might want to talk about the traumatic death. As you respond, think about the age and development of each student.

Talk with students

  • Listen.
  • Acknowledge what happened.
  • Let students know you care.

'I’m here for you if you want to talk.'

  • Acknowledge their feelings – allow expressions of anger, guilt and blame.
  • Accept their behaviour – crying, being quiet, laughing.
  • Be patient. A student might need to tell their story more than once. Do not interrupt or judge. This helps them make sense of and come to terms with what happened.

Talk to the student about what support is available if they feel overwhelmed. Let them know:

  • who they can talk to
  • places they can go to
  • resources they can use.

If a student doesn’t want to talk

It’s helpful for students to know there’s someone who’s aware of their situation and cares.

Allow students to sit and co-regulate. This can mean just sitting quietly and breathing. They might like to do some mindfulness colouring-in, play with fidget toys or sit in silence alongside other students.

You can help students honour their loss by doing something that’s meaningful to them.

If students are comfortable with the idea, encourage them to express their feelings. They could draw, or write a diary, letter or song. It might take a couple of days for them to be ready to do this kind of activity.

Helpful ways to behave and respond

What to do

  • Be truthful, honest and aware of your limits.
  • Acknowledge when you don't understand or know how to react to what a student is going through.

Language and behaviour to avoid

  • Saying 'committed suicide’ when referring to the traumatic death.
  • Using clichés or platitudes to comfort.
    For example, don’t say ‘you're so strong’, ‘time will heal’ or ‘they’re at peace now’.
  • Expressing judgement of the person who died.
    People need to come to their own understanding about what happened.

Don’t offer overly simple reasons for the student’s death. A traumatic death is very complex and there are usually many contributing factors.