Critical incident responses - professional and personal In Focus webinar, presented by Maria Heenan and Cris Zollo on 3 May 2022.
Hi everyone and welcome to our In Focus Be You webinar, Critical incident responses – professional and personal. My name is Maria and I'm joined today by Cris and we're both Be You early learning Consultants and we'll be presenting this webinar today.
So just before we get started, I'd like to invite you to stay online after the webinar and join in our conversation about critical incident responses.
So some background information about Be You. Be You is a national initiative, led by Beyond Blue in partnership with Early Childhood Australia and headspace and it's funded by the Australian Government. Be You aims to transform Australia's approach to supporting children and young people's mental health in early learning services and schools.
The vision of Be You is that every learning community is positive, inclusive and resilient and is a place where every child and young person, educator, and family can achieve their best possible mental health. Being part of the Be You Community means that your early learning service or your school or school aged care service has access to a Be You consultant like Cris or myself to assist you in how you can engage with Be You including your planning and your actions.
If your school or service isn't already registered and participating with Be You, welcome. It's great that you've joined us today there is some information in the chat about how you can register if you're interested in following up.
I'm just going to hand over to Cris now.
Naa marni from Tarntanya, Adelaide on Kaurna Yarta, the Adelaide plains where I live.
Early Childhood Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land and community. We pay our respects to them and their cultures and to Elders both past and present.
I'd also like to pay my respects to Kaurna Elders past and present and acknowledge their sovereignty has not been ceded. Throughout today's webinar we invite you to consider how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives can inform educator, child, and family will being. Maria.
Thanks Cris. So we're here today to consider, learn and reflect on early childhood mental health and wellbeing and we're going to be talking about critical incidents and the impact these can have both personally and professionally.
The information that we share in the session today is based on our Be You professional learning domain, Responding Together. So if you're interested in following up and learning some more you can have a look at that professional learning domain.
On this slide are the Always Be You ways for today, so remember that looking after yourself is really important during any conversations about mental health.
A sense of safety can support everyone's mental health so it's important that in this space you feel safe.
You share only what you're comfortable sharing in our polls and in the chat and that we all maintain confidentiality with anything you add in the chat or that you hear from others.
We'll be posting helplines throughout the webinar so please access these if that's something that you need to do. Sometimes, when we have these conversations feelings or thoughts can emerge which can be really challenging.
Please be aware of this, if this is the case for you and have a plan about seeking support if you're wanting to and you might like to take a moment now to think about your own wellbeing strategy that you could put in place later on in the day. For me, after all these talking I'll probably be heading out for a long quiet walk or I might do some yoga at other times I might prefer to connect with friends or family.
So take a moment to think about what works for you and remember to take care of yourself as we talk about mental health today.
Thank you. Just before we get started we're going to share some tech tips for you just to make sure you can maximize your learning today.
So on screen, you can see three panels there and they're going to support you with some information. The first is how to select speaker view. That actually might provide a better experience, because you will have the speaker on screen alongside the slides, rather than both the panellists on screen.
If you need some support today, you can visit the Zoom help centre, there's information in the chat about that. You can ask questions via the question box so Q&A and you can share comments via the chat and you can see some panels on the slide there that can support you to identify those functions.
We hope to respond to as many questions and queries as possible during today's session, and we'll be able to continue the conversation later on, as well.
We're also going to invite you to participate in polls. The polls will be launched throughout the session and we'll let you know when they're coming up. Participating in the polls is easy, the poll will appear on your screen automatically and it's just a matter of selecting your preferred answer and then submitting it.
Just going to acknowledge the team in the background we've got Steph, Nathan, Dino, Paola, Alicia, and Maria Curtis supporting us today, thank you.
And now just about resources or references we use in the content, they will be posted in the chat for you today, if you wish to copy them. They'll also be available in a downloadable handout that will be posted in the chat during the webinar.
There's also going to be some reflective questions in the handout, and these are questions that you might like to take to your team to consider together.
All of these resources will also be available with the post-webinar recording.
Attendees will receive an automated email in approximately two days, containing a link for instant access to the recording along with the certificate of attendance and a link to complete a survey.
Non-attendees will also receive an email in coming days, that provides a link to the recording as well.
On May the 10th you'll be invited to join us for a Be You Spotlight that directly builds on this particular webinar today. Registration's being made available only to those who are attending today and the Spotlight will be about recognizing critical incidents and the potential impact in your community.
The link to register for the Spotlight: Responding Together Recognizing and Acknowledging is in the chat so if you're interested, you can register now, if you like.
I'm heading back to Maria now to launch our first poll for today.
Thanks Cris, I just think that spotlight session is a great opportunity to follow up in a couple of weeks after you've had some time to reflect and think about it, and come along to the spotlight session, and so I do encourage people to register.
So we've got our first poll for today, and this is to look at some of the reasons why people have come along today, so that we've got a bit of a knowledge of what's brought people here. So you can take more than one option, if you like, and the first option is that you're here today to update your Critical Incident Management Plan or it might be that you're concerned about your personal response, or to understand more about responding to critical incidents, maybe you always find these webinars to be good value.
Or it might be something else that's not in this list, and then, if that's the case you can pop that in the chat. So take a moment to think about the reasons why you're here and respond to that poll.
There might be a variety of reasons why people have come along today and often it's that we're not sure how we might respond ourselves either professionally or personally. Obviously being better prepared means that we will be able to respond in a better way and our recovery will be improved just by having that level of knowledge about what's going to happen.
Hope that people are able to respond to that poll.
Look. We're getting some results coming up.
Ye, so for a lot of people it's really understanding more about and responding to critical incidents which is so important.
To understand what's going to happen and the impact that we can have in reducing the ongoing effect of critical incidents, both on ourselves and the people around us, and good to see that people always find these webinars good value as well, that's encouraging!
And there will be some information today, that could support you to update your Critical Incident Management Plan as well, so that's another one that's scored a bit more highly in terms of choice.
Yes, for sure. So we are going to look at most of those things in the webinar today we're going to be looking at what is a critical incident and consider the role of early learning services and schools in preparing and responding to these incidents.
We'll also consider the potential impact of critical incidents on children and on ourselves, and we'll look at preparing and planning for critical incidents.
And then consider how we manage our responses for both ourselves and for others, and that will help us in responding to and supporting distressed children, families or team members, implementing a planned response, and providing a responsive learning environment, that will also help support educator wellbeing.
So we're going to have a little bit of a think about our professional practice so we're talking about professional and personal responses to critical incidents.
And as a professional educator there are things that you already do in your everyday practice that are the foundations for responding after a critical incident.
So a key message for me is to think about the fact that you as an educator or an early learning service are already a key protective factor for children and families and that there's things that you already do as part of your quality practice that will support children and their families, following a critical incident.
The difference is about becoming more considered and intentional about these practices. So, to consider that a little bit more we'll take a moment to look at these risk and protective factors for children's mental health, so you can see.
There on one side of the slide we've got risk factors and the risk factors for children's mental health or wellbeing increase the likelihood of mental health issues, developing during childhood and beyond. They might include biological or psychological factors, family or environmental characteristics, and experiences or events that challenge social and emotional wellbeing so that would be where critical incidents fit in.
But on the other side of that we've got our protective factors and these decrease the likelihood of mental health issues and build and maintain resilience, even when those risk factors are present so, for example, the positive connections between family and educators supports children's learning and that helps reduce the impact of negative experiences.
A caring relationship with educators provides a source of support to help children cope with any difficulties that they might experience. So those positive relationships between educators, children and families can provide a source of security, stability and support. Children who are connected, and feel like they belong to their family, in their early childhood services, and their community more broadly are more likely to develop a strong identity, a positive sense of self and strong relationships with others, and these will all support them following a critical incident.
So this is part of an educator’s ongoing practice and it's particularly true following a significant event or critical incident.
So, to consider this a bit further, we're going to take a moment now where Cris and I can slow down with our talking, and let you have a moment to think about the things that your service, or your colleagues, or yourself do. What do you already do to support children that you think you would probably increase, or be more intentional about in response to a critical incident?
So take a moment to think about that if you're with some colleagues or team, you might like to have a quick chat in the room around you and then maybe pop some of those ideas in the chat and we'll be able to explore those thoughts together in a moment.
So one of the things I like to think about is the way educators are able to, what I'll refer to as psychologically hold a child in mind. And that's thinking about an educator who knows a child really well, and is just so in tune with how that child's responding so that the child feels safe with them and the educator becomes then a significant protective factor for that child by providing the safety and that sense of belonging.
And doing that they can have a really positive impact on the child and that person being so in tune and being so aware of the child, will also be the one to notice quickly when the child's displaying any signs of distress, or if they've been challenged in any way.
So those connections provide opportunities to share feelings and problems and that can contribute to the sense of being valued and cared for. For some children an educator might become the main constant in their lives, and so they can really play a crucial role as a support for that, for the child during a critical incident and for their families, as well.
So that's really important Maria, that really, those strong relationships, the connections you've been talking about.
The fact that educators have those strong relationships with children and know them well really supports maintaining and restoring a sense of safety after a critical incident you've already alluded earlier today to the fact that a sense of safety is really significant to positive mental health and wellbeing. We're going to discuss a loss of sense of safety as a characteristic of critical incidents a bit later.
Yes and I can see some ideas coming through in the chat and, as I said, we will have a look at those together in a moment, so some things that we're talking about that you might be able to consider might include providing consistent routine and increasing some of that predictability.
So minimizing any changes, or helping children through transitions, reducing stimulation and providing opportunities for calm quiet spaces and activities.
And we're also going to just take a moment to acknowledge that COVID probably interrupted many of those normal routines, and supporting children to cope with these changes has been really important in the early learning sector over the last bit over two years now.
And so we can continue to support this by letting children know in advance what's going to be happening taking them through those changes as slowly as possible and really listening to their voices and noticing their responses.
So yes just keep popping those things, I can see more responses coming, in the chat, which is terrific.
We'll just move on to the next slide where we can look at the things that educators and learning communities can do and a few different categories.
So thinking about our learning community as a predictive factor, there are four areas: routines, relationships, environment, and play.
So if we think about routines, we're really thinking about creating a safe predictable routine where every child feels that sense of belonging, where they're familiar with the spaces and the people around them and that can be a great protective factor again, when there is that critical incident. Having a familiar face greet them in the morning and remain with them throughout the day as much as possible and having some predictability about that what's going to happen over the course of the day.
Being supported through any transitions are all things that happen in learning communities already, but where you might become a little bit more focused on that and responsive following a critical incident and of course there might also be times when you check "how are these routines supporting the children"? And you might adapt them accordingly, so, for example, to match their level of attentiveness or energy that the children are experiencing or to support a child or children who might be finding a group activity challenging and who'd benefit from a quieter space or a different activity and Cris are you going to talk about relationships?
Yes we've already kind of hinted at that haven't we, how important relationships are so following a disaster or community trauma, relationships are the key to providing children with a sense of security and safety. That sense of security will support them to regulate and return to daily routines.
Relationships can also provide children with a sense of consistency that they might not be able to find at home after a critical incident as well.
Some of the things that you can do to support children's recoveries, by paying some extra attention in your daily interactions with children might include really being focused on those warm greetings when children arrive with their families, reassuring and affirming children, making sure their voices are heard. That means listening really carefully to what they've got to say, so you can do that reassurance and affirming of how they're feeling and reassuring them about things getting better over time. Having that genuine dialogue with children and their families, about their feelings and emotions is really quite important.
So when we're thinking about infants though it's also important to consider your vocal tone, your pitch, the speed and volume and inflection of your voice, using that calm soothing deeper pitched tone with a slower vocal pace is probably fairly important with infants as well. Maria are you going to talk about the environment now?
Yes, so it's something that I think we think about a lot and again we might increase how much thought we give it after a critical incident and so, following a disaster or community trauma children and families start to think about the learning community as a really safe space and that one constant space for them.
So, maintaining this sense of security within the learning community is critical for their recovery and for your own and it allows you to provide timely and appropriate support for children and families to feel comfortable in seeking help.
And so, following a critical incident, you might want to ensure there's increased predictability again in those spaces, that the children and families access, and might also consider that there's opportunities for children to seek different activities in different spaces to suit their needs.
Allowing children, access to a mix of more active or quieter spaces throughout the day can help them regulate their emotions if they begin to feel overwhelmed and that can be really helpful. And it's often helpful to think about providing a space where parents feel welcome to stay at the service, that can also help them in their recovery, and also provide some help seeking advice. So you might be able to refer them on to different services, provide information in that environment, that you know they feel safe to come to and have a chat with the different educators available to them.
Okay, so play's another thing that's a feature of the day, for children as well, this really offers a vital opportunity for children to communicate their thoughts and feelings for what they might not have the words to express exactly how they feeling after a critical incident and it supports them to make meaning of the event as well.
So, providing a variety of play experience is important, such as drawing, painting, storytelling, and sociodramatic play. Retelling experiences of the event through play can help children find a sense of resolution.
It is important to tune into children's play, though, and to support the children if the play becomes distressing, or they seem to get stuck on a particular memory of the event and they can't move forward toward a resolution.
Okay, Maria I think Paola is going to be joining us now is that right?
Hope so, yep.
Hi everybody hello, thanks for having me.
So much great information so far, which is really, really wonderful, and we've had as you've noticed some participants already joining in the conversation via the chat which is great.
I just wanted to pick up on your, I guess the terminology that we use, psychologically holding a child in mind which is so important, reflects really well on the relationship Cris, that you touched on. Really holding that child and being attuned to that, and you just touched on it again Cris in the play - being attuned to the type of play that that child is engaging in, so that's been a real highlight.
I guess when you're thinking about your professional role as an educator, and how quickly you can identify any concerns that you might be able to pick up in behaviours and changes that are happening for families as well. And also, one of our participants actually highlighted that strength based and the authentic partnerships really allow that to, I guess, be nourished and nurtured.
And she made a really lovely comment about accepting families for who they are, with no judgment, so that reflects well as strengthening those relationships as being a real protective factor in your community if there's a need to respond to a critical incident.
And a participant also mentioned using the appropriate language for each stage of age of children, so that becomes really important in again, nurturing those relationships with either the children or the families. And as the educators, and your role within the learning communities, you know best on your diversity of your learning community. So that's really fantastic to be highlighted and just a little reminder to think about who your audience is at that particular moment, and yes absolutely she mentioned to remain calm and confident in yourself and that provides that nurturing, secure, and that sense of security, Cris that you mentioned.
So that's what we've got so far, and I know that I will continue to take up more time, so I'll leave it I'll hand back to you, thank you.
I like that comment, I like the last one, they're all great, with what a participant was saying about remaining calm and confident. And we will be talking in a moment about how to look after yourself, so that you, you are in a position to do that because that's an important part of that process but yes some really great points.
When we think about that combination, I guess, about educator’s knowledge of early childhood development and their knowledge of the particular children they work with. Cris, that's where you get that beautiful combination of being able to notice what's different for that child and whether they're moving forward, or whether they are getting stuck and having some issues as a result of the event so.
I think they’re some really great comments there.
Almost preaching to the converted but that's the position to be in isn't it?
That is a great position. Right, so I probably will join you a little bit later on, and I will hand back to you.
So yes I can just see, Alicia's also popped in the chat, some good reflective questions that you can use with your team.
I was recently talking to a service, who had a really clear approach to supporting children who are entering or re-entering the service, following a critical incident or a family trauma and their approach is to have that primary educator who supports a child and spends time ensuring that that child feels really safe and supported.
And where the focus is on building a secure relationship with that one educator and then really been led by the child. Allowing them to step out of that relationship, and build new relationships with another educator or another child and gradually lead their engagement with the rest of the people at the service, all in the timeline that the child established. But even as an educator, even as a child's moving away from the educator, they continue to just have an eye on that child and check in and see how things are going.
So it is really lovely and those comments, Cris were really great to hear though, weren't they?
Yes they were and that story you've just shared is lovely so that even when the child's actually moving through recovery, the educator becomes an anchor for them, still.
Yes just continuing to provide that safe space, and that's what psychologically holding a child can look like.
And so, this is a good opportunity for everyone, just to take a moment and check in with how you're going. We are always aware that we're talking about critical incidents, and some people may have their own experiences so just checking with how you're feeling and remember, we've got those support contacts in the chat if you feel like that might be something that's helpful for you to access. So we're going to move on now to the next poll Cris.
Yes so we're going to talk about critical incidents and their nature in a minute, but we're going to launch a poll to start with, just to get your thinking on this.
So, which one of the following do you consider to be a critical incident in an early learning service? Natural disasters, bushfires, floods, death of a child, family or staff member, trauma within your local or wider community, vandalism of the service and it's facilities, or something else.
If you do have some other ideas, please pop those in the chat, because we can pick up on them during the conversation after the webinar's over.
One of the other things, Cris that we think about sometimes, is that a child might not immediately have experienced a critical incident or natural disaster. It may be what we refer to as a vicarious impact that they might see something on the news or hear other children or adults talking about something that's happened and that children don't have any context for these events, so they might see images of the war in Ukraine. So they might pick up that there is a war going on and not realise that it's not near here anywhere, and that they are relatively safe.
So it's just really important that we are aware of what's happening for children and what they're seeing and hearing. Maybe having a chat with the parents, if you feel like there is something happening.
Okay. There we go posting poll results now.
Right so we've got nearly everything covered there and it's good to see that people are aware that of the different things that can impact on children so it's really not necessarily a definition of the event itself it's the impact that it has on that, on the child or community around them.
So I think Cris you're going to talk a little bit more about the actual definition
I am. Yes, so according to the World Health Organization critical incidents are events outside the range of our normal experiences they're sudden and unexpected people might experience. And children might experience a loss of control or a perception of a threat to their life and that impacts, the sense of safety as well.
Critical incidents can include elements of both physical and emotional loss as well, and they always have an impact on a group of people, a whole learning community and children and families staff. It depends on what the incident is, where it's happened about whether it's more impactful on some people than on others as well. So that depends on the circumstances. Incidents really become critical when they overwhelm our capacity or the capacity of your learning community to manage the incident really.
Critical incidents that impact the learning community can occur within early learning or school aged care services, or they can occur externally to them as well, so internal critical incidents might include something like vandalism at the service. An external incident might include an incident in the local community, for example, a serious car accident or something of that nature.
I've kind of already said that the network of people who are impacted will vary depending on the nature of the critical incident and whether it directly involves people within the learning community or not.
Exposure to disasters and distressing events via social media, and just media more generally, can also cause children and young people to feel threatened due to a perceived threat. Children aren't always sure where these things are happening: like the war in the Ukraine at the moment. So in these situations, the learning community needs to determine an appropriate level of response, but the key principles are really much the same as we've talked about so far.
Okay, Maria's going to talk about recognizing the impact now for educators.
Yes, so this is where we think about, you know the result of a critical incident or our own responses. So following a critical incident, it's important for your community to come together to support and provide a collaborative response and this can really help minimise the potential negative impact on your own wellbeing and then the wellbeing of children and young people and their families.
So it's likely that you will experience your own feelings in response to a critical incident so it's so important to look after your own wellbeing and access that support if it's required; whether it's inside or external to the service. But there are some ways that you can reduce your own stress and maintain awareness of your own feelings, so you can continue to provide effective support for the children who have experienced a critical incident.
So I really want to emphasise here that taking time to look after yourself is not selfish or indulgent. It means that you will be in a better position to support those around you. So we often hear people refer to things like you can't pour from an empty cup or to fill your own bucket and they can become a little bit like throwaway sentences, but it is so important.
If you're not traveling by yourself, you're not doing yourself any favours and you'll also find it really challenging to be able to provide that sense of safety and security for the children and families that you're working with. And we do know, I mean from the conversations I have with centre managers, directors, coordinators, and educators, that you are often a bit of a buffer for families and children so that's not something that is sustainable. So without looking after yourself that can make things really difficult for you and so taking some time throughout a critical incident and in the month following is so important.
So a couple of things that you can think about putting in place, are maintaining any routines that work for you so eating sleeping are really, really important. I think we're getting more and more research all the time on the importance of looking after our physical health and how that connects to our emotional health or psychological health. So thinking about getting good nutrition, getting a good night's sleep as much as possible and getting some exercise or finding something that works for you. Whether it's really active exercise or something like yoga and you know, just finding those things that really are supportive for you.
And then, knowing who your supports are and spending time with those people so finding the people that are a real source of strength for you, so this might be friends or family or it might be that at someone at work or someone who's been through the same or a similar incident.
And really importantly knowing your limits. So supporting others can be really tough so know when to step back and remember that there isn't any expectation, for you as an educator to suddenly become a mental health professional. So knowing those boundaries can be really important, and we do have some resources on our website around having conversations with families and looking after yourself in that context.
Also debriefing is really important, and but finding a really helpful and positive way to do that, so that it's not going over the event in a negative way but thinking about debriefing and talking about what's happening for you at the moment. That might be informal, again with someone that you seek out at work or it might be a formal part of your recovery process, and so, then in some instances, it might be important to link with support outside of the learning environment as well, so seeking those additional supports.
Cris do you have any specific tips or thoughts about how people can look after themselves.
I think it probably depends, where you're at in terms of the critical incident itself so for example, if the critical incident has just happened, and you have to put the plan in place, just setting a quick check in with yourself. Doing some I call a box breathing for a minute or two just taking some deep breaths making some decisions on the spot as well about who will be doing what. You might have the plan in place but somebody might be particularly affected by the critical incident and the nature of the critical incident.
So if they've been put down in the Critical Incident Management Plan to do a particular role, you might actually just change that then in there, so checking in with yourself first then checking in with your team before you actually start putting that plan into place.
Later on down the track some of the suggestions that you've made are great, making sure that you do have the opportunity to chat with other people to debrief in particular ways.
But the one thing that you did say that I thought was particularly important was knowing your limits. You know, especially if you're in a leadership role that idea that you don't have to carry everybody is really important, I think. You're going to be talking about and noticing the impact of critical incidents on your colleagues now aren't you Maria.
Yes and I was just thinking though about what you're saying about the role of directors. And I really noticed that during COVID that you know, directors and educators having to share information about the new practices and the new policies and with families and with the team about what's going to happen next: how we're going to change and, at the same time, receiving all of the emotions from everybody about that. So people might be frustrated or might be struggling with another change. So it was a lot of the time, the educators and leaders of services were really that buffer between the information and the emotions and having to make sure everyone was travelling all right. And I really did feel like you know, over the last few years that has got to have taken their toll on people and just been exhausting, if nothing else, so yes, those opportunities to look after yourself.
You know, we talked about it all the time and it just must feel like it's impossible to fit it into the day but yes really, really important to do, and then we can also be… sorry Cris you go.
And I was going to say that's really worth considering after the last two years, because I think people think they're okay and they've managed quite well but you're never sure what might come around the corner.
Yes for sure, and I really felt like we sort of started this year with people being quite exhausted so you know, which is not an ideal way to start so yes any opportunities to take some time to look after yourself is important. And then, considering how you can best support the people around you, and that will obviously depend on your relationship with them but also your role in the service. So it might be that it's appropriate to have a casual chat at the end of the day and checking on someone that you're concerned about and just saying something that's really not judgmental but is really supportive… just have noticed that you're maybe not as enthusiastic in your job in the last couple of days, as you have been. Is everything going okay? Is there anything we can do to help? So really just checking in just seeing how things are going.
Or it might be that you suggest that they go and speak to the leadership team if you're not part of that or that they seek some support. And keeping in mind too that those strategies; we've mentioned a few different things that people like to do. But the things that support you other people might not find that supportive. So for me, I like to run and other people look at me like that's the worst thing in the world to do about it. So it might be that you know you like a quiet solo activity and somebody else prefers to get something more social in place where they catch up with friends on the weekend and that's restorative for them, or some people might have hobbies or craft or something that they find doing. Lots of people enjoy gardening so different things for different people.
So it's a matter of asking people what would be helpful for you to do right now, what do you have in your wellbeing plan or have you found other strategies that are effective, rather than suggesting the things that have necessarily been helpful for you.
And there may be times when people need to take time out from work to recover from a mental health issue, following a critical incident. So, even if this doesn't eventuate it can actually be really reassuring to have that plan in place, just in case.
And our Educator Wellbeing Plan includes information on returning to work following leave for mental health reasons, so again we'll pop that in the chat. That resource goes through a whole lot of strategies about noticing what causes you stress and then how you can respond to those stresses and so thinking about what sort of actions you could have in place. Then, if you do need to leave work. what's the plan about returning to work, so that might be a helpful resource for some people to look at.
We're just going to move on now to recognising the impact for children.
So a critical incident can affect children's behaviour and how they feel about themselves and the world around them.
So when a child's impacted by a critical incident, it can affect the whole person: their mind, their body, their spirit, and their relationships with others. So experiencing a critical incident might also impact their learning and behaviour and that's what you're likely to notice first in the service.
So then, children might show signs of distress for a few weeks, but even up to many months after the critical incident, so it's really important to be really observant and then to continue to monitor their emotions and behaviour for several months.
The children's reactions to the incident might be displaced on to other people or events so, for example, a child might have a stronger than normal reaction to a minor disagreements, where you sort of think that's something that that child would previously have coped with just fine. That was you know quite a strong reaction so we might need to just keep our eye on that and see what's happening for that child.
And also keep in mind that not every reaction is related to the critical incident so there's still going to be other things happening in the child's life is going to be days when they just a bit tired or you know something's happened at home that morning. That's where your knowledge as an early childhood educator and your knowledge of the child will support you in continuing to monitor them over the coming weeks and months. So that's really an important part of the process there'll be those ups and downs.
And there may be some children as well who try to hide how they're feeling to protect the adults around them. Or if they're not really sure how those adults are going to respond. So in these instances it's helpful to really tune into those more subtle cues so a child who's withdrawing from activities that they would have previously chosen or a child who's not settling well as they did before, and that might be an opportunity, just to again start to keep an eye and think about what's happening.
And as time passes, after a critical incident, you can continue to support all of the children recognising individual needs and reactions of the children and their behaviours that they might be showing, and then consider any long term needs for children, or if assistance might be required.
And it's important to maintain supports and information and communication with the whole community about what's happening for the children.
Cris is going to show us now a particular Be You resource that we think is really helpful in supporting your ongoing monitoring of children and their behaviour. Thanks Cris.
Thanks Maria this kind of builds on what Maria's already talked about in terms of children's responses your relationship with children will help you notice and respond to changes in how they're presenting.
Children may need some additional response or support after a critical incident, you know if you're noticing changes in the way they play and communicate these changes might also interfere in learning, home life, friendships, and daily routines.
So Maria's given you some broad background about the kinds of things that might be happening for children.
Those common reactions to critical incidents include a range of cognitive, emotional, physical and behavioural responses. The most important things to be looking out for ongoing or worsening difficulty in regulating emotions, significant changes in behaviour over a short period of time, reactions that are inappropriate for the child or the situation, based on your knowledge of that child and any ongoing patterns of distress.
The changes, you might see include avoiding family or friends not getting, along with other children in the way they used to, less engaged in playing and learning opportunities, experiencing feelings of sadness or hopelessness that might persist over time, difficulty in concentrating and paying attention.
Families themselves might come to you and raise concerns about the child and they might be requesting assistance and they might be even distressed about the situation and their child's reaction. So the BETLS tool's a really useful tool that supports you to focus in on what's going on for children, but just before I talk about that a bit more, I just want to focus attention on infants and toddlers for a moment, because their reactions might differ.
Because they remember through their senses. Their responses to critical incidents, depending on the nature of the critical incident might include excessive crying, frozen expressions, sweating and shaking, and for toddlers it might also include non-typical aggressive behaviours such as hitting other children.
While some of these are a normal part of the stress response or grief that children might experience after a critical incident, the other reactions might indicate the child's been really impacted more severely, and that they might need some additional support to avert any developmental and enduring mental health issues or conditions into the future.
The BETLS Observation Tool is a template for gathering and documenting information and observations about a child, with a focus on the behaviours, their emotions, their thoughts, learning, and social relationship.
The tool supports educators, to identify the child's strengths, as well as their concerns so it's really quite supportive in focusing attention on only what you're actually seeing and hearing rather than what you think about a child's behaviours emotions and thoughts. The tool's going to support you to take note of when, where and how often a child is showing a particular behaviour or emotion.
Other details that will be recorded using the tool, include how long the behaviours or emotions occur and noticing what happens before and after the behaviour that you found to be concerning. The other thing that's really important is to have multiple educators take observations over a range of times during the day that will support gaining a range of perspectives. It'll support reflection on the pervasiveness, frequency, persistence, and severity of the behaviour, and hopefully you can draw all of that information together and make some decisions about what you're already doing to support the child and its effectiveness, and whether it's actually time to make a referral for additional support for the child.
Maria? We're going to launch the next poll now?
Yes, I was just thinking before we do that, just worth commenting that we're talking about the BETLS tool in the context of critical incidents, but it's actually a really helpful tool to use anytime when wanting to gather some more data about a child and think about what's happening for that child. And it can be really useful just in framing conversations that you might have as well with the parents so a really great tool to have a look at and use sort of more generally, but particularly in response to something like this.
So yes we're going to look at another poll, and this time we're looking at your status with your Critical Incident Management Plan so let's have a look at what statement you think best describes your service.
So do you have a Critical Incident Management Plan? Maybe I'm not sure if we have a Critical Incident Management Plan, or we regularly review and update our Critical Incident Management Plan.
We ensure everyone is in the team is aware of and familiar with the plan, we have a plan in place and have had to use it, or the last one: we have had a critical incident without an adequate plan.
So just take a moment and have a look at that and while you're doing that I'll tell you another little story about a service that I was speaking with sometime last year, who had used the Be You survey. Which is a survey that gathers information about educators, knowledge, and understanding around mental health, and about the actions their service is taking, and one of the results that they saw in the survey was that the educators didn't know that they had a Critical Incident Management Plan.
So the leadership team was initially a little bit distressed about learning this, because they did have a plan, and they put a lot of time and effort into it. Then they saw that as a really great opportunity for them to not only share the plan with the rest of their team, but also to engage the team in reviewing it and having a lot of input into that. And obviously, updating it and making sure that everybody was aware of the plan itself, where it was located and what was in it so that they were in a much better position following that process. The amount of reflective practice that went into developing that, they felt much more confident, I guess, that they would be able to respond if there was an event in their service.
Polls up, oh they're starting to come up. Just going to say Maria that some people might think they don't have a Critical Incident Management Plan. That's the terminology that we use but, you know even emergency evacuation plans are about dealing with a critical incident such as a fire at the service, where you have to evacuate children.
So let's see what the poll says here.
Yes so we've got quite a scatter of results, so a few people are not sure if they have one or not. Yes, lots of, well, a couple of responses to each of the statements, so, this might actually be an interesting conversation to have for those who can stay online after the webinar.So I'd like to have a chat about people who have had a plan and have had to use it, and find out, you know what's worked and what hasn't. Then you just really hear a little bit more about people's experiences with that Critical Incident Management Plan or whatever terminology you use when you talk about it. Thanks everyone, for responding to that it's great to have the engagement.
So, having a Critical Incident Management Plan is obviously essential, but just as important as we were saying is considering who develops the plan, and how the information is shared with the whole team, so that educators feel aware of it. And that they feel confident in their role, and then how frequently it's practiced and reviewed so you might be practicing aspects of it in terms of drills and things but also reviewing the process.
So a Critical Incident Management Plan should include the names and contact numbers of an emergency response team including the staff, Education Department contacts, the approved providers, and external services.
It should also include actions to take as an immediate response, and then within 24 hours, in the first week, the first month, and then long term and then task allocation under each section of the plan, and ensuring that everybody's aware of their roles.
Also, I think, Cris mentioned earlier, making sure that there's backup people for each of the roles in case the people who are nominated are actually the people who are impacted by the critical incidents, so yes just having a few options there as well. And then, as we've said a couple of times, having opportunities for debriefing after each critical stage.
So, as you can see, in the little infographic that we've got up here, Critical Incident Management Plans includes these four stages. So there's Prevention, Preparedness, Response, and Recovery.
So when we look at Prevention that's any actions that we can take to eliminate the likelihood of a critical incident occurring, so obviously there's only a certain amount of things that are within our control, but taking you know, making as much use of those as we can.
Preparedness is talking about the steps that we can take before a critical incident to enable effective response and recovery. So it might be ensuring that there's a shared understanding of how an incident can impact on people in the community, and how to reduce the impact of the critical incident, and then helping educators to feel confident in supporting the needs of children affected by a critical incident. So doing something like this, having a look at your plan, maybe engaging in some professional learning, that might all form part of your Preparedness stage of your Critical Incident Management Plan.
And then we move into the Response, which is around containing, controlling, and minimizing the impacts of a critical incident. So, ensuring that educators and other staff are aware of and have access to support within and beyond the learning community to support their own mental health. So maybe knowing the services that are available in the community, and providing information about who to directly communicate with in the event of a critical incident, and who'll have responsibility for this.
And then in the Recovery stage, taking steps to minimize disruption and recovery times and there we might look at things like having the ongoing access to support and ongoing communication channels, and considering the cultural backgrounds and expectations in the learning community. So critical incidents might impact on children and families in different ways, depending on what their background is and their understanding of the events. And this could also be considered when we think about how we're sharing information as well.
Cris is going to talk in a moment about reviewing our plans, but one of the other tools that we might just mention, is our Implementation And Reflection Tool to review and reflect on how your service is doing, how prepared you are. You might like to refer to that Implementation and Reflection Toolkit, and that will support you to reflect on how you share information and support around critical incidents, and how aware you and the rest of your team are in responding to the event.
So we'll be popping the link in the chat for that as well… a tool that can help you with your thinking around engaging your staff in these conversations as well, so Cris I'll let you talk about the review process.
Yes that's a great tool Maria isn't it? The tool's actually structured around the domains that provide the Be You framework.
There's no need to actually apply the whole tool. The Responding Together domain is where people will find some really useful reflective questions to support them, and they might be supportive in actually reviewing the critical incident and the plan at a later stage. So it is really important to actually review a critical incident after it's occurred and the impact it's had on the learning community.
You want to be able to determine what improvements can be made to support the learning community in the future, with a similar critical incident, or other critical incidents.
It's really important to think about who you are going to involve in the review of the critical incident. There are, obviously service leaders will be involved in that and people who had a role in implementing the Critical Incident Management Plan will also participate in the review. But considering who was affected by the plan, and trying to get multiple perspectives including those who had some responsibility, but the people who actually experienced the plan in action could provide some really useful feedback as well.
So where appropriate, think about involving families and trying to get some information from children. You'll notice things about how children have responded to the situation, it's probably useful in that case too.
So if you're going to think about examining the effectiveness of a Critical Incident Management Plan, and the outcomes for the learning community, it's worth considering those different elements of the Critical Incident Management Plan that Maria just talked about.
Considering Prevention, and asking yourself some questions like, is it possible that some other actions could have been taken to reduce or eliminate the likelihood of a similar critical incident in future.
In terms of Preparedness, how well did the steps taken before the critical incident enable an effective response? And Recovery, is there anything that could be changed, that could improve recovery, for example.
In terms of the Response, how well did the response contain and control and minimize the impact of the critical incident, and how might a response to similar critical incident be improved for the future.
Recovery is an interesting one, because recovery is sometimes long term, so the general question there is how effective are the steps taken to minimize disruption and recovery times, and what potentially could improve the effectiveness.
You may need to think about this when you're going to do the review of the critical incident, and the effectiveness of the plan. There might be a short term review, and then a longer term repeat review, with probably a bit of a focus on recovery and how the recovery response was managed basically, and how well and effectively it worked for the community.
I've got a bit of an example here of somebody who reviewed a plan, and I think some things are really obvious that they need improving, and some things are not. And this is an example of something that was pretty obvious once the review took place.
So there was an Early Learning Service that had a Critical Incident Management Plan. They had an evacuation area that they were supposed to go to during a critical incident like a fire or other need for evacuation. Families knew where the evacuation point was, but it turned out that this particular time, the evacuation point wasn't actually safe. So that's a pretty obvious thing to actually review and to change. As a result of their reflection on this, they actually created a plan where they had more than one evacuation point, and they had a really good communication plan to let families know where they would be moving to.
These opportunities for learning are always so good, aren't they?
Oh yes absolutely.
Particularly if you're learning from someone else, rather than experiencing it yourself.
Okay, so we're going to move on, thanks for that Cris, we're going to move on to our last poll.
It's always important with these things to take a moment to think about what your next step might be, and it might be just that next thing that you're going to do, or you might have a whole plan in place now in your head - of actions that you're going to take.
So what will your next step be? Will you reflect with your team on your Critical Incident Management Plan? Check if you have one.
Will you develop or update the plan for critical incidents? Maybe you'll consider how children might respond to the critical incident? Or develop or update a plan for educator wellbeing. Or it might be that you consider your learning environment as a responsive tool to support children.
And again if there's something else that comes to mind, you can pop that in the chat, so just take a moment to think about what your next steps are going to be.
I think that, you know with some of the things that we've been talking about today, there's a lot that comes back to communication. So, communicating what your role is, communicating about what's in the plan, and the plan itself, and ensuring that everyone is always up to date, and everyone is aware of and knows about their role.
And like I was saying, I think the more people are engaged in the process of developing a plan the more familiar they're going to be with it, and able to review it as well. So maybe engaging the team might be something that people like to think about.
And just before we look at the results, Cris did you have a takeaway?
Yes, look I, just quickly because we're running short of time now, everybody responds differently to critical incidents, and there are a number of influences on recovery time, so we just need to monitor that as well.
Have a quick look at these results.
Yes we've got quite, again, quite an even spread of results, and there are a couple things I can see in the chat as well. So it's great to see that people have some actions that they're going to take, and like I said, you might be thinking of a few stages of different things that you're going to do. So thanks again everyone for responding to the poll.
We're out of time, so I'm just going to thank everybody for joining us today and participating in the webinar.
You're invited to stay online after the webinar to join our conversation about Responding to Critical Incidents - Professionally and Personally, this is an opportunity for you to make comments and exchange ideas and ask some questions.
Thanks for your participation today, thank you.
Critical incident responses - professional and personal
The Critical incident responses webinar handout (PDF, 129 KB) includes a summary of key concepts referred to during the webinar and links to additional information, resources, and references.
Last updated: June, 2022