Managing internal communication
If a student has shared information about a self-harm incident or an ongoing pattern of self-harming behaviour with their friends, it is important to provide support to the student and also the peers who are aware of it. While these conversations can be challenging, the aim of the interaction is to ensure safety and reduce further distress.
Conversations about self-harm can be complex and can require clinical skills. It is recommended that the school wellbeing team and/or SSS hold the responsibility for these interactions.
Staff can also be impacted by a disclosure or knowledge of a self-harm incident involving a student. In this instance, it is important to remind staff of the support available via the EAP and encourage them to access their existing support network and self-care strategies.
When communicating with the student’s friends
- Reiterate the importance of telling a trusted adult in the event they become aware of any behaviours that involves self-inflicted harm.
- In the event that friends have been sworn to secrecy, help them to understand that sharing this information will offer the best opportunity to keep their friend safe.
- Recognise the difficult position that sharing this information will put them in and remind them of the supports that are available to them.
- Where appropriate, provide suggestions for supporting their friend following a self-harm incident.
When communicating with the student
- Offer the reflection that it is encouraging that they can share with their friends that they are experiencing distress but help them to understand that it may be difficult for a friend to hear. Encourage them to talk to an appropriate adult who can help them access relevant support.
- Reiterate that your role is to help keep them safe and that you will support them to receive the support they need to manage their distress and develop ways of coping that do not cause harm to themselves.
- Be honest with them that, in order to keep them safe, you need to share this information with a member of the wellbeing team.
Communicating with parents/carers
In most cases, a member of the school’s leadership and/or wellbeing team is the most appropriate person to notify parents/carers of an incident of self-harm that has occurred at school, during a school approved activity, or that has come to the attention of school staff.
It is important that this occurs as it provides the parents/carers with an opportunity to support the young person. Where possible, this should occur in-person rather than via phone or email.
Below are some guiding principles to consider when preparing to engage with the parents/carers:
- Consider whether a member of staff has an existing relationship with the parents which will aid or potentially disrupt the conversation and subsequent actions required.
- Consider, and be sensitive to, the specific cultural or religious needs of the student and their family/community. For instance, the department’s outlines that schools must work in partnership with Aboriginal communities to respond to the needs of Koorie students. It is encouraged that relevant parties, such as Koorie Education Support Officers, are consulted.
- Communicate concerns in a clear and concise manner. Share the steps the school has taken so far and the details of what support the school can provide in the future. Clarify the roles and responsibilities of all parties and be prepared to repeat the concerns if necessary. It may take parents some time to comprehend the information being shared.
- Provide information about self-harm and why people engage in it. This will help build parent/carer knowledge and confidence for engaging with their young person.
- Encourage parents/carers to take a caring and concerned approach to their child’s self-harming behaviours, and resist being emotional.
- Parents/carers may have many questions. Be prepared to share the contact details for an appropriately trained member of the wellbeing team or external supports such as headspace, who can answer their questions if they are beyond the scope and expertise of your role.
- Provide them some additional information such as factsheets and emergency contact details. This will support the parents to feel they are not alone in supporting their young person. There are a range of resources on the , , , and websites.
- Take appropriate notes that can be placed on the student file.
- If a member of the school’s leadership team is not involved in the meeting, ensure that they are informed that it has occurred and of the response of the parents/carers, so that appropriate additional steps can be taken if required.
However, there are some circumstances where notifying the parents/carers is inappropriate. For example:
- where the student is an adult and they do not consent to their parent/carer being informed
- where a student under the age of 18 has been assessed by the school as being a mature minor for the purpose of this decision and does not consent to their parent or carer being informed. For more information, refer to:
- where the student discloses abuse or neglect, and it is believed that contacting parents/carers may have an adverse effect on the student’s safety and is therefore not in the student’s best interests. In this instance, consideration should be given to notifying Child Protection.
SSS can support school staff to navigate situations where parents/carers are not contacted following an incident of student self-harm. In these instances, it is essential another adult with caring responsibilities for the young person is informed so they can put measures in place to ensure safety and appropriate support is offered. Information about an alternate adult with caring responsibilities for the student may be recorded as an emergency contact on the student’s school file.
Reviewed 10 January 2023