education.vic.gov.au

School operations

Self-Harm and Attempted Suicide Response

Recovery activities – supporting students beyond an incident

The recovery phase refers to key activities that focus on restoring safety and improving the mental health and wellbeing of students, staff and families.

Key activities in this phase are:

  • safety planning
  • return to school planning
  • identifying a support person
  • consideration of reasonable adjustments to the student’s program
  • ongoing monitoring and support
  • self-care for school staff.

Safety planning

A safety plan should be completed following an incident of self-harm or a suicide attempt. This ensures:

  • the student is given the opportunity to identify activities and supports that promote positive mental health and wellbeing for them
  • the school can create a safe and supportive environment, reducing potential triggers.

Where a student has been absent from school as a result of an incident of self-harm or a suicide attempt, a return to school plan should also developed.

Safety planning with students who are self-harming

A safety plan is an opportunity for the student to consider their existing internal coping strategies and identify the activities they engage in that positively impact their mental health.

Empowering a student to share their experiences of what strategies have been helpful in the past and ideas about what is going to keep them safe in the future is an important step in strengthening their help-seeking behaviours and ability to cope with adversity.

Remember

In order to liaise and collaborate with relevant mental health services and other school-based staff involved in the care of a student, consent to share information practice principles must be applied.

The discussion about safety planning should reiterate to a young person that:

  • help is available
  • should they experience an escalation of risk and are unable to keep themselves safe, it is essential they immediately seek support from friends, trusted adults and/or emergency services.

Ideally, the safety plan should be developed jointly by the student, their parents/carers (if appropriate) and appropriately trained and skilled school staff. Alternatively, a mental health professional can develop a safety plan jointly with parents/carers and the student to be shared with the school with permission from the parent and student.

The plan will help the student identify how they will manage their emotional distress and detail alternative strategies and supports that might reduce self-harm behaviour. It is important to identify parts of the safety plan that apply during school hours, and those that apply outside of school hours. Most strategies and supports identified will apply to both circumstances. Clarify any limitations to enacting the safety plan during school hours.

In some instances, students will be receiving support from external mental health services and their input into the safety plan will be crucial.

A safety plan should:

  • identify warning signs and potential triggers
  • consider how to create a safe environment at home and school (for example, reducing access to implements that can be used to harm oneself, increasing supervision, processes for communicating distress)
  • identify reasons to live (protective factors)
  • identify self-help strategies (for example, listening to music, getting fresh air, talking to peers, meditation)
  • list social support networks (family and friends)
  • provide a timeframe for the review of supports in place
  • provide school-related information – where to go, who the support person is, what is available from first aid, an agreement to cover up wounds as much as possible.

The plan should also provide coverage of support for periods when school staff, friends and family may not be available (for example, beyond the school day or during school holidays) as well as external services such as:

Supporting resources

A safety plan template (PDF)External Link is available in the Resources tab

SAFEMindsExternal Link has a range of resources, including, templates for schools to use when supporting students who are experiencing emotional distress.

Be YouExternal Link has a range of tools, resources and templates to assist educators engaging in safety planningExternal Link with students, following an incident of self-harm.

Student’s return to school following a self-harm incident

If the student has been absent from school because of an incident of self-harm or a suicide attempt, careful planning for their return to school is an important step to creating a safe and supportive environment.

Collaborative planning

Planning should be done in consultation with the student, the parents/carers and any mental health professionals involved in the student’s care. Planning should consider any ongoing risks of self-harm or emotional distress, including any triggers or challenges in the school environment. Planning should also identify strengths and positive and protective factors.

Remember

Keeping a young person safe following an incident of self-harm or a suicide attempt is a shared responsibility of the individual student, family and friends, school and mental health providers.

Schools can collaborate with specialist services to support outcomes for children and their families and streamline their experience across services. Schools may share information as required or authorised by law, such as to:

  • meet duty of care, anti-discrimination, occupational health and safety obligations
  • promote the wellbeing or safety of children, or to assess or manage family violence risk.

For more information refer to: Privacy and Information Sharing and Child and Family Violence Information Sharing Schemes.

Reasonable adjustments

School staff should carefully consider any reasonable adjustments that are needed to enable the student to participate in education.

With everyone’s consent, adjustments may include:

  • a gradual re-entry with a focus on the student gradually returning to school full-time
  • study exemptions and/or modifications to expectations, timelines and workload
  • a plan to catch up on essential missed work (for example, VCE assessment tasks)
  • providing a separate space for students to complete assessment tasks, if needed
  • permission to leave class when required to check into a pre-determined location (for example, First Aid), if needed.

Remember

It is essential that decisions are made collaboratively and that the student’s voice is at the centre of these conversations.

Where external services are involved in providing support to the young person, particularly in the case that the self-harm incident was a suicide attempt, consulting with them regarding how best to approach the return to school further aids the process and ensures that the school can continue to be a positive and supportive environment, contributing to the student’s recovery and improved mental health.

Supporting students completing VCE

Schools may approve special provisions and arrangements for both classroom learning and school-based assessments to assist students to participate in classroom learning. For more information, refer to: Special provision for classroom learning and school-based assessmentExternal Link .

Special Examination Arrangements may also be approved for students with disabilities, illnesses or other circumstances that affect their ability to access a VCE external assessment. Special Examination Arrangements applications are made to the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) through the student’s school. For more information, refer to: Special examination arrangements for VCE external assessmentsExternal Link or email the Special Provisions team at vcaa.special.provision@education.vic.gov.au or phone 1800 205 455.

Identify a support person

The student should also be offered support upon their return to school. This may involve a member of staff, the leadership or wellbeing team, or a combination of these.

Where possible, it is beneficial to have the student identify who they would nominate as their support person. Having an already established relationship is going to be beneficial and increase the likelihood that they access support if they become overwhelmed at school.

It is best if 2 or more people can be offered as support people to distribute the care and preserve the wellbeing of those staff involved in supporting the student. If this is not initially possible, it is suggested that efforts be made to increase the support team for the student over time.

Appropriate boundaries should be put in place and all parties should be clear on when and how support people can be accessed.

School-based support staff should not be available to the student outside the school location or hours. The student should be told about the community services available outside of school hours.

Key considerations:

  • include the availability of the key contact person/s (times/days/location)
  • clearly define roles and responsibilities
  • ensure a process for documenting interactions and supports offered
  • set a timeframe for reviewing the supports in place.

The support offered at school will complement the support provided by the student’s family and should work collaboratively with any external mental health professionals involved in their care.

Remember

Mental health and subsequent risk is fluid and any planning and subsequent action represents a moment in time. Regular reviews are essential to appropriately modify and provide a supportive environment.

Resourcing

It is useful to identify a ‘team’ of school-based professionals who meet regularly to monitor any changes and identify and meet needs of the student. This team may consist of the student, the parents/carers, teacher, SSS and school-based wellbeing staff. This approach facilitates shared understanding and responsibility. When devising a return to school plan, it is important to offer options that the school can appropriately resource. For example, if the school offers increased supervision of the student, it is essential that resources are available to implement this strategy.

Providing the details of the supervision arrangements and any limitations to these, particularly over transitions such as break times and moving between classes, is key in ensuring the school fulfils its duty of care to the student.

Regularly reviewing the return to school plan will allow the school to make amendments to the level of supervision it is able to provide in response to the changing levels of distress experienced by the student. Special consideration should be given to any excursions or camps that are scheduled following the student’s return to school as well as other events that the student identifies as stressful. All decisions should be made in collaboration with SSS, parents/carers, the student (where appropriate) and any external mental health professional involved in supporting the student.

Ongoing monitoring of student safety and wellbeing

In addition to implementing the student’s safety plan and return to school plan, it is important to continue to check in with the student to ascertain their mental health and wellbeing.

Encourage staff to be alert for any changes they observe in the student’s behaviour, thoughts or emotions during class and to follow the school’s process for enquiring sensitively. Staff who are concerned about the student’s wellbeing should refer the student for additional support from the wellbeing support team at the school.

Supporting resource

The department’s Mental health and wellbeing toolkitExternal Link provides resources to support student mental health and wellbeing.

Guidance chapter explaining key recovery activities that focus on restoring safety and improving the mental health and wellbeing of students, staff and families

Reviewed 10 January 2023

Was this page helpful?