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Information to support school communities during police investigations or traumatic situations

At Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board, we are proud to serve students and their families. Student safety and well-being are our first priorities at all times, and they are responsibilities we take very seriously. We strive to create safe, welcoming, inclusive and accepting learning environments that optimize students’ potential.

When something occurs that impacts student safety and well-being, it is of significant concern to us all. When police are involved, we cooperate fully and also conduct our own investigation. The employee is not currently working in a school. These matters are always sensitive and confidential and we will communicate as we are able.

Skilled child and youth counsellors are at schools to talk with students and connect families with resources, as needed.

Parents/guardians who have questions or concerns are asked to speak with their child’s principal. Anyone who has information that may be relevant to the ongoing investigation, are asked to contact Central Hastings OPP at 1-888-310-1122.

Information to support school communities during police investigations or traumatic situations

In these times of instant and continuous coverage of news and events, the impact of police investigations or traumatic situations on adults and children alike can be profound, especially when schools and students are involved. Many people relate closely to those affected and to the alleged victims and their families.

It is important to take care of ourselves and each other in the aftermath of traumatic news and investigations, so that we can be a source of strength for students, families and each other.

Tips for responding to students

1. Minimize exposure to details of a criminal investigation or traumatic situation

  • Do not initiate conversations about the situation with students.
  • School- and class-wide discussion of the investigation should be avoided, especially for Primary and Junior students, because many students may have already been overexposed to media/social media coverage of the investigation or traumatic situation in recent days.
  • Avoid discussing the details of the allegations with colleagues, or listening to/watching media reports, when students are present. Repeated exposure to coverage can be confusing to children and can exaggerate the situation further for them.

2. If students raise the topic

Some students may raise the topic and it is important to know how to respond. If you feel additional support is required, students can be referred to a child and youth counsellor.

  • Any conversation with students must be developmentally appropriate. Young children are not able to process the complexities of inappropriate sexual behaviour in the same way as adolescents or young adults.
  • CHILDREN often gauge how threatening an event is by adult reactions. For example, if caregivers act nervous, scared or frightened, young children will view the event as anxiety provoking, scary or frightening.
  • OLDER CHILDREN and teenagers may have more information about the situation because they are commonly able to access details through the Internet and television.
  • FOR YOUTH, it is important to discuss safety issues openly, emphasizing the efforts of school and community leaders to provide safe schools. Students also play a critical role themselves by following school safety guidelines, such as:
    • letting an adult know of situations where they see or hear something that makes them feel uncomfortable, nervous or frightened
    • reporting threats made by students or community members
    • reporting exposure to inappropriate texts, social media or videos

and then communicating any personal safety concerns to school administrators or a trusted adult, and accessing support for emotional needs.

  • If students ask questions or mention the current investigation in class, validate their emotions and redirect the discussion
    • For example, you might respond with: It sounds like you are really concerned/curious/upset about this. What you are talking about is really serious and not appropriate for talking about in class. I am here to talk with you and we can chat after class.
    • If the student has something to disclose, do not promise to keep it a secret. Do not ask probing questions. Tell the student that information will be shared with people whose job it is keep kids safe, then report to the principal.

Tips for providing support to students and families without getting into the details of an investigation

3. Provide a welcoming presence, reassure safety at the school

  • Each of us can be a visible, welcoming presence at school. Make an extra effort to greet students and parents as they enter the building.
  • Reinforcing safety during and after the investigation is important. Schools are normally a safe place where students go to learn and be with friends. When situations involving police investigations occur, their sense of safety may be affected. Students need to hear that their school is safe, and that the adults will do everything they can to ensure that it always is a safe place for learning and having fun with classmates.
  • Highlight features of the school that make it safe, such as the positive relationships with local police services, school safety procedures and caring adults.
  • Surround students with positive communication where ideas and feelings are expressed openly.
  • Support students to feel comfortable asking for help.
  • Emphasize to students that they should trust their feelings and talk to someone if they need help, even if they feel embarrassed, confused, or scared about telling.
  • Discuss the difference between secrets and surprises. Reinforce the message that no one has the right to ask you to keep a secret, especially if it makes you feel uncomfortable.
  • Maintain routines with flexibility. Following a routine in times of stress can be very comforting and can minimize anxiety reactions. Routine allows students to know what to expect next. That being said, some flexibility will be important to meet the individual needs. A balance of the two will be important.

4. Reassure parents and families that the school community is safe and that supports are available

  • Create a welcoming environment for parents and visitors.
  • Advise parents that students are learning to act positively, while learning skills to lessen their vulnerability by building self-esteem, developing communication and decision making skills, and fostering the developmentally appropriate understanding of healthy relationships and respect for others.
  • If parents are seeking individual support for their child/ren, let them know that child and youth counsellors are available.
  • If parents express concerns about their own or their children’s well-being provide them with information on how to access supports in the community.
  • If parents are asking about prevention education for their children, reassure them that the Revised Health and Physical Education Curriculum focuses on building skills that are developmentally appropriate, such as healthy relationships, communication skills, self-awareness, critical thinking, safe on-line communication, consent and sexual health.
  • If a parent is asking for information about how to discuss prevention strategies with their children direct them to:
  • Encourage parents to be good listeners and talk openly about different kinds of touch and the feelings connected to touching, reinforcing that no one has the right to tell them to keep any kind of touch a secret.

5. Watch for students who may be vulnerable

Children who are struggling with their thoughts and feelings about an investigation, allegations or traumatic situation may turn to trusted adults for help and guidance.

  • Students who have been exposed to sexually inappropriate behaviour or abuse, or who struggle with anxiety, may be particularly vulnerable at this time. Keep an eye out for students who are experiencing intrusive thoughts about the events, avoidance or withdrawal, and/or persistent difficulty with attention, irritability or nervousness.
  • In all cases, normal school routines are very helpful for minimizing anxiety reactions.

6. Taking care of ourselves and each other

Self-care following an investigation or traumatic event is very important.

  • While there are a number of strategies that individuals use when coping with extraordinary stress, each person must determine what strategy works for them.
  • Some positive coping methods include:
    • physical exercise
    • meditation, yoga, deep breathing
    • music,
    • journal writing, sending expressions of gratitude
    • talking with a friend or family
    • spending time in nature
  • When something traumatic happens, people may be automatically triggered to memories and/or physiological reactions from past painful experiences. Understanding what triggers feelings and emotions and responses can help people to overcome them. If you are a survivor of child sexual abuse or sexual assault, remember the abuse was not your fault and there is no time limit on reporting the abuse to police.

7. Supportive responses for survivors

  • Listen in a non-judgmental way and allow the person to express themselves
  • Do not probe for additional information
  • Thank the survivor for trusting you with the information
  • Validate the courage it takes to talk about the experience
  • Reinforce that it is not their fault
  • Encourage that help is available and that this can help on the journey ahead
  • Do not promise secrecy
  • If you have a concern for their well-being, share this and let them know you want to connect them with professionals who can help

For more information, please contact:
Kerry Donnell, Communications Officer, 613-966-1170 or 1 800 267-4350, extension 2354, kdonnell@hpedsb.on.ca

Last updated: March 16, 2016 at 8:10 am