COVID-19 response plan part 3: Mass bereavement policy amendment

This is hopefully the final post I will make in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Part 1 on creating a temperature screening protocol from existing school supplies is here

Part 2 on maintaining social distancing within a lock-down school setting is here

This is the post I hope you never need to use. In times of crisis we need to force ourselves to think abut the unthinkable, just in case. I hope this helps you get to some solutions that work for your school.

The global pandemic has caused the closing of schools. This has changed how schools have to work in many ways. Even though the mortality rate of COVID-19 is mercifully lower than SARS or MERS, it’s infection rates pose a significant risk of mass bereavement within the school community. This is compounded by the inability for schools standard bereavement policies to function in a the post lock-down world we find ourselves in.

HOPE FOR THE BEST, BUT PREPARE FOR THE WORST

Our existing policy aims to provide students and staff with a space to grieve and access to a trained counsellors . We have on average 3 bereavements a month, most of which are elderly relatives and require very little intervention beyond the work of the head of year and tutor.

Over the years there has been a need to have a more detailed plan to cope with those rare tragic events of a student or staff death. In my 16 year career I think there have been 4 of these tragic occurrences. We feel our policy as it stands is able to cope under normal conditions, should an event occur.

Unfortunately, in the situation we find ourselves in currently, we need to amend our policy for two main reasons;

  1. There is a chance the school community could receive multiple bereavements within a very small period of time, creating a capacity issue
  2. Our systems work on the assumptions that people are able to meet face to face and in larger groups if needed.

Whilst the fine details of our plan will not be particularly helpful, due to their link to our particular context I will write a few details abut things we have done to overcome the capacity and social distancing issues.

Building capacity.

We are fortunate to have a counsellor permanently on site. Even so they are only one person and would be unable to manage if the situation moves into a worst case scenario. To build capacity we have surveyed our staff to see how many have any counselling qualifications or experience. This allowed us to identify one staff member who was in the process of qualifying as a counsellor and two who have extensive experience volunteering with the Samaritans or similar organisations. This gives us a bank of reserves to support students if they are needed. They will be supervised by the counsellor and have received guidance on the ‘do’s and don’t’ of supporting grieving students.

Dealing with social distancing and grief.

This is a real challenge for us. We have a highly detailed protocol that stipulated everything needed to create a room where students could meet, talk and write in the book of remembrance. Everything needed to support them on the journey to acceptance. This can’t happen now.

We needed to find a few ways to allow students and staff share their thoughts and get access to support without meeting.

Virtual book of remembrance: This will be set up using a bespoke email address for each student or staff member who dies (remembering<name>@……). By making it a shared inbox with the support team for that event we can curate the book of remembrance remotely. We can proof read and eventually assemble into a physical book to pass on to the next of kin.

Meeting students: While pastoral staff have been issued with school mobile phones for use during closures, we recognise the potential risks of conversations with grieving students. Due to their lack of oversight, there is a potential safe guarding issue. Whilst this is not a barrier for our fully qualified counsellor, for other staff we have decided to use video conferencing when talking to students and staff who are grieving. This allows us to record the audio more easily. Students can choose to have their camera on or not but it gives staff piece of mind.

I hope these ideas are useful. I also hope you never have to use them. If you have any other idea please let me know in the comments or on twitter.

Stay safe

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