People, places and shifting paradigms--when 'South Island' stoicism isn't enough.
Abstract: When disasters affect communities the recovery process needs to address numerous heterogeneous groups and diverse reactions. The processes of engagement need to be adapted in place and time and support the diversity inherent in communities. Evidence tells us that after a disaster most of an affected population recovers in time, if given appropriate support, but there remains real distress and stress in living through such a situation. Traumatic events and circumstances can shatter assumptions about one's self and the surrounding family and social network. While a minority of any affected group will experience increased vulnerability and disadvantage, most will re-establish their lives and experience a return to their previous levels of functioning. The pathway to this recovery begins with the establishment of local leadership and essential services, such as school and early childhood services and networks, and the fostering of individual and community resilience and well-being that allows for growth and change and decreases the potential for increased vulnerability and disadvantage.
Author: Dean, Shelley
Pub Date: 10/01/2011
Publication: Name: New Zealand Journal of Psychology Publisher: New Zealand Psychological Society Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Psychology and mental health Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 New Zealand Psychological Society ISSN: 0112-109X
Issue: Date: Oct, 2011 Source Volume: 40 Source Issue: 4
Accession Number: 313012112
Full Text: In 2010 and 2011 the Ministry of Education responded to three significant disaster events in the space of six months, offering support to the education community. The scale of these events was unprecedented and challenged MOE Staff to develop appropriate psychosocial responses, adapting and expanding the existing and well researched 'traumatic incident service single school model" for use with multiple schools, towns and a large city. It has been, and continues to be a journey of finding and creating new ways of thinking and working, supported by the development of a range of resources for schools and their communities.

People places and shifting paradigms acknowledges the responses to these disaster events with key principles interwoven through the response descriptions. The way these events are challenging and shaping crisis practice and response are outlined.

The Ministry of Education traumatic incident service typically responds to individual schools and early childhood centres when there is a crisis. Occasionally two or more education settings may be affected at the same time. This service also supports education settings to have plans and policies to prevent crises and respond as a team when there is an emergency. The service emerged 20 years ago when individual psychologists responded to schools distressed by unexpected crisis events. The service developed over time and now provides a nation-wide crisis response service for school and early child hood services. A district, regional and national delivery structure underlies the delivery which has the ability to work across organisations at a local and national level. With the space of time and hindsight, the Ministry of Education has refined our definition of what crises are, their likely effect on a setting and our core responses.

The Traumatic Incident (TI) service provides a psychosocial response to events that disrupt school or early childhood learning environments, are unexpected, affect lots of people and as a result challenge people's sense of safety and knowledge about their world. People affected are often shocked, never expecting these events to happen to them, to have affected them the way it did, or the ways they responded to the crises. These responses and perception changes often affect their ability to think clearly and act in the immediate aftermath.

Over 2010 and 2011 the Ministry of Education also experienced as a service a number of disasters we never expected that placed pressure on our staff, resources and also challenged our thinking and extended our practices. A college in Auckland which experienced four student deaths in a short period of time, the September Canterbury earthquake where miraculously no one lost their lives, the Pike River Mining Disaster in November, the deaths of 3 young students in South Auckland schools and the emergence of a Choking game which lead to a number of young people presenting in Emergency departments across Auckland and the February Christchurch earthquake where a number of people lost their lives.

In New Zealand many secondary schools and some primary schools are prepared for these events but despite some of the planning, policies and preparation, many schools and communities need additional supports when events of this magnitude occur affecting their setting.

In 2010 Kings College experienced the sudden deaths of 4 boys. These quotes from Bradley Fenner, the current principal at the College reported by the Herald (NZ Herald May 22, 2010) demonstrate the effects that can challenge those leading a school to immediately respond. It also describes how these events can demonstrate the strength and growth of their communities, for example,

"I liken the effect of these events as standing in the surf and a big wave knocks you over. You go upside down in the ocean and gradually you get your footing and get re-orientated

"To have a sequence like this is very challenging, but you see the strength of the community, you see the heart of the community and it's a strong one and it has kept beating through-out this

"This has been a catalyst for some really worthwhile discussions between parents and their children".

So what things will the Ministry of Education Traumatic Incident service typically respond to?


Typically the Ministry will respond when there has been a serious accident or sudden death, in a school or Early Childhood Education (ECE) community. Whether we respond or not depends on how badly the community has been affected. If you are in a small community school and you've only got 30 people at that school and somebody important to your school community dies suddenly, then it is likely to have a big effect on that setting. If a death is expected, or it's a bigger setting the impact might not be quite the same and the school or ECE service is likely to have the leadership capacity to support those affected. This response is driven by the knowledge that a community needs to lead the response to a crisis and that outside support should support those involved, rather than disrupt or place additional burdens on that response.

A lot of schools after these events start to think "why us", or others in their communities start predicting other disaster events. Our responses to crises indicate that it doesn't matter where you are, or who you are, crises are not predictable and the number of crises events are not increasing. What is increasing is media coverage. The way media cover an event influences community recovery.


New Zealand schools are self governing with an elected Board of Trustees (BOT) responsible for the governance of the school. The A principal, with his/her management team, is responsible for the day to day running of the setting. The management team is in the best place to act, contact emergency services, support teachers and students and their families. Experience has demonstrated that 'management' are the inside experts, familiar and trusted faces who know the history of the settings and the community and are part of a shared culture and shared loss. Action by management of a setting increases a community's sense of comfort and safety during a time of confusion and disruption.

The traumatic incident service is an external service that works by invitation only, alongside Boards of Trustees, school, ECE management groups and teachers, after a crisis. The way we interact with that setting is extremely important as we are coming in as 'outsiders', external to the people and setting. So as an external support we need to develop our relationships quickly and sensitively with management, especially when contrasting world views, cultures and lifestyles are confronted.

This support ensures the setting leads the response, establishes leadership in the setting (if none is initially obvious), helps the leadership solve problems across the range of presenting issues, provide support to teachers, children, young people and families and establishes appropriate and safe community involvement and supports

Communication and the relationships that develop during this initial period have the potential to be a resource and support for those affected or conversely a source of additional stress that can undermine post-crisis efforts. Our service benefits from being embedded within the education system, providing services to young people experiencing behaviour challenges or disabilities. The service is supported by a wide range of skilled professionals, not only psychologists, but speech language therapists, special education advisors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, Early Intervention teachers, and kaitakawaenga. They can all be part of a crisis team. When a crisis occurs, the formation of an external Ministry of Education team considers the nature of the crisis being experienced, the culture of the setting and community. The team that is formed is based on crisis skills, knowledge of the setting, established relationship, cultural skills to facilitate communication and understanding about the effects and interventions needed. We know from previous experiences that when we come in as external support the complexity of the encounter is particularly influenced by concepts of safety, health, illness and death. From these concepts, appropriate interventions and solutions can be developed. In order for that to happen, we focus our support on the leadership of that setting, so routines and systems are re-established. We can then utilise various types of knowledge to support the leadership such as understanding of the education sector, crises principles and psychological first aid.

We support management to promote a sense of safety throughout the setting, physically (e.g. earthquake drills, water supplies, engineering inspections) and emotionally (clear communication about routines, access to services, changes in personnel etc.). Another principle that embeds the ministry service delivery is that children look for support from people that they love, know and trust, i.e. their parents and teachers. Teachers despite experiencing the event themselves can help children and young people understand what's happening in developmentally appropriate ways, provide comfort and explanations when needed and know why something different is happening in that setting and promote safety with children and their families such as after the frequent aftershocks Christchurch has experienced. This next series of presentations has been organised around disaster responses to different events and demonstrates the broad conceptual and practical issues faced over the last year providing psychosocial support to schools and ECE services.


Author Note

Shelley Dean is an Educational Psychologist at the Ministry of Education,


Shelley Dean, Ministry of Education
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