A newly-installed hot-water boiler explodes in an infant classroom scalding teachers and children ... a depressed teacher takes an overdose ... a headteacher is killed in a road accident ... a man enters a primary school playground threatening children and staff. Education professionals are increasingly having to deal with the aftermath of such incidents.
The past 10 years have seen a slow but growing realisation of the effects of trauma and bereavement on children. How should schools support those who have experienced devastating and unpredicted events? This book makes a brave attempt to draw material from different fields - policework, psychiatry, families caught up in war zones, natural disasters - in order to understand the victim's perspective and develop strategies for intervention.
The ways in which adults can help is a leitmotif of this text, which offers advice on how to listen, how to break sad news and, most important, how to plan for the future. Its strengths lie in its case-study base, the clarity of definition and signposting and sensitivity to religious and cultural dimensions, while focusing on the needs of children. For example, professionals are urged to "live with the discomfort of feeling deskilled and inadequate" when working with families whose cultural roots vary from their own.
As an LEA co-ordinator for critical incident work, I found this book reassuringly direct if somewhat over-ambitious. One could question the balance of the material, given that only one out of nine chapters deals with the school context per se. But it is highly recommended to schools and support services, because intervention and positive strategies need to stem from an understanding of the needs of children in distress, which this book amply provides.
John Franey is director of professional practice in educational psychology, Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol