Dealing with death
Child abduction is a very rare event, yet we had two families affected that lived within three miles of each other. The Payne family live in Hersham. Sarah (murdered in July 2000) had brothers and sisters in infant and secondary schools so there was work to be done at all levels. The Dowlers live in nearby Walton-on-Thames (their daughter, Milly, met the same fate in March this year).
When the educational psychologists from Soham called for advice (following the disapperance and death of Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman), we told them it was very important to have an honest flow of information, and to make sure the same story was being circulated.
In the Soham situation, how do you deal with such unpleasant truths? But there is a need to make sure the information is as accurate as it possibly can be and that adults are as honest as they can be.
We told them it would be very important for parents to know what was happening when children returned to school so they would know what to expect. One of the things we all find difficult to cope with is uncertainty.
Some people are much more resilient than others, and our job is to build children's resilience, to make them aware of their feelings and to enable them to cope with their different feelings.
The ultimate goal of what we are doing is to return a school back to normal as quickly as possible, so that everybody can get on with the business of teaching and learning.
We discuss how we are going to inform the children, parents, how we are going to keep rumour down as much as possible.
In the Milly Dowler situation, there was a risk of information coming into the school by mobile phone. The school made a ruling that all information should be disregarded unless it came from the school management. That helped the atmosphere remain incredibly calm.
We are becoming a more emotionally literate society in which people are encouraged to listen to their own feelings. As society becomes more complex, new needs are identified and new ways of responding are developed.