What Does Effective Post-incident Support Look Like?

Published On: 17 March 2023

An incident is an event that has affected an individual you support, others in the setting, or members of staff. Somebody may have been physically or emotionally harmed in the incident. To move forward, achieve closure, and make sure the outcome of the incident is positive, there is a simple process to follow. Team Teach training uses the Repair, Record and Report sequence to ensure that post-incident support is effective, purposeful, and accessible to all.

Consider safety first

Following an incident, the immediate priority is to make sure the people involved are safe and looked after. This includes the individuals in your care and any members of staff affected. The recovery and depression stages of the Conflict Spiral can look very different for different people. One size certainly doesn’t fit all.

Monitor and support the individual according to their needs. Whilst some people may respond well to positive touch for support, others may withdraw. Feelings of guilt, shame and low self-worth can make people want to be on their own until they are ready to reflect and communicate about the incident.

Be patient. Continue to monitor and support until the individual is showing signs of wanting to communicate with you. When we don’t read these signs, it can escalate the situation further and easily cause the individual to spiral back into crisis.

Get the environment right for post-incident support

The physical environment can have a significant influence on a person’s behaviour. Find a place where the individual feels safe and at ease to come down from heightened levels of arousal. Respond to their sensory needs, such as the brightness of lights, the temperature of the room and the layout of furniture. These are all potential triggers that may cause the individual to spiral back into crisis. For some individuals, going outside can help them feel calmer; post-incident support doesn’t need to happen in an office or formal setting.

Make sure there’s sufficient time for the process to take place. It shouldn’t feel rushed or an inconvenience for anybody. Consider the choice of environment. Make sure it’s comfortable and in a neutral area where people will not disturb. Try to ensure that chairs are at the same height and there are no artificial barriers so that all parties feel equal. Instead of facing an individual straight on, try sitting next to each other or at an angle to reduce how intense and formal it may feel. Also consider the time of day and whether we have met basic needs; could they be tired, restless, hungry, or thirsty?

Repairing relationships through restorative conversation

Incidents can have a significant impact on relationships. The relationship might be between yourself and the individual you support, between those in your care, or between yourself and other colleagues. By coming together, we can have a restorative conversation to repair possibly damaged relationships. It is a non-blaming period of reflection that allows those involved to have their thoughts and feelings validated. Professionals must come together to reach a mutual understanding and can only do so when people are calm and able to reflect.  

To be a positive experience, the process needs to be entirely non-judgemental. At no point should you target blame but focus attention on how to rebuild and reconnect relationships. Consider how you present yourself during the conversation and what your body language is communicating. Taking a seated position in a sideways direction opposed to face on reflects a willingness to listen and empathise. Avoid the temptation to interrupt and finish people’s sentences, signing or picture communication. Pausing and having ‘take up time’ makes sure that the individual feels like their feelings are valid and that you want to help.

Be prepared for restorative conversations to trigger heightened emotions. Reflecting on an upsetting incident can re-ignite feelings of anger, low self-worth, and shame. This can especially be the case if the individual has physically or emotionally hurt somebody they care for. Reassure and support them by letting them know that you’re now working together to make sure things are different next time.

How to make the process inclusive

Some individuals in our settings will communicate in different ways, rather than verbal conversation. Others may have limited skills in identifying and understanding how they themselves and those around them feel. It’s therefore our responsibility to find strategies for them to access the power of the positive restoration.

Often the restorative process is mistakenly thought of as a long list of questions to be asked and answered, but this can be frustrating and ineffective for many of the individuals in our care. We have to be creative about how we do things and think about an individualised approach.

This might mean breaking the key aspects of the incident into bite-size pieces for them to understand, linking feelings with behaviours. Think about how you can adapt the learning process to connect with the individual’s likes or strengths.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Use role play or puppets to retell a sequence of events.
  • Explore how different art media can reflect emotions at different stages of the incident.
  • Incorporate music to denote the transitioning from different stages of a crisis.
  • Visual cues, pictures and photos are great for making the link between feelings and behaviours. These can be accessible and revisited, along with social stories to embed understanding. 
  • Consider how you can incorporate active play during the restorative process. What you don’t want is an activity that will distract the individual, but something that will encourage calmness and familiarity. Sensory toys, gentle water play or modelling with play doh can help to make the process to be a positive experience.

Let the child, young person, or adult be as actively involved in what the restoration process looks like as much as possible. Making it personalised to the needs of the individual will be far more powerful and lead to a more positive, longer-term outcome. 

Recording and reporting

Sometimes it’s necessary for incidents to be recorded. This needs to follow the policies and procedures of your setting. Strike the balance between recording as soon as possible and when you’ve had sufficient time to self-regulate if it’s an incident you’ve been involved in. Be mindful of what you’re bringing to your retelling of events; rely on facts opposed to feelings.

Once you complete your records according to the policies and procedures of your setting, think about who needs to know about the incident and how you will inform them. This is likely to be colleagues that work with the individual and family members or carers. Be respectful and sensitive with the information you hold. Retelling incidents in staff rooms and corridors isn’t helpful and can fuel incorrect negative perceptions of the people involved.

Summary

We can learn a great deal about the functions of behaviour after an incident. Restorative conversations facilitate opportunities to reflect on potential triggers and appropriate supporting strategies. This information feeds into the content of the individual support plans and encourages everyone to work together in the best interests of the child, young person, or adult.

Incidents in our settings can be highly emotive and distressing for those involved. Listening and Learning isn’t always easy, but if we don’t reflect on incidents, relationships won’t repair and recover, and we won’t be able to achieve closure to move forward. Effective post-incident support can help make the outcome of an incident positive.