Sarah U’Brien is NSW State Manager for Emergency Services at the Red Cross, and part of her role is to provide her team of resilience and recovery officers with the resources they need to support the communities they serve in terms of recovering from a disaster event or an emergency event.

“I think it’s really important that we provide the support to schools and teachers, because we know how preciously they hold our little humans, they love them,” she tells EducationHQ.

“And we know that they want to be able to care and support them in these experiences and, importantly what they’ve witnessed as well.”

One of the unfortunate bi-products of being so connected these days via technology is our now often unfiltered exposure to violent tragedies and terrorist attacks.

With video footage, rolling reports, uninformed and often dangerous social media influencers posting graphic images and videos, and often making unsubstantiated claims about attackers, the impact on children and adults can be deep and far-reaching.

It’s important we understand that in today’s digital age, witnessing violent scenes through the media and social media platforms can be just as distressing as being present on the ground, particularly for children.

As well, a rampant mainstream news media, desperate not only to outdo their competition for coverage, but also milk every last bit of emotion and fear out of these awful events, can often also leave a lasting and possibly negative impact on primary and secondary aged children and teenagers.

“It’s really important, and we talk about this more broadly and in all of our work, that we’re finding those trusted sources of truth,” U’Brien emphasises.

“When we are being bombarded with lots of messages, and lots of conflicting information, but also very graphic material, it’s harder for young people to actually discern what is a trusted source of truth regarding what we’ve witnessed or what has happened in our world.”

She uses the example of the ABC, which works with emergency services during disasters, but also stresses that reputable news print and broadcasting organisations are the sources that we should go to, along with government media outlets.

From a teachers’ perspective, U’Brien emphasises that it’s really important that we ensure that we’re informed as adults, parents and teachers, that we have a source of truth that we speak from.

“Because we don’t know what they’ve seen or heard – we don’t know whether it’s from the media, or whether it’s in the playground, or from down the street, it’s really important that we actually check in with those young people to understand what they know,” she says.

“So that we can then start to speak to them from their perceived understanding, so that we can really connect with them.”

U’Brien says we also need to appreciate that the levels of vulnerability that young people can feel in these experiences are immense.

“But also our children and our young people take their cues of response from the trusted adults in their lives,” she explains.

The Australian Red Cross website has a range of resources for educators and parents, particularly about supporting oneself in these times, so that they can support the young people and children in their care.

“You know, it’s that old adage of, ‘we must work from our own filled cup before we can fill someone else’s’,” U’Brien says.

“So making sure that we first check in with ourselves, we can understand how we’re feeling about this situation so that when we are working and talking with young people, we can do so calmly, but also help them process and talk through what they’ve heard and what they’ve seen.

“So it’s about helping them have that reflection around the fact that this was one or two incidents, and they don’t happen every day, that we are safe right now – we have good people and friends and family around us, we have our teachers and our educators in our community that are here with us, and we had a lovely time at recess and we played that game earlier this morning in the classroom, and so on.

“We’ve had those moments of happiness and where we’ve come together so that we are also helping them feel confident and comfortable right now and safe so that we can move forward with confidence and feel secure in our daily lives.”

A few excellent resources include a Best Practice Guideline, supporting communities before, during and after collective trauma events; there’s also Helping children and young people cope with crisis, and lesson plans and ideas for talking with children after an emergency.

“I think it’s really important that we make sure that people lean into Lifeline and their employee assistance programs and all of those sorts of things to really make sure that they’re looking our carers,” U’Brien says.

“Red Cross has a lot of assistance around supporting the support, because we know that the people in caring roles in our communities, and in our lives, are affected by these events also, but then they are also in a caring role, and are looking after others that are processing and understanding as well.

“So that self care piece is incredibly, incredibly important.”

NSW Mental Health Line: Call 1800 011 511 (for mental health advice and assessment available 24/7, with specialist staff who can speak to anyone affected by the incidents.)

Lifeline: Call 13 11 14, text 0477 13 11 14 or chat online. 

Kids Helpline: Call 1800 55 1800 or chat online. 

Beyond Blue: Call 1300 22 4636 or chat online. 

1800RESPECT: Call 1800 737 732, text 0458 737 732 or chat online. 

13 Yarn: Call 13 92 76. 

MensLine Australia: Call 1300 78 99 78.