The number of visits made by Specialised Traumatic Incident Teams to Hawke's Bay schools has increased over the past four years.
Documents released to Hawke's Bay Today under the Official Information Act reveal that 17 visits were made by the Ministry of Education's team last year to incidents pertaining to the death of an individual (3), a sudden death (4), self-harm (3), an accident (6), and one incident that was categorised as "other".
This was more than double the eight visits made in 2016 and 7 in 2015, and a sharp rise from the four made in 2014.
The team can comprise psychologists, special education advisers, education advisers, kaitakawaenga or other ministry or external agency staff.
Some of the ministry support is not captured in the data, including where support was provided by phone or multiple facilities were visited in response to a single incident.
Since 2013, 31 Hawke's Bay schools have asked for help, but the figures represent the number of requests for support.
Ministry of Education sector enablement and support deputy secretary Katrina Casey said
when there was a significant event and a school might need support, either the school contacted it or the ministry contacted the school to determine its level of need.
"This can range from providing guidance on key messages to staff and communities, to brokering support for students and staff. It could be a one-off situation or could last several days.
"While we don't evaluate how effective this support is, after every callout we debrief with schools to determine how appropriate the level of support we provided was."
Casey said they had recently engaged with sector representatives in the region to review the local traumatic incident systems and processes, to help refine their traumatic incident response.
Taradale Primary School principal Marty Hantz said they had used the team before and believed they were "vital".
"When you are stuck in the middle of an incident, there is so much to do and think about. Knowing that you have got a team there beside you gives you confidence that you are making the right decisions and that what you do make is not going to impact negatively upon the people involved in the incident."
He said the increase could also be down to more schools knowing help is available.
"As a principal association we have become more knowledgeable about what's out there and what we can do. I spoke to the principals association a couple of years ago about an incident with our school and what we went through and gave them advice about what they would do in that same situation so I would hope those kind of stories provide direction for other schools as they go through that as well."
Taradale High School principal and Hawke's Bay Secondary Principals' Association chairman Stephen Hensman shared the same sentiment.
"Schools are now more aware of the ministry's traumatic incident team so we are actually making more use of the team than we did previously, so there may very well have been incidents in the past which schools dealt without notifying the ministry."
He said things started to change in 2016 when "the ministry made a commitment to being more responsive to schools' needs".
"I think there is also a greater public awareness of the need to go beyond our own resources in all sorts of difficult situations."
Hensman also believed population increase might have a hand in the high number. He also noted that with more than 30,000 students, the number was "tiny" in comparison.
"Every one of those numbers represents a sad and distressing human tragedy, but it is still a tiny proportion of students, so therefore the shifts may not represent trends."