Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Never a Dull Moment

I’d never really thought about the ‘missing’ issue - about how it feels to be a mother when her son doesn’t come home after a night out, or what it must be like for a teenager who’s run away and doesn’t know where to turn. 250,000 people go missing every year in the UK, and yet most members of the public have never put themselves in the shoes of those affected. It’s an issue that feels far away – one we’re confident we can side-step forever. But chat, like I did, with the Missing People helplines staff, who receive 114,000 calls for help every year, and they’ll tell you that the ‘missing’ issue is one that reaches far and wide, and inevitably touches every community.

I first found out about internships at Missing People through a volunteering fair at my university. I’d already heard of this inspiring charity through a friend who volunteered there part-time, and was excited to see there was an opportunity as a Communications Intern – the perfect role for me to gain relevant work experience for my Journalism degree, whilst learning more about this devastating, but seemingly distant, issue. 

I applied straight away and was lucky enough to be chosen for the three month internship. I couldn’t wait to get started, especially as I was to join just before May 25, International Missing Children’s Day 2011 - what brilliant timing. My first task was to support the "Big Tweet for Missing Children," a 24-hour Tweeting marathon during which the charity tweeted a different missing child's appeal every 30 minutes and asked its supporters to RT and spread the word. I was in charge of researching different celebrities we could invite to take part, and we wound up with 27 celebrities tweeting for us, including Lily Allen, Victoria Beckham, Stephen Fry, Sarah Brown, Alan Carr and Denise Van Outen. It was great fun and, more importantly, the Big Tweet was a big success, with over 15,000 people clicking on our missing children appeal links.

There was never a dull moment, and I found myself doing all sorts of jobs, with no two days being the same. My many and varied tasks included drafting press releases, creating daily coverage reports, sourcing case studies for journalists, and keeping up to date with the large volume of requests for information that the charity's Comms Team receive from the media every day.

I enjoyed everything about my internship at Missing People, but the most meaningful experience has to be attending the first ever Parliamentary Inquiry into support for families of missing people at the Houses of Parliament. The inquiry into the lack of support offered to relatives of people who disappear took place over three days in June and saw Kate McCann, mother of missing Madeleine McCann, and Peter Lawrence, father of missing York chef Claudia - amongst other bereft parents and families - give evidence to Parliament about how often they are without any government support. I found this both really interesting and deeply moving, and was privileged to come back and help at the later sessions.

All too quickly, three months have passed and I’m off to continue my degree. I would definitely recommend applying for an internship at Missing People – there are usually several to choose from. Not only have I learnt a whole new range of transferable skills and seen what happens in a communications team, but I’ve come to grasp the scope of the 'missing' issue, and the importance of Missing People as the UK's only charity to offer a lifeline when someone disappears.

By Laura Barrett
Missing People Intern

Thursday, 11 August 2011

How We Keep Publicity Safe

Last week, Missing People posted a missing person alert on Twitter (@missingpeople) for a young boy who had gone missing, and an amazing 2,753 people clicked through to his appeal on our website. That afternoon he was found. This is one of many wonderful success stories, and highlights how useful new social media is to us as a charity to expand our search and get the message out there.

The charity is occasionally asked by members of the public to spread the word about a missing person who we haven’t been asked to search for either by police or family. While we would like to lend our immediate help, sometimes the complexities of the issue and our responsibility to the missing person and their family mean we can not always sound the alarm as quickly or as widely as we’d like. We’ve had recent incidents where members of the public have been upset by the charity not re-Tweeting a missing person appeal until we had vetted its legitimacy. We always need to make sure that publicity is the right thing to do, and this time delay may frustrate some. I would like to take this chance to shed light on the reasons.

Here at Missing People, our walls are covered with posters of the people we are helping to find. The charity’s mission is to offer a lifeline to missing people and their families left behind, and publicity plays a big part in that. We usually produce both a poster and a website appeal for a missing person on the same day the police or family asks us to help. We work quickly to get publicity out because we know that public awareness helps. It helps to find people who are missing. It helps make people safe. It gives hope to the family that something is being done; that someone cares.  Without members of the public reacting to the publicity that we do and caring enough to make an effort, it wouldn’t work.

The charity has more than 7,500 followers on Twitter, and receive over 34,000 hits on our website every month. We have over 2,000 thousand places in the UK where we can distribute posters. Despite our haste to get publicity out there, we are always careful that publicity is the right thing to do. The power of publicity is great but unwieldy, and that means you must be very thoughtful as to how and when you use it. We know more than anyone the importance of reacting quickly, but it is imperative that we secure agreement from parents and families before sharing their loved ones’ details. We must also check that the police are OK that we do publicity on every single case.

Sometimes there are reasons why doing publicity would be wrong and worse, publicity may put already vulnerable people at more risk. Think of someone with a mental health problem, panicked to see a Tweet about themselves in their local community; put off from seeking help for fear of being ‘found’. Think of someone fleeing years of domestic violence, seeing a newspaper appeal for themselves and feeling driven ‘underground’. Harder to reach. Harder to find. Think of the mum, trying to protect an elderly grandma from the news that her granddaughter has disappeared. And occasionally, think of less well-intentioned requests for publicity; someone calling our Helplines seeking to track down a person who owes them money or a daughter who has fled from a forced marriage and is fearful for her safety.

These are the reasons we always check with the police and family members that it’s OK to proceed with publicity.

The issue of ‘missing people’ is a complex one, and we must approach the issue of publicity with all those nuances in mind. We aim that if someone saw publicity of themselves they’d feel able to contact us in confidence for help. We consider how they would feel – reading about themselves. We also consider how hard it could be for someone who has been missing to then ‘walk back into their life’, knowing that publicity about them has been distributed throughout the local area or been featured in the national media. We don’t want to make it any harder.

We are incredibly grateful to people who have “Joined the Search” by downloading our posters, or re-Tweeting our appeals, and as an organisation we have a responsibility to make sure that the information we share is accurate. It’s imperative that the public trusts what we say and that means we publish only what we know to be true, not what we believe to be true. We need to make sure that any publicity; posters, media appeals, tweets, will help someone to safety. Trust in Missing People is dependent on getting this right.

By Helen Morrell
Services Manager, Family Support

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

You Don’t Know What You’re Missing

Our son Andrew Gosden went missing aged 14 in 2007. His 18th birthday was on 10 July 2011 and in all that time we have had no confirmable news or sighting of him. 

A few weeks ago, our friend Sandy called round to tell us the good news that he has secured a place on the course he wanted to pursue and that he now has the next 3 years of his life planned. His enthusiasm and joy are always infectious and this occasion was no different. We could not be more pleased for him nor more impressed by his achievement of obtaining a place on a course for which competition is fierce. 

Sandy and Andrew spent a good deal of time together growing up. I remember their X-Box and Playstation battles, sleepovers, snooker games and church activities with one another.

Now, as I reflect on Sandy’s achievement, I cannot help but wonder what I have missed in my son’s life.  Most likely, we would have seen him tackle GCSE’s and A-Levels, apply to University, take his driving test.  There would have been so much time working and enjoying life together. Birthdays to celebrate, Christmas gifts for him, holidays together. I know my wife and daughter were having the same thoughts, but no one dares share them for fear of upsetting one another.

All this normality has instead been replaced by years of searching, leafleting, media interviews, email campaigns, sonar scanning for his body in the Thames. Normality has been replaced by depression, anxiety, fear, frustration... the list seems endless. And most recently the results of the Police commissioned forensic psychology report accords with our own worst fears; the odds would suggest that our son is dead. But of course, we cannot know for certain as there is no body, so remain in limbo.

Should you happen to read this blog and have children of your own, I beg you to take a moment and consider how you might feel if it were your child. What would you be missing in your life? Could you afford to hold onto any hope of an answer? How should you construct the future without knowing where your child is? Is it possible to ever escape the fears, depression and sadness, and return to anything that ever feels right again?

The charity Missing People has recently been instrumental in achieving the first ever Parliamentary Inquiry into services for the families of missing loved ones. There are many issues - emotional, practical, legal, financial. If my words here have touched you, perhaps made you pause for thought, I would beg you to visit their website - www.missingpeople.org.uk - and consider what support you could give. Perhaps a donation, perhaps a letter or message of support, perhaps a few minutes looking at the faces of the missing and asking yourself if you could have seen one of them? Maybe you could share the charity's website address on your social network page and help to raise awareness of both the wider issues and of the thousands of individuals affected so profoundly.

Please take a moment to wonder what it is like if you don’t know what you’re missing...


By Kevin Gosden
Father of missing Andrew Gosden

For more information about Andrew, visit helpustofindandrew.weebly.com or www.missingpeople.org.uk/andrewgosden

Show your support for families of missing people on Missing People’s Wall of Reminders.

Around 250,000 people go missing in the UK each year. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

Written by families and friends of missing people, supporters working to raise awareness of the cause, and volunteers and staff at the charity Missing People, we hope that this blog will offer a window into the issue of missing.

The charity Missing People is a lifeline when someone disappears. To find out more about Missing People and ways that you can support the charity visit www.missingpeople.org.uk.

Call or txt the charity Missing People for free on 116 000, 24/7 if you or anyone you know is affected by a disappearance.