In 2013, we were approached by the writer and producer of the drama at a very early stage of the play’s creation. Michael Butt, the writer, wanted to make sure his work reflected the reality of what happens when somebody goes missing. As part of his research, he met with our staff and volunteers to find out more about the experiences of people who are missing and their families.
In the drama, the role of a Missing People helpline staff member was played by a member of our team, Amy. Because the actors were improvising it meant that we could demonstrate how our call-takers work on the phone – listening, remaining calm - not knowing the whole story but gently exploring the situation to support the person.
When the helpline phone rings, or a text message comes through, we don’t know who it is. It could be a child who has been kicked out or run away, it could be an adult who has left home because of crisis they are going through, it could be a parent or carer. People can come to us whilst going through lots of different emotions – panic, fear, anger, guilt, despair, sadness. It’s our job to listen, to create a space where they feel safe and supported to talk through what is going on for them, and then get help for them, or offer advice, if that is what they want. We are here for support, and to help people to be safe.
In "Ambiguous Loss", Missing People takes a message from the missing man to pass onto his wife. Being able to pass such a message is a really effective part of our work – Message Home is core function of our helpline service. A lot of people who are missing will want their families to know they are okay, but won’t feel ready to talk to them directly. By passing the message on we can help both them and their family. If they want, we can help with further steps towards reconnection – such as passing messages back, or even connecting them through a 3-way call. During the 3-way call we stay on the line – to offer support, advice or clarification as needed.
Of course, reconnection - going home - is often just the first step. People may have left for many different reasons, and may still need help and support. They may have changed in the time they have been away, or find it difficult to adjust to being back. Their family may not know how to treat them – wanting to make sure they know they are loved and looked after, but worried they may leave again. If someone has been away for a long time it may feel like they have a stranger sat in their living room. Because of this, we are currently piloting an Aftercare scheme in Wales. This a service where we can offer ongoing phone support to both the person who has come home and their family – giving them a chance to honestly talk through their fears and frustration, and discuss different services and resources that may be available to help them.
‘Ambiguous Loss’ brilliantly reflects the work our frontline staff and volunteers do for vulnerable people, and how it connects to the work they also do with their families. I want anyone who is away from home, or worried they may have to leave, to use our helpline services by phone, text, or email. We won’t tell you what to do. We know it’s difficult, and we will listen to you – it’s your call.
You can listen to the play "Ambiguous Loss" on BBC Radio 4 this week at 2.15pm on Monday 27th, Tuesday 28th and Wednesday 29th or you can listen again on the BBC Radio 4 website.