In our latest Facebook Live broadcast, Shane, our Aftercare Coordinator, talks to Helen about what support families need may when reconnecting with their missing loved one.
What help do families need when a loved one returns from being missing?
The general consensus is that once the person is back, everything goes back to how it should be. But what we’ve found is that the issues that were there when that person went away very rarely disappear or are sorted out while they’re away.
For family members, when that person comes back, whether it’s been weeks, months or years, there’s an element of unknown about what happened when they were away.
It’s about having someone there to guide you through it and listen and for you to be able to say "things aren’t right".
What emotions do you hear that families experience?
There is anger, disappointment, upset. There is joy as well – they know the person is back and that they’re safe and well. But, there is also the feeling of "why did they go?".
How honest do you think conversations are between families and their returned loved one?
It’s quite a rarity to be able to do that at the beginning. There is certainly an element of "when is the right time to ask questions" and the uncertainty of "if I do this, will they go again?".
We guide the person to say "I love you, I’m there for you, when you’re ready, we’ll talk about this". It takes a great strength of will to be able to do that in the family environment.
What are the practical things that families have had to deal with?
Practicalities of further support, re-education, contact with Social Services. Some people are in a new situation and have never had to do something like speak to Social Services before.
What challenges do parents face when their child is repeatedly going missing?
Missing can affect anybody at any time, and people are unprepared for it. If someone comes back and they feel they’re dealing with the issues and then they go again, we’re there for that continued support.
We’ll give information about exploitation, substance misuse, alcohol dependency. Arming the parents with this information can give them comfort and build their confidence in dealing with the situation.
Is a person’s parenting ability ever brought into question?
People do start to look inwards; “what am I doing wrong?” Sometimes it’s a good place to start, but you’ve got to widen things out as well. We will always start with: “how are YOU feeling?” and then widen the issue out from there.
Do parents come with a lot of questions they don’t know the answers to?
There are always uncertainties there. For example, not knowing how Social Services work. So we’re able to tell them that it’s not always about taking away your children, they’re there to give you support and answer your questions.
Do you find that, although you’re speaking to somebody who’s loved one was missing and had the issue, it’s actually them themselves who isn’t coping?
Absolutely. It’s not just about putting the family back together, but helping people back to an emotional level where they’re able to cope. It’s not going to be an easy journey. Someone going missing can devastate your life.
Sadly, some missing people are found dead. Do you find that families experience different things in this situation as it isn’t a typical bereavement?
That’s the tragedy of the work we do, that not everybody comes home. You have to reconcile the bereavement with the fact that you have a resolution, so there may even be a feeling of relief.
The worst has happened, but you do know what has happened. It’s a very difficult situation.
The death may not have been straightforward. We could be talking about suicide, murder or manslaughter, or an accident. All of those are traumatic.
What work have we been doing with returning adults?
We’ve been running a pilot, and are the first in the country, to look at and speak to adults when they come home. We do return home interviews when someone comes back.
Giving that person a chance to talk about their situation is a real gift in itself. Very rarely do they have that. After their safe and well check with the police, if they’re ok then they’re an adult so they can go on their way. We offer an opportunity to talk about why they left, what happened while they were away and what their plans are now they’re back.
Giving them a voice, putting them in touch with right people, being that bridge between them and other services; it can change someone’s life.
Watch the full Facebook Live video: