Road to Recovery Conference, 25 November 2008
Supporting Families When Disaster Strikes
Session One: Family liaison policies update
Chair: Jane Horton, partner Irwin Mitchell
- Solicitors play a role in helping families who face the trauma of a road death. Brake sees us as the good guys, we want the police to as well. Our roles dovetail
Commander Simon Foy, Met Police - ACPO Lead on FLOs
Developments in family liaison policies
- I’m here as head of profession for FLOs. I’m really here to speak from the heart about what I do. I do have a background as a police inspector and I’ve investigated accidents and have some sense of what you do.
- FLO policing is about being an investigator and about how we communicate facts to families.
- You will know the importance of quick removal of evidence from coroners to courts. It’s key to success that we get the role of investigators right.
- My ambition for you - I want you to be accredited. I’m trying to steer us as a service through this. I want to get you recognised as a speciality and appropriately resourced.
- I can’t wave the magic wand, but I can be a strong advocate for you. I’m proud to be the head of profession. I want to take the fantastic legacy we have as a profession forward.
PC Jeff Goodright, National Police Improvement Agency (NPIA) - family liaison coordinator and national training coordinator
New FLO training course: overview of training
- The NPIA is working to introduce a standard training programme to ensure all FLOs receive same level of training - currently some forces do 2 days training and some do 2 weeks.
- In future new FLOs will undergo selection criteria, distance learning stage, skill development stage and workplace development before being signed off as FLO and undergoing continuous professional development.
- Strategy - we need to be more structured. Why are you deploying that FLO to that family? What do you want to achieve?
- There are still some forces deploying FLOs who are not trained and it’s not fair on the officer or the family.
- FLOs need to be involved in briefings with senior investigating officers. Get them involved - that way they’ll get a clear picture and resources can be identified.
- FLOs must report and know who to report to.
- Log books need to be filled in properly.
- FLOs need encouragement.
- Risk assessment - we need to ask what’s the risk to the officer and what’s the risk to evidence-gathering.
Session Two: Communication with families
Chair: Juliette Clarke, Bond Pearce
- It is really important to know what works and what doesn’t work when communicating and building relationships with bereaved families.
Diane Beaven, BrakeCare development officer
Case studies from people bereaved in a road crash
- Important to reflect on best practice, as there is a danger that you can get into a complacency zone.
- Small changes are crucial - you should change 100 things by 1%.
- But change is useless unless you consult families involved.
The two bereaved volunteers reflected on the lessons learnt from their very different experiences with FLOs.
Gill Key, bereaved volunteer
Gill’s son Andrew, 16, was killed on the evening of 30 June 2007. He was texting for a taxi to come home from a party, walked into the road and was hit by a car. The driver was found not to be at fault. The news was not broken to Gill and and her family until 6am the next morning as the only identification Andrew had on him was his mobile phone.
The police officers who broke the news to Gill and her family did so in a kindly way, but Gill found the FLO, who arrived at 9am, to be arrogant, inconsiderate, inappropriate and uncaring - he did not mention Andrew by name even once. Gill only realised how insensitive he had been when she was later appointed a second FLO. Even though the second FLO was younger and inexperienced, she was genuine and honest, and took an interest in Gill and Andrew.
- Important to give 100% of yourself to families
- Watch your body language
- Don’t share inappropriate personal information
- Offer information about organ and tissue donation even if unsure that it is possible ? make sure the issue is addressed
- Don’t assume the family will want to visit the crash site
- Use the name of the person that has died
Linda Heynes, bereaved volunteer
Linda’s son Ben Pawsey, 28, was killed as a passenger in a car which crashed and caught fire.
Linda says that a key factor which has enabled her to ‘function normally’ again, following Ben’s death, was the way she was treated by the FLO and police officers involved in the case. The officers broke the news of Ben’s death in an extremely caring way, even getting down on their knees on the floor in order to maintain eye contact with Linda. Their concern for how Linda was feeling throughout the whole process made an awful experience a little more bearable.
- Prepare family for what they may see, hear and experience
- Be sensitive of family dynamics
- Be aware of your body language, eye contact and words used when breaking bad news
- Encourage the use of the Brake helpline
Kevin Tobin, Psychologist, Occupational Health Unit, South Yorkshire Police
Communication with families when breaking bad news: language and body language
When bad news is broken to someone, their life goes out of their control and their world can feel as if it is coming to the end. In working with families in this difficult situation, you are trying to build a relationship.
Why is breaking bad news so hard? Those responsible for imparting the news are forced to confront the certainty of their own death. There can be feelings of apprehension and inadequacy.
People receiving bad news need:
- Permission to react
How to prepare for breaking bad news:
- Be prepared for what you are to do
- Have facts and information and don’t promise what you can’t deliver
- Be on the same level - sit down if they are seated
- Maintain good eye contact
- Sit in an open gesture, as relaxed as possible
- Use simple, direct language
- Be clear and honest
- Children should not be left out but take a lead from the adults
- Be aware of and if necessary ask about cultural/faith customs
- When you leave - make it clear that you are not abandoning them and plan your next visit
Session Three: Signposting beyond the FLO service
Chair: Richard Scorer, Pannone
Fiona Mortimer, Head of BrakeCare
Early support to help prevent PTSD
- Nearly 3000 people die on UK roads every year. People bereaved by road crashes are as traumatically affected as those bereaved by bombs or homicide.
- If people do not receive early support they can be terrified of symptoms, feel let down by the system and go on to develop conditions such as PTSD.
- 30% of people exposed to a traumatic incident will experience PTSD, practitioner evidence suggests this is much higher for those bereaved by road crashes.
- Potential long term effects - unemployment, breakdown, debt, alcoholism, drugs, suicide.
- Potential cost to government far outweighs the modest cost of early support.
- Brake offers two-hour training input sessions for FLOs which include learning points from a BrakeCare volunteer’s experience of being bereaved or injured in a road crash. If you’re interested in a free session get in touch on 01484 559909.
Deborah Johnson, partner, Fentons solicitors
Signposting following a serious injury or death - how solicitors can assist the FLO
- Solicitors have come a long way - no longer seen as ambulance chasers. Can now work as part of support network of FLOs, family members, friends, GPs, hospital, counsellors and charities, e.g. Brake
- In all cases, especially those involving a death or serious injury, it is essential to seek legal advice from a solicitor who specialises in personal injury litigation and this will not cost anything
- Negotiation with insurers
- Issue County Court Proceedings
- Follow timetable fixed by court
- Attend trial
- Get judgement and award of compensation
- Consider future losses - loss of earnings, care requirements, pension loss
- Must obtain evidence to prove extent of injury/ disease/ financial loss
Important points to bear in mind:
- Failure to wear a seat belt or getting into a vehicle with a driver who has been drinking or who has taken drugs can mean compensation is reduced
- Motor Insurers Bureau - claims where a driver is uninsured or untraced are still possible
- Time limit for pursuing a claim is generally 3 years from the date of the collision or death
- It may be necessary to consider a Criminal Injuries Compensation Claim eg. if a vehicle has been used as a weapon
Det Insp Julie Ellison, Cruse Bereavement Care
Men and women: common attitudes to sudden bereavement and strains on relationships
Cruse is an organisation offering bereavement support and counselling for anyone. Julie Ellison is a Cruse volunteer counsellor. She has been a police officer with the Met in Bexley Heath for 27 years. She has seen the training improve and the impact that this has had on FLOs.
It is not always helpful to label grief. But often women and men grieve in the following ways:
- Often intuitive grievers
- Express emotions
- Often ready to ask for help - seen as “healthy bereavement”
- Often instrumental grievers
- Difficulty in showing emotions and asking for help
- Physical grief - get angry
- Active and cognitive
Family of five. Elder son dies. Years later the family are still unable to cope. Mother kept bedroom intact, but the two siblings are still sharing a bedroom. Father suggests allowing either the brother or sister to take the dead son’s bedroom. Parents argue - can’t understand each other’s grief.
The mother hadn’t gone through many of the stages of grief. The dad and the brother had and were starting to move on. The sister had been too young to know her brother and understand what was happening to grieve.
FLOs can point out difference between ways that people grieve and normalise behaviour. They can stress the importance of allowing a person to grieve in their own way and not just suggest counselling.
Session Four: Welfare of the FLO and family
Chair: Fiona Mortimer, Brake
Jonathan Coe, Chief Executive, WITNESS
Establishing professional boundaries when working with vulnerable families
Witness has operated as a charity for 12 years offering support and advocacy. They work with NHS trusts and social care groups and are concerned with boundaries between workers and members of the public.
Sources of boundary crossings
- Clients pushing boundaries. It’s completely normal for clients to push boundaries but it is the responsibility of the employee to re-set the boundaries
- If boundaries are not set clients can have unrealistic expectations about the professional relationship.
- Worker overwhelmed by clients’ needs
- Worker becoming angry/resentful of clients
- Client feeling unsafe
- Development of inappropriate relationships
- The benefits of good boundaries - avoids risks, safer for workers
So what are serious boundary violations? Discussion
- Sex with client
Group work followed on boundary crossings eg, having meal with family, gifts, going for a drink
How can workers be alert to boundary crossings?
- Am I acting differently with this family?
- Am I working beyond training and competence?
- Are my actions for my family’s benefit?
Showed film clip of US TV series featuring Gabriel Byrne as a therapist who oversteps the mark with a client who falls in love with him.
Jude Toasland, FreshStart, NSPCC
Possible child protection issues following a death or serious injury on the road
Road crashes can give way to child abuse, as death or serious injury within the family can lead to stress for the parent and the child.
The parent may have:
- Competing demands on time
- A shorter fuse
- Parents might be moving towards depression
A child may be:
- Seeking reassurance
- Distressed and seeking comfort
FLOs should be aware of the importance of keeping an eye on childrens’ needs in the aftermath of road death, so they can report concerns, if necessary. It is worth remembering that sexual offenders often target vulnerable families and vulnerable children.
FLOs should be aware that the following may be signs of neglect:
- Physical abuse eg. lashing out in response to children’s behaviour
- Emotional eg. “it should have been you”
- Sexual eg. less supervision and more vulnerable
- Neglect eg. inappropriate clothing, missed meals
It’s not the FLO’s responsibility to decide if there’s abuse but to report concerns. Listen to the child, follow your agency’s protocol. Remain vigilant.