OVC Provider Forum Transcript

Assisting Family Members of Missing Children
Duane Bowers, Abby Potash  -  2008/5/27
Do you have suggestions for what to say to family and friends of a lost child when they are calling a crisis line?
1.  Debbie
 Thanks for the great advice on how to handle calls from friends and family members of missing children and also for the resources. I especially liked the advice about talking about the missing child in the present tense. It is very easy to slip into the past tense when speaking with a caller and the last thing we want to do is add to their feelings of hopelessness.
2.  Abby Potash
  Debbie, families with missing children face innumerable roadblocks and frustrations in their search for their missing child. They feel helpless, out of control, alone in their pain and alone in their search for their child. One of the most supportive and helpful ways to help is to listen. To provide them with a safe, non-judgmental space to talk about their child, their feelings, their guilt and the circumstances surrounding their child being missing. In addition to listening, another important way to help is empowering the family with resources they may call upon for help and support. Team HOPE has a listing of resources and will help and support the family. Team HOPEs number is 866-305-4673.
3.  D. Bowers
 Hi Debbie - If a family member or friend of a missing child calls a crisis line, first be sure they are aware of resources such as the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and the Missing Child center for their city or state. Beyond that, there are many things to consider in this conversation, but two important things are 1) speak in the present tense and 2) bring the child into the conversation. Any reference to the child in the past tense may be interpreted by the family member as a suggestion that their loved one is dead. Ex: How old is your child What is your childs favorite dessert. Second, have the caller describe the child, how they act, who they are, and what the childs goals are for the future. Another question might be what do you think has happened to your child? NCMEC has a book available (which I authored) titled A CHILD IS MISSING: PROVIDING SUPPORT FOR FAMILIES OF MISSING CHILDREN. It is free, and can be downloaded off their website, or ordered in printed format. It may provide more ideas.
Mr. Bowers, as a consultant and trainer of the Team Hope project, how does one go about signing up as a volunteer to receive the appropriate training to assist and participate in the network process of providing support to families of missing, exploited and murdered children?
1.  Abby Potash
 Yvonne, thank you for your interest in helping families with missing children. Team HOPE is a peer support network for families with missing children. Everyone involved with Team HOPE has had or still has a missing child(ren), so unfortunately one of the prerequisites of volunteering with Team HOPE is having a missing or recovered child. If you are a mental health provider seeking to support families, there currently isn't any formal training for this issue. There is, however, very helpful information contained in Duane Bowers handbook, which is published by the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, offering advice to professionals who support families with missing children. http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/ResourceServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US&PageId=3312 In addition, for those professionals who want to help families, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Family Advocacy Division, has a network of mental health professionals, who they call upon to help with families in their local area, who are willing to provide sliding fee or pro-bono services to families. For more information, and to participate in this program, please call 1-800-TheLost and ask for the Family Advocacy Division.
2.  D. Bowers
 Yvonne There are many areas of support that can be provided to families of missing children. Team HOPE specifically trains parents of missing children as volunteers to provide telephone support to other parents of missing children. There are many organizations throughout the country that provide a variety of different kinds of support to these families. The Association of Missing and Exploited Children Organizations (AMECO), and the Family Advocacy office of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children might be good starting points for you to see what is available, and to help you identify what type of support you might be interested in providing.
Do you have any suggestions for ways to address the abduction of a sibling with a young child? We want to make sure we use age-appropriate language to explain such a difficult situation.
1.  Abby Potash
 Karen, Duane brings up very good points about the safety of the child and their feelings of abandonment. In the first few hours, days and possibly weeks of the abduction, the parents may not be able to focus on their other children. Its important to dentify other relatives or friends that the children feel safe with and can spend time with when the parents arent able to focus on them. Provide the children with the space to ask questions and answer them honestly, age appropriately. Reassure them relative to their safety. The office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention has a publication What About Me? which encompasses the experiences of adults whose siblings were abducted when they were children. This book contains age appropriate activities to do with the siblings.
2.  D. Bowers
 Karen, how you discuss abduction has a lot to do with the age of the sibling. One of the best indicators of what to tell a child is by allowing the child to ask questions - the questions will indicate what the child is ready to understand. The most important thing is to reinforce that the child you are talking to is safe. Siblings are very often abandoned as the parent focuses on finding the missing child. The result is that the sibling not only loses his brother/sister, but his relationship with parent as well. The sibling needs to feel safe, and the parent is the one to provide that safety. Any way that we can support the parent to maintain their relationship with the left behind child is important.
How can we best help a family cope who's child might still be missing after many years? I imagine it differs from the initial assistance that may be provided to a family who's child may have recently been reported missing.
1.  D. Bowers
 MaryL - There are a couple of things to keep in mind when the child has been missing long term. One is that the family has a dual sense of future; here's what the future looks like if the child doesn't return, here's how the future will look if she does return. This is not thought of as mentally healthy, but it is the coping skill that allows the family to continue to move forward. We should support that thinking. Another consideration is that the parent may tend to continue to think of the child as they were when they went missing. As time passes, the child will grow and develop. It is helpful to assist the family in thinking what the child would be like now; their interests, how they would look physically, how they would think, etc. Helping the family to keep up with the missing child developmentally is also of benefit when the child returns.
How can victim advocates best meet the needs of families of abducted children when the case had previously been handled as a runaway?
1.  D. Bowers
 LarryR - In this type of situation, the family may well have reached a point where they no longer trust the system. They feel that they were not heard, and that their knowledge of their child was disregarded. This mistrust is often directed at the law enforcement agencies involved. This point of view and resulting feelings must be validated. While law enforcement may have responded appropriately based on the information they had to work with, the family very often feels the interaction with them was unacceptable. This is where organizations such as Team HOPE are so very valuable; it is a place where parents can talk to other parents who have had similar experiences. Being able to express my distrust to someone who has been there is very valuable. Then, the volunteer that has been assigned to me can assist me to refocus, and move ahead with the situation at hand. Your role as an advocate in making this referral helps to re-establish trust as well. I would also suggest that while you may empathize with the parent, don't profess to understand what they must be feeling. In fact, stating that you can't know what they are feeling develops more trust. The final thing you might consider is asking them what you asked here - I know the history of your case; how can I best support you now? Validate what they have been through, but as an advocate keep focusing on the now and where we go from here. Provide the family with referrals where they can deal with their past experience.
After a recovery, how can we help a child transition after the trauma of an abduction?
1.  Abby Potash
 From my experience of helping other families as well as my own son who was recovered, I can tell you that it takes a great deal of time, love, patience and understanding. It's important to let the child take the lead in what heshe wants to share about their experience. The child who returns is not the same child who was abducted. They need to find a new normal and self. Its important to provide them with structure and to help them find a new place within the family. The child will have trust issues, perhaps problems identifying with peers. It will take them time to trust themselves and others. Help them identify someone they can trust and support the families so they can be strong for their child.
2.  D. Bowers
 M. Page - This question does not have an easy answer, and there are many variables; did the child run a-way, were they the victim of a family or non-family abduction, how long were they missing, what was the extent of the trauma to which they were exposed each case must be handled differently? Another element to add to this is that you can't just support the child in a vacuum, but we must consider that the family needs support in reintegrating this child into the structure. The number one consideration in providing this support is recognizing that this is not the same child or the same family as before the event. The event has significantly changed the child, the family and each individual within that family. All of the individual relationships within that family are also altered. I believe that the number one consideration must be the establishment of new relationships -there is no going back to normal. There must be an acceptance on everyones part that a new normal has to be established. The second thing I would consider is that the child now has experience outside of the family which makes himher unique and this uniqueness must be honored. (Im not sure my words are conveying this well.) The child should be accepted as having changed because of the experience, and that experience must be given value. What has happened to this child will now become part of this child. To ignore, minimize or not acknowledge this experience in the name of not causing the child pain minimizes who the child has and will become.
Are you aware of any trainings specific to law enforcement? As an officer who investigates these cases, I spend a lot of time with the families and want to make sure that I'm interacting with them, and meeting their needs, appropriately.
1.  D. Bowers
 Joel, Great question! The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has developed training specifically for law enforcement folks. I've met several law enforcement personnel who have taken it, and they value it greatly. Call 1-800-The-Lost. Also the Laura Recovery Center provides training to law enforcement on searches.
In your opinion, what are the must-have publications, research materials, or web sites that every service provider working with missing children should be aware of?
1.  D. Bowers
 Matt W. - Abby Potash has compiled a very helpful list of resources that are utilized by Team HOPE, and I'm sure she'll provide some of those when she responds to your question. As for me, I would suggest reading Pauline Boss' two books on Ambiguous Loss. While neither deals directly with missing children, many of the ideas and principles she puts forward are helpful. Quite honestly, hers is the only professional work I have found. Of course the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has a great deal of resources and they have a good collection of materials they have printed on the subject. One of those is a book I wrote for them - A CHILD IS MISSING; PROVING SUPPORT FOR FAMILIES OF MISSING CHILDREN. I think it may be of benefit as well. Also be aware of AMECO (Assoc. of Missing and Exploited Children Organizations) as many of the organizations which belong to it have their own printed material.
Please give some examples of behaviors and emotions that families go through during a missing children's case.
1.  D. Bowers
 Kimberly, After care is essential and needs to focus on the new individuals and the new family structure. Every individual in the family has changed, therefore every relationship has changed, therefore the family itself has changed. Focus needs to be on the change and growth of the child, the parents, and the family. Individual, couples and family therapy are all beneficial after the childs return. Counseling may not need to be long term, depending on the resilience of the family.
2.  Kimberly G
 What about after care for families? Following up both after recovery and while still searching? Are there programs/resources for that? Is it a necessary thing?
3.  Abby Potash
 Thank you, Lanae. Families with missing children suffer from trauma and ambiguous loss. They will experience high anxiety, panic attacks, feelings of helplessness and decreased ability to concentrate. They may be consumed with guilt and not be able to eat or sleep because they dont know if their child has food or shelter. Parents lose track of time and have memory lapses, which could lead to repetitive behaviors. Many parents are unable to concentrate on anything other than their missing child and this affects their ability to do their jobs and take care of themselves as well as others. They are vulnerable and will experience spontaneous crying. They may also suffer from compulsive and obsessive behaviors in the search for their child. Parents are so consumed with their missing child that they may withdraw from their routine and relationships.
In an international parental kidnapping case, are there funds or assistance available to assist the parent who does not have the child, so that the parent can visit the child in the country where the child was taken?
1.  Abby Potash
 Kim, I am not aware of any funds to assist parents in visiting their children who have been taken to another country. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children may assist parents who qualify with travel to another country for a Hague hearing or if contacted by law enforcement when the abducted child has been recovered and is in law enforcement custody.
Some of the families I help are from other countries, specially from Mexico. The parent who has the child abducted to US is in its majority illegal and afraid to be deported because abduction is a crime. Some, are willing to negociate with the left behind parent who live in Mexico in order to by-pass the arrest. None of them have a warrant, but I encourage to send the application to the Hague so at the time of negociations or return will have to go trough the court. How is this sensitive issue handled for the child's benefit in today's immigration procedures?
1.  Gloria Nyberg
 Thank you for your response. It re-affirmed my advice to the parents.
2.  Abby Potash
 Gloria, most Central Authorities do not consider citizenship nor immigration issues when determining eligibility of Hague Convention cases. Parents and attorneys submitting applications under the Hague Convention should consult with their country's Central Authority to obtain up-to-date information regarding immigration laws and policies in foreign countries and discuss with their case manager how these policies can factor into the litigation of their Hague Convention case abroad. Many Central Authorities work closely with immigration officials and embassies to assist parents and litigants apply for visas, paroles andor waivers that allow passage of individuals participating in Hague proceedings.
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