It's one thing to have a really useful set of literature for giving to families affected by road crashes. But it's no good whatsoever unless the right literature is passed on to families in an empathetic and timely manner. That's your job, and this guidance document tells you how to do it in the best possible way, focussing on helping families who have been bereaved.
'Information and Advice for bereaved families and friends following a death on the road' - the navy blue Brake folder, containing two books
The FLO Strategy Manual by ACPO recommends that you hand out Brake's bereavement folder, 'Information and Advice for bereaved families and friends following a death on the road' in all cases of road death, and so does the Government's Code of Practice for Victims of Crime (section 5.13). It is free to you as it is funded by the Government.
This folder of information, which you should already be familiar with, includes a YELLOW book about emotional responses and support agencies, and a RINGBOUND book about procedural and practical concerns. It is updated in wide consultation every year and is widely respected by a range of professionals, as well as widely applauded by families themselves.
Read the below bullet points to hand out this pack in an empathetic and timely manner to bereaved families:
- Hand out more than one folder. This folder is funded by Government agencies. There are enough stocks available for you to hand out, for free, TWO EXTRA copies of the small YELLOW book to each family, and TWO copies of the navy blue folder (including both yellow and ringbound books) to each family. This is especially useful for split families, girlfriends, boyfriends, adult offspring, etc.
- Hand the folder and extra yellow books out right away. Although it is challenging professionally, you need to hand the packs out in the same meeting in which you deliver the death notice. [NB: If the bereaved family includes children, you should also at this stage hand out our children's book ('Someone has Died in a Road Crash') and its accompanying guide for carers of children. If you do not have copies of this widely-acclaimed resource, which is free and funded by BBC's Children in Need, contact us on 0808 8000 401 immediately.
- Open the folder at page one (labelled 'important contacts'). This is important as this is where you are asked to record your contact details, including your name, phone numbers and times you can be contacted. This is vital for the family, having it written in the pack is better than on a card, as they may lose a card. However, you could also slip a business card in the plastic flap at the front of the pack.
- Alert families to the helpline number on the front of the folder, and call the helpline if necessary. Direct the family to the Brake helpline number on the front of the folder. This helpline is not available 24 hours a day, but if you reach an answer machine we will call you back when you say you want us to. We are there to help you with your questions on behalf of the family, or to talk to the family directly if they prefer. We are there for emotional support and also to provide procedural advice on a range of points covered in the folder that are outside the remit of a police officer, ranging from wills to civil claims to accessing an assessment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The helpline is staffed by paid, trained professionals directly employed by the charity Brake, not volunteers or outside contractors.
- Topics covered in the folder that need to be read right away (this can be done by you or someone else on behalf of the family) You can use the folder as a way of helping a family deal with difficult topics that need addressing early on. The section called 'What happens now?' has a box opposite page 13 about organ donation. [Click here to read our advice on organ donation,] a vitally important subject area. Page 13 also has important information about viewing a body which is really valuable for families to read, or have read to them by you or someone else, very early on, before they view a body.
- Please use the plastic flaps at the front and back of the folder for important local information, for example your business card or information about local health and support services. However, please do not use it for commercial information or for information of fringe interest to families or for information that is not entirely empathetic or appropriate at this terrible time. Families have been upset in the past by inappropriate information being inserted in this way.
Use of the folder throughout your involvement with a family
You will find the folder very useful throughout your involvement with a family. Families often keep the folder close by - it is designed to be durable and not easy to lose (unlike a leaflet) - and may ask you questions that can be answered within the folder, using their copies or a copy that you keep on you (keep one on you at all times). You can work with families to seek the answers they need by reading the folder with them, and if necessary reading the folder to them (although the folder is written in plain language, using large font size, some families find it difficult to read at certain times when in crisis - you, or a relative or friend can help them to do this).
Practical issues: This section of the ring bound part of the folder is very useful to help you work with the family to identify practical concerns they may have and to help them solve them. This could be through a range of measures such as support with media queries, or help informing others about a death.
Criminal charges and court procedures: These two sections of the ring bound part of the folder are very useful to help families to understand charge structures and what may happen in court.
Civil claims: It is not your remit to be an expert in personal injury compensation, yet you may be asked by families about it. There is a very useful section on this in the ring bound part of the folder. You can help families by reading this section with them. It is most important that a family consults an expert personal injury solicitor to find out if they have a claim, and this shouldn't cost them anything. Brake's helpline can help them find such a solicitor.
Assessment of medical needs: Many people bereaved by road crashes develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is not your job to act as a family's trauma therapist or to diagnose whether they indeed need therapy or not, but you can help them access a medical assessment of their needs, and consequently the right sort of therapy if appropriate, by helping them to read the section about this on this in the yellow book. This is appropriate about two months after a death, not earlier.
Keep abreast of the folder's contents
It is very important that you read the folder annually from cover to cover to note updated sections and keep abreast of issues of concern to families aside from the criminal investigation: it is a very useful reminder training tool for you. This gives you a much broader understanding of what they are 'going through'. If there is anything in the folder that you do not understand, or which you think needs improving, contact the helpline on the front of the folder. We value your feedback immensely, and appreciate the challenges of your demanding role.
Other guides by Brake
If you are based in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales, there are regional versions of the bereavement folder produced by Brake, which are distributed in the same way and are freely available.
If you are a police officer working in one area of the UK, but are helping a family affected by a road death in another area, you may wish us to send you the relevant folder for that area to answer specific questions of the family. Scotland, in particular, has procedures that are somewhat different in many ways to the UK.
Brake also produces guides on serious injury and on Intensive Care Units. These guides are also available for free and available through the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401.
We value all feedback, but particularly from families - this helps us continue to obtain funding for these free guides. If you are working with a family who has appreciated the literature we have provided, please encourage them, at the appropriate moment, to fill in the freepost feedback forms we provide with most of our literature with their comments - and return it to us. Many thanks for this help.
Need more folders or other guides?
If you have run out of Brake literature, contact the Brake helpline on 0808 8000 401 and we will replenish your stock free of charge.
Author: Mary Williams Last updated: Jan 2008 Copyright Brake