Forgotten Victims speech - November 2010

Bringing the forgotten victims to the fore – care provision in a Big Society

Speech by Julie Townsend, campaigns director, Brake
for the Sudden Death Forum’s Annual Conference, November 2010

Good morning to you all. I’m really pleased to be speaking to you about Brake’s Forgotten Victims campaign.

This is our long-running campaign to fight for the rights of people bereaved and seriously injured in road crashes to access quality support that’s appropriate to their needs – support that’s crucial in helping these families on the road to recovery, and yet remains lacking for the vast majority of road crash victims.

Our campaign has taken an interesting turn in the past few months – as we’d reached a point where we felt able to put forward a proposal for a new approach to caring for bereaved road crash victims at a national level. We also have started to look at how our services might be adapted to be appropriate for other victims affected by a sudden bereavement, and how we might work in partnership with others to achieve this.

This strategic review of Brake’s care services coincided with a new Government, which is, as I’m sure many of you are aware, in the midst of a major review of Government-funded services for victims and witnesses.

And it also coincided with our new Prime Minister talking a lot about his vision for a Big Society

Many of the statements made by Mr Cameron remain a little enigmatic, but from what we can grasp of the Big Society concept, we feel we have tapped into it with our proposals which I’m going to share with you over the next 20 minutes or so.

Before I do that, and talk through Brake’s new direction of travel in terms of delivering care services, I wanted to give you, very briefly, a history of Brake’s work in this field.

Brake was set up about 15 years ago, by our chief executive Mary Williams OBE.

Mary was desperately concerned about both the lack of a national campaigning force for road safety, and the woeful lack of support available to road crash victims.

So Brake was founded with those two aims – preventing road death and injury, through campaigns and awareness-raising, and easing the suffering of people directly affected by road crashes.

Three years on, our helpline was formally launched, acknowledging the calls Brake had already been receiving from individuals in desperate need of support. It was initially operated on a small scale, providing a listening ear service to people bereaved in road crashes.

At the same time as getting our helpline off the ground, over the following couple of years we worked to develop support literature for bereaved road crash victims, using our experience through the helpline, and consulting with a wide range of organisations and experts. The literature was developed to provide information on the wide range of practical procedures, alongside supportive information on some of the emotional reactions that people often experience. It was designed so that families could dip in and out of the pack as relevant.

In 2000 we achieved funding from the Home Office to produce and disseminate this literature across England and Wales. Following this we went on to achieve funding to produce equivalent guides in Scotland and Northern Ireland. And we’ve managed, just about, to maintain that Government funding to the present day, although we’ve had to fight pretty hard for it on a number of occasions.

We also worked hard over the years to build good relationships with police forces, including providing training on the contents of our pack, and maintaining regular phone contact with every force, to ensure that the packs were being disseminated to all bereaved road death victims in an empathetic and helpful manner.

We also produced, over the years, several other key pieces of support literature: a guide for families with a loved one in an ICU, a guide for families affected by serious injury, and most recently, a book for bereaved children, which you’re all encouraged to have a look at during the break.

At the same time, our helpline continued to evolve in parallel with the literature, so that it became more than just a listening ear, but also a source of the broad range of information contained in our packs. So the two came to operate as sister services – and very often our helpline operators will be supporting a victim who has a copy of our literature in their hands, referring them to key information.

So we’re now in a position where our literature is given to families by police following every death on the road in the UK.

And, as you can see from this slide our helpline (which is funded not by the Government incidentally but by the same four solicitors who sponsor this conference) it’s continued to grow, with a year on year increase in calls as we’ve got better at marketing it, despite the fact the road casualties, thankfully, have fallen significantly. In 2009-10 we received 1,222 calls, of which 1057 were directly from victims, the rest from professionals supporting victims, who frequently draw on the helpline for information and advice too.

So that’s a brief history of Brake’s two bedrock national services for road death victims – our support literature and our helpline.

But at the same time as running these important services, we have constantly been aware of the desperate need for high quality face-to-face support for those traumatically bereaved, particularly in the immediate aftermath following the death. And we’ve been constantly aware of the lack of such a service, which we believe should be funded by the Government to operate nationally. Road death victims have, historically, been specifically excluded from the Government funded support provided through the charity Victim Support.

In 2003 Brake started delivering face-to-face support itself, in a limited area, as part of one of three Home Office funded pilots. As part of this pilot we trained Victim Support volunteers to go into bereaved families’ homes and provide basic emotional and practical support in the period of shock that follows a violent bereavement. When the three Home Office funded pilots ended in 2005 and no announcement was made by Government about how the service would be taken forward, we decided, with grant funding, to continue running the service, training our own volunteers this time to provide support, again just within our local area.

The funding for this programme came to an end late last year and we took the opportunity to take stock and evaluate what we’d achieved and what direction we needed to go in next.

The conclusion that we came to through our review was that relying entirely on using trained volunteers was going to prove extremely challenging if we wanted bereaved road crash victims to receive a consistently high quality service that could be delivered across the country in a cost effective way.

While many of our volunteers were highly committed and delivered high standards of support, we came up against the difficulties that I think any organisation faces when using volunteers to deliver a service that requires a lot of skill and commitment – varying standards, and a lot of labour-intensive work training and retaining volunteers.

The issues involved in relying entirely on trained volunteers has been acknowledged in the development of the Government-funded Homicide Service, delivered by Victim Support, which uses skilled, paid case workers, rather than volunteers, to deliver support to this highly vulnerable group.

We argue that people bereaved by road crashes, and indeed anyone who suffers the trauma of the unexpected death of a loved one, deserves immediate face-to-face support from skilled, experienced, committed workers who can deliver a consistently high quality service. This could come from a paid professional or a highly trained and experienced volunteer.

So we know what we want to achieve for this victim group, but our big problem now, in fact pretty much everyone’s big problem now is money, or rather lack of it. So how on earth are we proposing that the Government funds such as service now, given that the overwhelming focus at the moment is on cutting spending, and not increasing it?

Well, firstly, as was recognised by the Victims Commissioner Louise Casey in her report earlier this year, there looks to be a significant amount of wastage in the system as it stands at the moment.

According to the Victims Commissioner, Government funded support services are being offered to victims with much lesser needs than families whose loved ones have suddenly been killed – and to many victims who neither want nor need support. We believe therefore that there may be opportunity to re-divert Government funding towards victims with a greater level of need, and to create a much more targeted support service, and we understand that this is something the Ministry of Justice is looking at.

In addition to this, it’s worth emphasising that we what we are not proposing is setting up a completely new service from scratch. Instead, we are proposing that we consolidate and build on what we have already. At national level, we already have, Brake’s two bedrock care services for road crash victims, and we also have police FLO services provided to all road death victims.

On top of this, we also of course have around the country many specialist services for people who are bereaved, albeit offered on a patchy basis in some locations and not others, and in some cases with no clear and immediately obvious pathway that enables all bereaved victims to access these services.

So we have bereavement services offered in many hospitals, and we have numerous charities and agencies operating a variety of services around the country, some of them highly specialised and successful in supporting people who are suddenly and unexpectedly bereaved.

So our proposal, which was submitted to the Ministry of Justice a couple of months ago, is for a comprehensive national support scheme that builds on our bedrock national services, but also taps into these localised services around the country.

Specifically, we propose that the Government commissions our helpline to deploy immediate support workers, who we source from local bereavement services, organisations and support groups. They would be experienced, skilled and trained workers, who may be working on a professional or voluntary basis. We take them through our protocol, we get them up to our sign a code of conduct, and we provide them with specialist guidance on working with this victim group. We then deploy them to provide immediate, face-to-face emotional support for a period of 6-12 weeks. We anticipate that in the majority of cases, these workers would not need to be paid by us, since they would be delivering the service as part of their existing employment or role.

We would simply need to engage Family Liaison Officers, something of course that Brake already does across the UK, to get them to talk to families at the same time as handing over our support pack, about our helpline and the immediate support worker service – something we’ve already been discussing with ACPO.

Our proposal fits with the big society concept since we’re tapping into existing resources within communities, rather than attempting to set something up from scratch on a national scale. So to be clear, Brake’s proposed role would be as national coordinators, operating the helpline, deploying immediate support workers, providing specialist expertise, and monitoring and evaluating to ensure high standards of service.

As an aside, we do appreciate that many locally operating public and voluntary sector organisations – including the sorts of organisations we’re hoping to work with – are already overstretched, and worried about the future. Many people are saying that Big Society is a lot of hot air at the moment, and that the Prime Minister would need to put his money where his mouth is to enable these organisations to flourish and deliver work on the scale he envisages.

However, we believe that it is better for us to work to engage these organisations in delivering bereavement services, and possibly provide a national campaigning voice for the need for more investment in these services at local level, than for us to try to reinvent the wheel.

And this model does seem to work. We have already started, on a small scale, to deliver this service. In the past two months we have deployed seven immediate support workers to helpline callers who have been recently bereaved and who said that they would like face-to-face support. We’ll be closely monitoring their progress. We have also had endorsements from several local bereavement services for our proposals.

And we’ve just heard from ACPO that they will endorse this service, which is of enormous value in helping us to promote it to police family liaison officers around the country. We’re just waiting at the moment for that endorsement to come through in writing.

What we need now is a response from the Ministry of Justice on whether they will fund us to properly pilot the service with a view to rolling it out nationally.

Throughout this presentation, I have focused on catering to the needs of bereaved road crash victims, since this victim group has been our main focus at Brake historically. However, we are not blind to the fact that our services, and this model of support, could well be applied to other victim groups – particularly those bereaved by other causes of sudden death, many of whom also fall down gaps in support provision at present.

We have already started at Brake to broaden out some of our care services, where we recognised that others could benefit and where there are current gaps in service provision.

For example, this conference used to be targeted purely at professionals working with road crash victims. Now it is marketed to professionals working with people bereaved through all kinds of sudden death.

Our book for children bereaved through road crashes has been adapted so it can be used for children bereaved through all causes of sudden death. And now we’re looking at our book for adults bereaved through road crashes, Coping with Grief, which forms part of our support pack, and whether this can be adapted for and distributed to a wider audience.

We are from now on bringing these services together to be delivered through a new division of Brake and new brand name, Sudden.

So although our current focus is on achieving a comprehensive support service for road death victims, our vision is for a comprehensive support service to be offered to everyone bereaved through sudden death.

We are exploring ways we can work towards this vision at the moment in partnership with other organisations and practitioners, including by engaging with health services, police and charities providing support to specific victim groups.

And we believe this is a crucial time to be speaking out together on behalf of victims. These are without doubt challenging times for all of us with the huge spending cuts being made, but, we hope, there’s also opportunity for us to challenge the Government to ensure that services are targeted at those with greatest need, and to fill the gaps in service provision that currently so many bereaved victims fall through.

I would encourage anyone here today who thinks they may be able to work with us in moving towards our vision to please let us know. If you are able to offer an endorsement for our proposal, if you think your organisation can work with us to deploy immediate support workers, or if you have any ideas at all about how we might work together to make steps towards our vision for comprehensive support for the hitherto forgotten victims, then please do come and speak to me during one of the breaks.

Thank you very much for your time.

Tags: victims speech