Clark J. (2011) ‘You are going to drop the ball on this …’: using siblings’ stories to inform better interprofessional practice when someone goes missing , Police Practice and Research, 1 — 13, iFirst Article.

Interviewer: Michael Bouwman (MB)

Interviewee: Julie Clark (JC)

MB: Introducing Dr Julie Clark, lecturer in the School of Human Services and Social Work, Logan Campus, Griffith University, Australia. I’m speaking with Julie about her study and article, ‘You are Going to Drop the Ball on This: Using Sibling Stories to Inform Better Inter-Professional Practice When Someone Goes Missing’ and published in ‘Police Practice’ and Research, morning Julie.

JC: Good morning Michael.

MB: Now if I could start by asking, your study is set in the context of police work in relation to ‘missingness’, could you explain this term and set the stage for discussion of your findings by talking about the literature on police work in relation to missingness in Australia?

JC: Certainly, I’m actually a social worker so the extent to which I have knowledge of police work is from a standpoint as a social worker working with missing people but in this article I talk about the information that I gained from research participants about their experience of police in relation to missingness. Missingness is kind of an odd term and people have asked, did I make it up but I didn’t actually. It’s been used in the literature previously by authors who used it because it’s difficult to talk about the multi-faceted issues to do with prevention, location, education, support, evaluation of programs to do with missing people, to talk about friends and family of missing people, to talk about searching and locating and the different types of missing people eloquently. So they coined the term ‘missingness’ to capture the state of being missing and all the issues that are linked to being missing. It’s an easier way to talk about complex issues.

MB: And the aim of the study was to give voice to siblings of long term missing people?

JC: Yes, there’s very little literature about the experience for families when somebody goes missing and there’s even less literature about the experience of siblings when somebody goes missing. So what I hoped to do in my research initially was to talk to siblings of missing people to find out how that impacts upon them and how they responded. One of the things that came from that was comments about police and policing and the impact of the response by police on families and on individuals and that gave me the basis for writing this article and for exploring further, people’s experience of policing.

MB: And Julie your findings suggest the impact of contact with police is more far reaching than perhaps appreciated and you identified areas in which police and human services practice might be improved. Can you elaborate on these findings and the relevance of the research to police and human service practice?

JC: There were findings about people’s perceptions of police services and there were 2 main areas that people had comment about and that was the quality of police service and the inter-personal approach or the sensitivity of police in responding to the family and friends who were left behind. The family members were initially concerned that police were thorough in their investigation and systematic in their investigation and on occasions family members commented that they weren’t sure that police were taking seriously the circumstances in which their sibling went missing or that they were discounting in some way their family member because of perhaps mental health issues or other difficulties or confrontations with police over other issues in the past. Family members were concerned the quality of police investigations weren’t necessarily best quality. They were also concerned when the manner in which police engaged with them wasn’t sensitive to their needs. For example, one woman talked about a police officer indicating that bodies float to the surface when it rains so it’s good that it’s raining today cause we might locate your brother. For that family, they had not conceived for a moment that their family member may be deceased, they hadn’t considered they may have suicided, they hadn’t considered they may have been harmed in any way, they just knew they were missing so the memory of that inconsiderate comment by the police officer remains very fresh with that family to this day. So there were a range of issues that police could address, one of the things family members noted was Specialist Unit Police Officers who worked in missing persons units were much more familiar with the needs of family members to keep in contact with police, the need for sensitivity, the need to keep them informed about what progress is being made. So they commented very favourably in general on their interactions with police from Specialist Units and in the research it talked about using that resource more effectively within the police service to perhaps train other police officers but also recognising when police come to the limits of their training and ability that there is a need to work with existing social services more effectively and to refer people to support services such as psychologists or social workers or counsellors when police exceed the limits of their professional expertise, that it’s recognising when that happens and having the resources available that are informed and well trained in order to make effective referrals. We also talked about the need for a non-government, independent, community-based, national support and advocacy service so that community members had alternative points of contact other than government agencies and so that community-based organisations may feel more free to advocate in the interest of family members or people who have are missing and would create the potential for there to be a more dynamic discussion to introduce greater multi-disciplinary impact to the service system that’s currently available for family and friends of missing people. There are very few services specifically for missing people and I think our argument is not really that we need a whole new service system for family and friends and missing people or for missing people themselves, but that existing services need to be better informed about the potential for someone to go missing and what happens from that, that family and friends needs support and that there needs to be some kind of response to those people who are left behind. So existing services need to be educated, existing services need to be aware that going missing is one of the consequences of perhaps people who may have a mental health problem, people who are experiencing life stresses that are beyond their capacity to cope at that point in time. There are multiple reasons that people go missing so the issues of missingness really spans that whole human services system. Like suicide training we require our human services professionals to be as familiar with the sorts of responses that may be appropriate when people go missing.

MB: And lastly Julie, have there been any outcomes from your research?

JC: One of the interesting outcomes of having written for publication is that a theatre group, Version 1.0, has developed a theatre production called ‘The Disappearance Project’ from much of the verbatim quotations that I’ve used in articles, so that’s a really interesting outcome from my research that was entirely unexpected and ‘The Disappearance Project’ has played a week in Sydney, in Western Australia and Bathurst and we’re looking towards ‘The Disappearance Project’ being regionally toured around Queensland next year. I think at the beginning of my research I couldn’t in any way have anticipated there’d be such a creative outcome to undertaking the research and from my point of view that’s very exciting as a researcher.

MB: Well done, well thank you Julie for talking with us today. You make a strong case for more research and a more multi-disciplinary approach on the complex issue of missing persons.

JC: Thank you very much.

This podcast was produced by the International Program of Psycho-Social Health Research (IPP-SHR), Griffith University for the Logan Research Showcase held on 6 September 2011. For further information contact Dr Pam McGrath at [email protected]