Helping families cope with the trauma of a fatal road crash

Long after the debris has been cleared away, the emotional damage caused by a road crash remains.

Road safety charity Brake leads the way nationally in supporting road crash victims and their families, and is funded by organisations including the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Dorset.

The charity publishes a wealth of information and guidance for families who have been bereaved in road crashes, including bereavement packs which are provided to police forces across the UK, and distributed via family liaison officers (FLOs) after every fatal road crash.

The bereavement packs explain in detail the procedural and practical issues that road crash victims often have to deal with at a devastating time. Nationally accredited, the packs are considered an invaluable tool for anyone dealing with the aftermath of such a tragic event. All information is also available online via the Brake website.

Brake also publishes a book for children who have been bereaved by a road crash, to help them understand difficult subjects such as what happens when somebody dies and how to begin coming to terms with a tragedy. An accompanying guide for adults is available for anyone supporting those children and their families after a road death.

But it’s through its national helpline for people affected by road crashes that the charity’s victim support service really comes into its own.

Tracey Lister, Brake’s National Road Victim Service manager, explains: “A road crash is devastating for families. It’s a completely unexpected event, and everyone reacts differently to it.

“We’re not a traditional helpline – we don’t do a couple of one-off calls with people. Instead, we provide a specialist support service, which is person-centred with a single point of contact. The aim is to help callers feel able to cope, emotionally and practically, during the aftermath of a crash. In order to do this, we conduct a full needs assessment based on an individual person’s circumstances and we create a support plan around their needs at that time.”

This includes putting them in contact with local specialists, from support workers who can visit them at home, to face-to-face counselling and bereavement support, as well as personal injury specialists.

Tracey says the charity is committed to finding the right help, at the right time, for those in need of emotional support – so if one service has long waiting lists they will go out of their way to find alternatives and continue to support callers until they have access to the right services.

Brake is currently dealing with more than 100 cases, where any one case can include several family members who have bereaved by a single road crash – and although that figure can fluctuate, Tracey says it is unusual for the charity to be working on fewer than 100 cases at a time.

Although the first contact with bereaved family members can be within 48 hours of the crash, some people choose not to contact the helpline immediately, but their trauma can be triggered months or even years later – sometimes by an anniversary, a birthday or at Christmas.

As well as victim support services, Brake also runs awareness-raising campaigns such as the annual Road Safety Week held every November, and provides specialist training to police FLOs through its network of volunteers who have themselves been bereaved by a road crash and can talk directly to officers about their experiences.

For more information visit www.brake.org.uk

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