Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Word About "That Word": Why "closure" isn't adequate.

Being an “organization of loss” puts us in a unique community. We exist at an intersection of loss that puts us in communion with many different “organizations of loss”. As a member of that community, we dutifully maintain our awareness of the issues and ideas of other organizations that deal with loss.

I was reading the newsletter for The Central Minnesota Chapter of the National Organization of Parents of Murdered Children.

In it, there was an article about the stages of grief, and how grief is a sometimes cyclical process towards peace with a loss or a death.

Understanding that process doesn’t make it any easier, and does not diminish the suffering of people going through it. People in grief for a lost loves one, especially a child, do not want to hear about “the process of grief”. They are IN it, and they just need to feel whatever they are feeling right now.

When our families have a child missing over years or decades, they go through similar stages, but what stands out to me is that with no known outcome, there is no progress towards being at peace. You can’t accept an outcome that never comes.

People discuss the concept of a outcome as “closure”, but many of our left behind and searching families shake their head (and sometimes their fists) at that word. “Closure” implies an ending to the process, a close book means that you are done reading it. A close door means an end to possibilities.

But finding out what happened to your child isn’t an ending, it is a beginning. A beginning of processing an outcome, whether it is your child found unharmed, your child found with substantial injuries (physical, mental, emotional), or your child found deceased.

Until you know what your child needs from you, what they went through, what happened to them, you cannot begin to make progress.

Our parents of long-term missing go through the stages of grief without progressing towards peace, however temporary.

They endure the endless questions, the analysis, the accusations, the casual blame-game of the public, the invasive manner in which some outsiders express sympathy, the self-doubt and questioning, the depersonalization of their child’s case (“Oh your child is missing? How awful, I can’t even imagine. I just saw that special about Adam Walsh the other day!”) – and then they get up the next day and do it again.

For families of murdered children, the process of grief never truly ends. It reaches a point where they can do other things, think other things, have joy in their memories more often than pain…but that grief comes back again and again.

For families of missing children, that journey can’t even begin until their child comes home.

I’d just like to remind people that “answers” are NOT “closure”. Even “closure” isn’t “closure”…since we all know that pain and grief revisit us throughout our lives when we lose a loved one. They are never truly gone, and the pain of missing them is never truly gone.

Answers are important. They are needed and vital, and our families deserve them. But they are just a beginning, not an ending.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A word from 1987 about Chronic Runaways and why there is no "one size fits all" solution.

This article was printed in the Missing Children’s Bulletin in 1987. Missing Children's Bulletin was a small-print publication of a Missing Child Organization called I-Search. It was written by Jan Stanton, and many of the issues it raises are still going on today. Of course, in this day and age, we have learned more about the role that mental health, learning disabilities, and bullying (especially of LGBT youth) have on runaway behavior. Still, the problem space – and the shortfalls of the solution space seem to have moved little.

We still struggle with stereotyping of runaway youth and their families, which gets in the way of the individual solution needed to effectively address the problem. We still struggle with a lack of coordination of services that allows children and families to fall through the cracks.

We still have a problem with the needs of runaway youth not being enough of a social, justice system, and funding priority. We still have elements of the youth culture that encourage and glorify running away as a means to independence and self-determination.

 Pass it On: Safety Tips for Professionals
by Jan Stanton

“Chronic or habitual runaways many times are children who are searching for solutions to their problems. They are knowledgeable about the system and they realize that it hasn’t worked for them. We must address the problems of the runaway, as well as those of the professionals who work with them, and the problems within the system itself.

This “system” may include law enforcement, youth service agencies, mental health agencies, rape crisis centers and criminal justice professionals. These agencies, within the overall system, must work together to provide intervention, referral and resources for the chronic runner.

 Since law enforcement officers are not generally councilors, they must refer the youth to an appropriate agency during initial intervention. For follow-up and/or return of the youth, law enforcement’s role needs to include an in-depth interview with the youth concerning causation and details surrounding their runaway experiences.

Professionals working with runaways need to understand the dynamics and characteristics of these youths. This understanding may enable them to assist the youth in breaking their cycle of running and perhaps their cycle of victimization. For some chronic runners, reasons for running are extremely complex, and depend on how youth perceive themselves and the world around them. Some perceive their runaway episode as a step toward independence. They feel that others, especially parents, control what is happening to them. They believe parents should change, and if such changes do not take place, they are disappointed. Chronic runaways will continue to hope that their lives will improve. When they don’t, they will run again.

Runaway skills are learned, and most youths do not automatically know how to run away from home or where to go. This learning may take place through a series of social encounters which may be positive or negative. Running away demands a great deal of experimentation, taking chances and involvement on the part of the youth. Peers are often a part of those experiments as well as a critical support network for approval or discouragement of continual absences. After repeated episodes, youths may be influenced by those who may become their exploiters, thus adding to their already troubled environment.

When examining the chronic runner, parents, case workers, law enforcement officials and youth advocates must draw careful distinctions between those young people who are totally assertive and committed to a new way of living, and young people who are delinquent, troubled, or are seeking help. Young people who are testing the social boundaries on behalf of growing independence are distinctly different from young people who are bored, deprived, abused, or emotionally confused.

Given the expanded focus on runaways in today’s society, helping professionals must take a closer look at the growing problem of the chronic runner.  Upon returning home or to shelters, it is essential that a broader range of services be made available for children and parents. Young people and their parents must be given the opportunity to examine the problems that have led to the runaway episodes and explore other choices.

“To remain optimistic about the future of our nation’s youth, we just confront the many reasons underlying runaway behavior. The answer seems straightforward: there are often inadequacies in the home, the school, and the community. The youth must still be held accountable, however. But the difficult question remains: How do we develop reasonable accountability in both?” (Robbie Callaway, Director of Governmental/United Way Relations, Boy’s Clubs of America).
These system-kids who are lost in bureaucratic mazes, underfunded services and unheeding communities need our attention. Professionals who spend time working with these youth have felt our adult failures, have watched the youths struggle and have seen many succeed. The Potential is there – both for youth and for the professional. Won’t you use your skills and PASS IT ON.”