After the incident is over: Short-term family care

I have been discussing a long list of things that will need to be done after an incident occurs in your church. Another consideration that every church should think about, especially in the immediate hours after a shooting (or bombing), would be to notify and help the families of those injured and killed.

Notifying families about the demise of their loved one will likely be done in conjunction with law enforcement. The list that you made in the initial aftermath, which identified the injured and deceased, should assist you in this task. It is important to ensure that not only are you present for the notification, but that you take a specific volunteer that will be a point of contact for this family member. This point of contact will be responsible for ensuring that their needs are met from the time of the notification forward.

While we may be in mourning for those killed, we need to remember that the living are still with us, and they will have needs. They will usually need support to get through this difficult time. They may even need mental health intervention, which your point of contact will be able to identify and request through your volunteer network. A critical aspect of care is to work with mental health professionals and public safety, to provide critical incident stress debriefings in the first 72-hours after an incident.

A critical incident stress debriefing helps individuals to share what they feel, or what they felt during the attack. This can help to reduce the long-term psychological effects of what they saw and felt during the attack, as well as the guilt that can come afterwards.

While not a mandatory task of the church, consideration should be given to helping those injured and killed as well as their family members immediately after an incident. They may need assistance with:

  • Arranging transportation
  • Taking care of the children, elderly, the disabled, or pets.
  • Providing emotional support
  • Provide a 24-hour watch (with, or over, certain individuals.)

It is extremely important to evaluate the immediate support needs in the first 2-6 hours after they have been notified, and evaluate the family’s short-term needs in the first 24-hours.  In providing help to these family members, you show Gods love. To accomplish these tasks, your church or another church may need to find some willing volunteers to take on the responsibilities of caring for these families. In all likelihood, it will take a cadre of volunteers to meet the list of needs for everyone affected.

Your point of contact volunteer should initially be used to identify the needs of the victims and their family members, then to arrange a support system for them through the cadre of volunteers.  Some individuals may just need checked once or twice per day, while others may need 24-hour around the clock care. As we check on these individuals, we need to assess their psychological state. If they seem psychologically unstable, or they seem to be in depressed, suicidal, or there are other concerns, you should immediately take action. In order to take care of their needs  after an incident, it may require a lot of volunteers and professionals. Prior to an incident ever occurring, the church should talk with, and make agreements with, individuals that may be needed after an incident occurs. This may include:

  • Cadre of Clergy
  • Cadre of Mental Health providers
  • Cadre of medical professionals
  • Cadre of Social Workers
  • Trained advocates

It is important that these individuals get the help they need in the immediate hours after the incident. When these people need help, they typically need it right away. By having pre-identified individuals who can step up, the help can come quickly, rather than waiting hours to locate someone with a certain specialty. Pre-identifying clergy and mental health providers trained in grief counselling, prior to an incident, can significantly reduce stress, and it can reduce the time it takes to help those that are hurting.

Tomorrow, I will discuss long-term care of those that were affected by a shooting or bombing in a church. Until then, … Mark