Angela – Police Prevent Contact Officer
The first thing that hits me when I visit the home where a loved one has attempted to travel to Syria is the look of helplessness in their eyes. I can see that the family is running on empty – surviving with little or no sleep as they struggle to come to terms with what has happened. I have seen families go through a series of emotions – from initial relief that their loved one is safe and well through to disbelief and shock.
Their emotions are raw when they think about what could have happened. There are lots of tears of happiness. The overwhelming love for their family member seeps through the whole house to the point where they become fearful of them leaving their home again in a desire to protect them from further harm. I have listened to families who have blamed themselves asking ‘Have we failed as parents?’ or ‘Have we treated our children equally?’ ‘ Did we give them enough love and attention? ‘ or even ‘Are we bad parents?’
Whilst families do tend to question the part they played in their loved one fleeing home and wanting to travel to Syria, they don’t necessarily find the answers. They try and look back and pin point where they have noticed any changes in the behaviour of their loved one. Slight changes in the way their loved one dressed, a difference in their general behaviour may not have worried them at the time. But now they may start to blame themselves for not being more vigilant or for not taking the time to discuss current events with their loved ones. Some families have said to me that if they had talked more to their loved one they would have had a better understanding of what they were thinking. It may also have stopped them turning to the internet for answers to their questions.
I have also seen the change from self-blame to blaming others… families often express anger when discussing the faceless individuals on line who befriend their loved ones and in turn encourage them to spread vile, hateful messages /rhetoric I have seen the devastation that this can cause – both within the immediate and extended family. The strain of experiencing community gossip and fingers wagging can be hard for a family who just want to get on with their lives.
I have seen families suffer emotionally and physically , which is why the work that Police Prevent Contact Officers do is so crucial at such a difficult time, as they support the whole family through their journey back to normality.