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JEANNE VAN DEN BERGH | Parents of missing children need proper support

Joshlin Smith from Saldanha Bay has been missing for more than a week.
Joshlin Smith from Saldanha Bay has been missing for more than a week.
Image: Executive mayor Andrè Truter/Facebook

The puzzling vanishing of six-year-old Joslin Smith has again thrust SA into the harsh spotlight of missing children cases.

Joslin represents one of the estimated 7,000 children reported missing annually in the country, according to The Pink Ladies organisation. Far too often these cases expose crippling gaps in social, community and authority support.

We must leverage hard lessons from this disappearance to push for positive changes. Consider the profound trauma now inflicted on Joslin’s loved ones, entering their second agonising week without her.

Like 69% of missing children in SA, Joslin may tragically never come home. Yet inadequate emotional structures exist to support families suffering such anguish. SA urgently requires a national missing persons' support corps to provide distressed parents comprehensive assistance.

This must include connecting grieving parents with experienced therapists, support groups with other bereaved families, and advocacy resources. Counsellors can guide parents through the grief cycle, including denial, anger, resentment over lost hopes and dreams.

Experts also need to watch parents closely for depression and thoughts of suicide, which are common. Parents might need medication or counseling for this. Further, employers demonstrate insensitivity, expecting mourning parents to function normally before they are emotionally ready.

We should also consider extra financial help for overwhelmed parents facing constant fundraising pleas on social media. Communities must support families during vigils – not make pain worse with reckless rumours or worn-out phrases.

Stand next heartbroken parents for the long run, respecting their ongoing trauma. Provide real help with searches and allow them space for occasional outbursts. By offering this wide-ranging support, we can ensure no grieving family has to go through more suffering.

Public faith in officials’ capacities to solve disappearances has repeatedly floundered. When the very institutions entrusted with protecting society’s most vulnerable fail, it represents the ultimate betrayal of public trust.SA authorities must actively atone for this record by thoroughly probing each case of a missing minor using every modern asset.

Joslin deserves officials willing to burn midnight oil relentlessly pursuing forensic evidence and intelligence leads until she is located safely – or distressing closure is achieved for her family.

The spread of misinformation through unverified sources also reflects rising challenges. Various websites and YouTube accounts widely broadcast speculation regarding her status without substantiation, likely further tormenting her frantic mother.

SA must urgently develop stringent policies governing ethical digital information exchange around vulnerable missing minors. Joslin and the countless missing children before her deserve these changes and societal soul searching. The time has come to turn outrage and anguish from each disappeared daughter and son into real, lasting changes.

Van den Bergh is a psychosocialcounsellor and owner of Guidance to Grow, a therapeutic consultancy

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