Select Committee on Defence Written Evidence

Procedures for Family Liaison Officers who have contact with bereaved families


  Liaison with a family of a casualty is through a casualty notification officer and casualty visiting officer.

  Casualty Notification Officer: Informs the next of kin (emergency contact) of a death or very serious illness. The officer is selected using the following criteria:

    —  Immediately available;

    —  Within reasonable travelling distance of the emergency contact;

    —  Minimum rank of Captain, serving or retired;

    —  Preferably from the same regiment or corps as the casualty;

    —  Familiar with the personal details of the casualty;

    —  If possible, experienced in notification.

  When the next of kin lives near the casualty's unit (for example, a spouse living in Service family accommodation at the unit) the casualty notification officer is normally an officer from that unit. Where, for whatever reason, a unit cannot appoint a casualty notification officer, Divisional HQ will do so.

  If there is no Army unit within a reasonable distance of the next of kin, help will be requested from the CO of the nearest RN, RM or RAF establishment to provide a casualty notification officer. Alternatively the services of the local police may be sought.

  In cases of death, a male casualty notification officer should be accompanied by a female, if possible a person known to the next of kin. The casualty notification officer will confine his visit to notification, and any immediate welfare problems. He will not discuss aspects such as funeral arrangements, money matters etc, but will make it clear that he will make another visit shortly to introduce the casualty visiting officer. In all cases this follow-up visit will be made as soon as possible.

  Casualty Visiting Officer: Provides long-term support and advice to the next of kin. Selection criteria are:

    —  Minimum rank of Captain, serving or retired;

    —  Preferably from the same regiment or corps as the casualty;

    —  Familiar with the personal details of the casualty, and any further details unavailable at the time of notification;

    —  In post for the foreseeable future, since support and assistance is to be long term;

    —  Experienced in casualty visiting officer duties, and should have also attended a casualty visiting officer seminar.

  Changes in casualty visiting officers should be rare, and are only made in exceptional circumstances.

  The casualty visiting officer acts as liaison between the next of kin and other MoD agencies, such as MoD Pensions, welfare services, chaplains, funeral directors and the media. He is responsible for advising the emergency contact on available funeral arrangements and ascertaining their wishes.

  The time he maintains contact will depend on many factors, not least the nature of the incident, the age and health of the next of kin, family support available, and of course whether the next of kin wishes to retain the contact. There is no hard and fast rule.

  In certain circumstances (such as unnatural death, high profile cases or deaths liable to attract media attention) the RMP or civil police (depending on jurisdiction) may decide to appoint a family liaison officer. When such an appointment is made primary responsibility for family liaison will rest with the police, the prime objectives being to provide care, support and information to the family and ensuring family members are given information about support agencies that may be available, as well as gathering evidence and information from the family in a manner which contributes to the investigation. The duties of a family liaison officer are similar to those performed by the casualty visiting officer and it is important that the two individuals work in harmony to ensure that support is given, and information passed, to the family coherently.

  A copy of the recently (Jul 04) revised Chapter 3 (Notification and Visiting) to the Army Compassionate Procedures 2000 is attached,[25] which describes the above policy in more detail. A copy of the Guidance Notes for Casualty Notification and Visiting Officers, which provides a comprehensive package of guidance to the officers concerned is also included.25

  Circumstances will often preclude a Commanding Officer from immediate involvement with the next of kin, but he still has an important role to play in making sure he remains in contact with both the nominated casualty notification and visiting officers.

  Finally, a senior officer normally not below one-star rank will be responsible for the treatment of the individual family. He has the authority to take up any problems drawn to his attention by the casualty visiting officer (for example, concerns over delays in obtaining information) and will ensure that these issues are addressed and that families are treated properly.


  The initial notification visit to a bereaved family is made by an Officer, in person in uniform, normally accompanied by a Naval Chaplain and or a Family Service Worker from Naval Personal and Family Service (NPFS) or Royal Marines Welfare (RMW). Whenever possible notification will be by the CO or a senior officer of the casualty's ship/unit, although the appropriate Area Co-coordinator NPFS (or Director Royal Marines (DRM) for RM) will arrange notification if the ship/unit is deployed.

  Notification may also be through whichever Service unit is nearest to the family home, or the local police, if the family live beyond reasonable traveling distance from main base ports. Visits by the police or non-Naval units will be followed up by a Naval visit as soon as possible.

  Notifying Officers are briefed as fully as possible in the timescale available. Further help is available from the Chaplaincy and or NPFS/RM Welfare who have more in-depth bereavement training. In addition to notifying the family the Notifying Officer will explain the follow-up process, including details of media shielding facilities available and the Board of Inquiry (BOI) process if required, and that normally there will be a further contact or visit within 24 hours by a Funeral Officer.

  The Funeral Officer will discuss options for the funeral and assist the family in making the necessary arrangements. After the funeral a Business Visits Officer is normally appointed who will visit the family to assist in dealing with pay, pensions, family quarters, death certificate and other business/administrative matters. A Family Service Worker will normally accompany funeral and Business Visits Officers.

  In addition separate pastoral and welfare visits are available to the family to provide bereavement and other counselling and support where required. Family Service Worker support is maintained as long as is required by the family, with follow-up checks thereafter. A working arrangement is currently being formalised between NPFS and the Veterans Agency War Pensions Welfare service to ensure longer-term support for families.

  Where the death is the subject of a BOI/Investigation, the family will be kept informed of progress by the Directorate of Personnel Support (Navy) (DPS (N))—Naval Casualty Branch, through the Visiting Officer or Family Service Worker as appropriate.

  Previously units have provided in house bereavement training for personnel likely to be involved in the notification process. This was enhanced for Op Telic to provide a larger pool of Notifying Officers. Funeral Officers attend a two-day course at the Royal Naval School of Specialist Welfare (RNSSW), which is also developing a general bereavement course. Business Visit Officers are Logistics Branch (Pay) officers, and so experts in the particular subject. But they will attend the general bereavement course.


  Notification of a death will be made by the most appropriate, available RAF Officer or by an Officer from whichever Service unit is nearest the family home. The local police may also be asked for assistance if it is not possible to arrange a timely visit from a Service representative. An Assisting Officer is then appointed, normally by the parent unit of the individual, to offer advice and practical support to the Next of Kin (NOK) and act as the conduit through which specialist advice on any Service or non-Service issues can be sought. The Assisting Officer may be the same person who initially notified the family of the death.

  Assisting officers are usually mature personnel, of at least Flight Lieutenant rank (OF2), who ideally will be an acquaintance rather than a close friend of the deceased or their family. The Officers are expected to remain in the local area/current post for at least nine months, thereby ensuring continuity of support.

  Assisting Officers offer help and advice on a range of issues and will, at the relatives' request, arrange the funeral. They also attempt to resolve any immediate financial concerns, housing issues and help the bereaved claim any grants or pensions to which they may be entitled. In the longer term they seek NOK views on the marking of the grave and will accompany them to any Inquest. Assisting Officers are not expected to be experts in all these fields but are expected to call upon the services of subject matter experts, particularly Unit personnel staff, chaplains, pension and welfare officers for advice.

  The key to successful interaction between the bereaved and the Assisting Officer is to build a rapport. In the immediate aftermath of a death, Assisting Officers can expect to be visiting or contacting the family on a daily basis. After the funeral, the interval between visits and contacts, whilst still a regular occurrence, is likely to decrease. However, the family is given the Assisting officers contact details and can call on their services as and when required.

  Assisting Officers remain in contact with the family for as long as required. Whilst, in some cases this may involve contact for over a year, as time moves on most relatives begin to rebuild their lives and contact will gradually cease. However, many Assisting Officers become and remain family friends.

25   Not printed. Back

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Prepared 14 March 2005