On January 10 and 11, the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority (ICJIA) convened the Ad Hoc Victim Services Committee. The Committee meets every three years to define priorities for use of S.T.O.P. Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and Victim of Crime Act (VOCA) funds. The purpose of the VOCA funds is to support direct service efforts that respond to the emotional, psychological, or physical needs of crime victims; assist victims in stabilizing their lives after victimization; help victims understand and participate in the criminal justice system; or restore a measure of security and safety for the victim. VAWA funds are intended to promote a coordinated, multidisciplinary approach to enhancing victim advocacy and improving the criminal justice system’s response to violent crimes against women through the development and improvement of effective law enforcement and prosecution strategies and advocacy and services.
ICJIA researchers, with assistance from Aeffect, Inc., a research consulting agency, completed a six-month research project to identify crime victim needs and service gaps and measure the existing capacity of Illinois victim service providers. The research focused on crime victimization throughout the state, including a wide range of crime types and victim service practices. The research approach included a review of existing literature, analysis of administrative data, surveys and interviews of crime victims and family members, and surveys and focus groups with victim service providers and criminal justice practitioners. A copy of the pre-Committee materials, which contains a detailed description of the methodology used is available here. Two additional reports documenting the specific findings from the victim survey and interviews and the victim service provider survey and focus groups will be available by Spring 2017.
Using the data collected, ICJIA researchers identified 12 key funding priorities that when implemented will create a comprehensive plan to addressing the needs of crime victims in Illinois. ICJIA staff presented the 12 funding priorities to members of the Victim Services Ad Hoc Committee to obtain feedback and insight. The recommended funding priorities were presented to the ICJIA Board for approval on January 27, 2017. The priority areas are listed below. The priority areas will guide statewide funding decisions and the development of Notices of Fund Opportunity (NOFO) for the next three years.
Victim Services Funding Priorities
The following priorities were identified, listed in no particular order:
Priority 1: Fund initiatives that raise the public’s awareness of victim services.
Lack of awareness was identified as an obstacle to service seeking by both victims and service providers as well as the larger victimization literature. Greater awareness of services and victim rights gives victims the opportunity to make an informed decision on how best to engage in help seeking and service utilization, based upon their unique needs. Efforts to increase the public’s awareness of services also may aid providers in reaching people who are underserved or those who choose not to report their experiences to law enforcement agencies. Initiatives to increase awareness should not only involve notifying the public of the service options available, but also the rights available to them following a victimization. Raising the public’s awareness of existing programs also benefits providers. Providers discussed the importance of being informed of the services available in the communities they serve to better assist victims in accessing all of the services they need.
Priority 2: Increase funding to address fundamental needs of crime victims.
Victims, service providers, and criminal justice practitioners alike reported that victims in Illinois, regardless of crime type, face barriers to accessing services. Many of these barriers reflect the fundamental needs of victims, such as transportation, language services, housing relocation, emergency and permanent housing, life skills training, and legal assistance. These fundamental needs, when left unmet, can inhibit engagement in treatment and undermine long-term safety plans.
Priority 3: Fund core direct services to victims of all crime types.
Another theme that emerged was that victims are in need of comprehensive, wrap-around services. These services include early crisis intervention, criminal justice information and advocacy, mental health and counseling, legal services, housing/relocation, and assistance applying for victim’s compensation. Lack of core services was noted across all of the crime types analyzed (although specific service needs varied). Funding should be made available to ensure all crime victims, both primary and secondary, can obtain these core victim services. Along with funding for these core services, the state should address the existing capacity of victim service providers to offer these services and strategize with providers to support them in an effort to reduce staff burnout and turnover.
Priority 4: Increase funding for advocates and social workers within a variety of organizations to improve victim immediate access to services.
Researchers consistently were told that early points of contact are critical to educating, referring, and engaging victims in services, and the need for criminal justice education and advocacy services was identified across nearly every crime type examined. Funding should be used to connect advocates and social workers to victims at earlier points in order to increase service awareness and utilization. Funds may be provided to establish contracts with external advocates and social workers or may be used to form or enhance advocate and social worker units in organizations that often have contact with victims. Collaboration between existing advocacy services and these organizations also is encouraged. Organizations that often have contact with victims include colleges, community-based programs, coroner’s offices, courts, hospitals, law enforcement agencies, jails, and schools.
Priority 5: Increase funding of services for underserved victims of crime.
Researchers identified several categories of underserved victims in Illinois. These include victims experiencing language barriers, people of color, the elderly, males and younger persons, people who are homeless, victims on college campuses, members of the LGBTQ community, victims with an undocumented immigration status, people with disabilities, and dually-involved persons (those involved in the juvenile and criminal justice systems as both victims and offenders). Underserved victims of crime may not access services due to a lack of awareness, concerns about discrimination and bias, unhelpful or hurtful responses, cultural and social beliefs, and past funding limitations. Funding should be made available to specifically develop, enhance, and expand victim services to the underserved victims identified.
Priority 6: Encourage development or expansion of programs that address the impact of multiple victimization experiences.
Funding should encourage the development or expansion of programming or networks of services that attend to the impact of multiple victimization experiences. Some individuals may experience different forms of victimization throughout their lifetimes or may experience the same type of victimization multiple times. Multiple victimization experiences increase one’s risk for future victimization, and unaddressed trauma from previous victimization experiences can be further exacerbated by new ones, decreasing the long-term well-being of individuals, families, and communities.
Priority 7: Promote multidisciplinary responses to victimization.
Multidisciplinary approaches are effective in addressing a wide range of victimization. Collaborative and multidisciplinary programs have been shown to be more responsive to victims and improve criminal justice outcomes than single agency or disciplinary approaches. Multidisciplinary approaches promote coordinated responses to victimization that can result in improved case outcomes while minimizing the additional trauma to victims. Funding should be made available for expanding multidisciplinary responses to crime victimization to underserved regions of the state and crime types.
Priority 8: Encourage trauma-informed and trauma-focused services for victims of crime.
Research indicates that services that are sensitive to or focused on the trauma of survivors are crucial in mitigating the risk of re-victimization. Trauma-informed services are tailored to meet the needs of crime victims with consideration of their trauma histories and cultural backgrounds. Trauma-focused services are services that specifically address trauma symptoms and the impact of trauma on the victim. Funding should encourage and prioritize services that are trauma-informed and trauma-focused whenever appropriate.
Priority 9: Fund services that address long-term victim needs, such as counseling and mental health services.
Funding should be made available for agencies to provide services beyond those that address the immediate crisis needs of victims. One of the most notable themes identified was the lack of individual and family counseling and mental health services for crime victims in the state. This gap in services cut across every crime type examined. Illinois’ long-standing fiscal crisis has significantly reduced the state’s mental health infrastructure, limiting the capacity of those agencies that remain to provide long-term mental health services to crime victims. Research indicates, however, that evidence-based clinical care can significantly improve long-term well-being of child, adolescent, and adult victims.
Priority 10: Support programs that specifically address needs of individuals exposed to community violence.
Funding should be specifically allocated for establishing or enhancing services to victims of community violence, particularly those exposed to homicide, gun violence, robbery, or non-domestic-related aggravated and simple assaults. Existing services for these victims in Illinois are scarce and in some places non-existent. Services that are designed to address the particular needs of children, adolescents, and adults are needed. Priority should be given to communities that develop comprehensive plans to address victimization and those which promote the development of community-based approaches for all victims, regardless of circumstance.
Priority 11: Encourage the use of evidence-informed (or promising) and evidence-based practices and programming.
For all the recommendations made in this report, emphasis for funding should be placed on defining the outcomes intended for the programs and employing programming most likely to ensure these outcomes. Programming for victims that are informed by or rooted in research are those that hold promise and are likely to result in positive victim outcomes. Evidence-informed (or promising) practices and programs are those research suggests lead to positive outcomes; however, further study is needed. Evidence-based practices and programming are those that have been proven to be effective by rigorous and multiple independent research studies when implemented with fidelity. Examples of such practices and programs include cognitive-behavioral therapy and multidisciplinary responses and trainings to address violent crime victimization. Funding should encourage and prioritize services that are evidence-informed or evidence-based.
Priority 12: Fund activities that encourage data collection and reporting, document victim outcomes, facilitate program evaluation, and increase knowledge of victimization and service provision in Illinois.
In order to assure the effectiveness of the programming recommended here, funds should be earmarked specifically for collecting data and in evaluating the defined outcomes and the programming methods employed to reach them. Gauging the effectiveness of victim services begins with an examination of victim service data. Data collection efforts should focus on documenting the quantity, quality, and effectiveness of victim services in Illinois. Programs should be encouraged to apply for funding that equips and facilitates these data collection efforts in their agency.
Research clearly indicates that evaluation is key to early identification of issues in program implementation and design, ultimately leading to stronger victim outcomes. Without evaluation, providers and funders alike are left to rely on anecdotal evidence about the impact of victim services. Funding should be used to support program evaluations.