VS2000 has been a 5-year experiment in collaboration within the victim services field. It is hoped that the experiences and lessons learned from the VS2000 project will help professionals around the country form new collaborations as they work in the fields of victim assistance and criminal justice.
Building on Existing Collaborations
In 1996, when OVC announced its intention to fund development of model victim service networks in both rural and urban communities, the Denver Victim Assistance and Law Enforcement (VALE) board convened its planning committee, which comprised more than 50 community and criminal justice-based victim service providers and allied professionals. Since Denvers victim service community had a strong history of collaborative projects and partnerships, the creation of a seamless, integrated victim service delivery system such as VS2000 seemed like the logical next step. The goal of Denvers VALE committee was to design the components and structure of a VS2000 model for the city of Denver and strategize their implementation. Historically, Denvers victim service community has had several interdisciplinary task forces and councils to focus on sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse. In addition, three statewide coalitions representing domestic violence, sexual assault, and criminal justice programs have been active in Denver. Further, interdisciplinary, victim-centered protocols have been in place in Denver for sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse, older and disabled crime victims, and child sexual assault and abuse. In an effort to fill existing gaps in Denvers services to victims, collaborative planning in 1987 led to the establishment of a centralized victim services center. Victim services in Denver continue to be provided to the entire continuum of crime victims, including services specifically designed for traditionally underserved victims. Many of the agencies work to increase the publics education and awareness about victims issues. By regularly conducting client satisfaction surveys, agencies determine the best strategies to adopt for refinement and expansion of their services.
Once Denver was selected as a VS2000 site, funding began, and the project was under way. The planning committee became the steering committee, and all of the agencies and programs participated as partners in Denvers VS2000 project. Participants included community and criminal justice-based victim service programs as well as victims, survivors, and allied professionals. Though many of these programs had a history of collaboration on distinct projects and smaller scale initiatives, VS2000 provided the first opportunity for collaboration with participation from the full spectrum of Denvers victim service agencies. With OVC funding for staffing and program innovations, these service providers and allied professionals came together to work toward the following goals:
The following statement reflects the mission of VS2000 as it has evolved with the project goals in mind.
Leadership and Facilitation
Leadership was the first critical factor in the success of Denver VS2000. Research has demonstrated overwhelmingly that successful collaborations depend on skilled leaders. Historically, few in the criminal justice system have had the training or experience necessary to convene, lead, and facilitate collaborations effectively. Until recently, it was difficult to find skilled collaboration conveners, leaders, and facilitators within the victim services field.
Critical to the success of Denver VS2000 was the fact that the VALE board already had in place the leadership necessary to facilitate this complex collaboration. The VALE board was established in 1984 to fund local crime victim services, using surcharges on criminal cases in Denvers county and district courts. This five-member board awards more than $1 million each year to approximately 26 community-based victim service programs that serve victims in the city and county of Denver. A similar municipal structure funds the criminal justice-based victim service programs in Denver. With separate funding sources, criminal justice-based victim service programs and community-based victim service programs do not compete for funding, which eases tension surrounding selection of programs for funding.
The Denver VALE board convened the VS2000 Planning Committee and other necessary stakeholders, supported the development of the project financially, and arranged for the housing and administration of the project by the Denver District Attorneys Office. Perhaps the boards most important contribution was a commitment to facilitate and fund the final programmatic and fiscal recommendations of the VS2000 Steering Committee.
Staff selection was the second critical factor in the success of Denver VS2000. The planning body of Denver VS2000 realized that successful collaboration requires the time, energy, and talent of a supportive staff. Convening meetings, documenting progress, and acting on agenda items all take dedicated staff time. Recruitment for the VS2000 staff targeted individuals with particular experience and knowledge. They needed experience working with both criminal justice and community-based victim service organizations, and they needed knowledge about planning and collaboration, training, curriculum development, community organizing, technical writing, and program management. A concerted effort was made to hire a culturally diverse team that reflected Denvers demographics, demonstrated VS2000s commitment to cultural competency, and met the needs of all victims of crime.
Using Skilled Facilitators
The use of skilled facilitators at strategic points was the third critical factor in the success of Denver VS2000 collaboration and planning. These strategic points included setting initial goals; developing values and a mission; identifying and defining the transition points between planning, implementing, providing technical assistance, and overseeing the long-term, operational phase; and planning major meetings and retreats. The collaboration curriculum developed by the Center for Effective Public Policy for the State Justice Institute (see A Note to Readers) was also very helpful in framing the issues of collaboration for VS2000 participants. This curriculum would be especially beneficial to beginning collaborative projects.
VS2000 Online Resource Directory
Early in the project, VS2000 participants identified a critical service gap. Appropriate referrals were not being provided to victims since there was no resource database to generate accurate, up-to-date referral information. Providing information to victims about resources is the backbone of victim assistance. Locating, compiling, screening, organizing, and distributing information about resources to victims in a timely manner are some of the most time-consuming tasks for a victim services agency. Too often, by the time an agency has gathered, processed, printed, and distributed information about resources to its clients, it is out of date. In addition, great duplication of effort resulted as each agency individually went through the process of providing information about resources to victims.
To replace this approach, Denver victim service providers developed and implemented a collaborative, Internet-based directory of resources available for use by all service providers. All 38 Denver victim services agencies share this Web-based resources directory of more than 800 records, contributing data and accessing information. The administration, maintenance, and updating of directory records for all agencies is performed by an information specialist employed by a VS2000 member agency.
VS2000 Case Management System
In 1997, VS2000 conducted a needs assessment that asked underserved victims how services might be tailored to better meet their needs. Respondents said they wanted service providers to ask them what they needed rather than only tell them what is available. Also, they expressed a desire for services that recognized and addressed the multiple layers of obstacles they often encounter in getting their needs met.
In response to this feedback, VS2000 is developing a Case Management System for victim services providers. This shared system will operate over a secure private network that makes it possible for service providers to assist and track their clients through the network of services to ensure clients are getting the help they need. It also allows service providers to communicate with colleagues about shared clients. In particular, this system allows service providers to assist, follow up on, and support those victims who must navigate multiple agencies. For victims, using this system means they will not have to retell their stories and complete duplicative forms each time they access services at a different agency.
The 1997 needs assessment of underserved victims showed that these victims do not trust that the services being provided will meet their needs, even if the services were designed for their particular demographic group. Further, the assessment showed that underserved victims normally will not access services outside their community even when they have knowledge of the services. They want services to be located in their community and they want the services to be provided by individuals who are members of their communities or neighborhoods.
The assessment also showed that the underserved victim wants services provided in his or her language, in a culturally competent manner, and with recognition of the unique barriers experienced by many ethnic and cultural communities in accessing services.
Community advocates and community advocacy programs were conceived in direct response to the information gathered in this needs assessment. Community advocates are members and residents of the community or neighborhood they serve. They are known, respected, and involved in their communities and are responsible for linking victims with available services.
Three underserved communities were selected as sites for the VS2000 Community Advocacy Program. Community advocates inform the VS2000 Steering Committee and VS2000 working teams about both the need for services and the barriers to services experienced by the victims in their communities.
Collaboration changes the way we work and requires a profound shift in our thinking about how change is created. The examples provided in the three tables illustrate how collaboration shifted organizational focus from competing to consensus building, from working alone to including others, from thinking about activities to thinking about results and strategies, and from focusing on short-term accomplishments to demanding long-term results.
Establishing a Collaborative Structure
We know that many victims of crime have experienced multiple and varied victimizations. We also know that the impact of a crime ripples out to affect many people beyond the primary victim. Many specialized programs have been developed to meet these multidimensional needs resulting from crime victimization. These programs create a continuum of services, and within that continuum, each service provider has expertise, access, or purview within a particular service area.
Further, instead of delivering one unduplicated type of service to a victim, service providers often unknowingly deliver several very similar services to the same victim at the same time. Using training, technology, and community advocacy initiatives, the VS2000 demonstration project coordinates these specialized service providers and programs so that the services victims receive are networked and interconnected. This is what victims said would increase the value of the services.
The structure of the coordination in VS2000 was critical to its success. Each agency involved in the collaboration had a seat on the VS2000 Steering Committee, its governing body. VS2000 agencies also participated on several working teams that addressed the core issues of collaboration: technology, model network development, and training. Subcommittees were convened under each of these teams to address specific issues, make recommendations to their team, and submit them to the Steering Committee for approval.
Developing a Guiding Vision and Core Values
The guiding vision of all VS2000 agencies can be expressed like this:
During their first month of working together, the VS2000 partners developed this vision and the following values in support of it: