enver has a history of passing legislation and establishing initiatives favorable to victims, including appointment of the first prosecution-based victim advocates in the United States, passage of a state Victims' Rights Constitutional Amendment and enabling legislation, development of numerous interdisciplinary victim-centered protocols, and establishment of a central victim service center. With this history, it was not surprising to find that more than 50 agencies in Denver provide comprehensive services to a broad range of crime victims. What was surprising was the finding by needs assessments and anecdotal reports of many gaps in Denver's victim services.
Using VS2000 To Develop a Model Victim Services Network
The VS2000 grant gave Denver a timely opportunity to improve services, fill gaps, and eliminate duplication between agencies through processes that integrated services, increased service accessibility to victims, and increased collaboration among victim service providers. Beyond improving services, the VS2000 grant made it possible for Denver to improve its system of services. Given the scope and complexity of Denver's victim services, the technology introduced by the Denver VS2000 model was critical to the success of this effort.
The mission of Denver VS2000 is to work with the community to restore and strengthen the fabric of the community by creating a model network of services that offers outreach as well as innovative, specialized, integrated, and seamless services to all victims of crime.
The primary goals of Denver VS2000 are to
To accomplish a project of this magnitude, Denver VS2000 participants formed four working teams: the Model Network Development Team, the Needs Assessment Team, the Technology and Automated Systems Team, and the Training Institute Team. The teams further divided into committees and subcommittees to work on specific components of the model victim services network. The teams and committees included victim service providers from the criminal justice system and community nonprofit organizations, allied professionals, and crime victims. Five full-time staff members coordinated all efforts during the 5 years of planning, developing, and implementing the VS2000 project. The teams, steering committee, and victim advisory council provided guidance throughout each phase of this process. In addition, Denver contracted with a technology project manager and a system administrator to work on the Denver VS2000 information system. A detailed description of the Denver VS2000 planning process will be provided in a forthcoming OVC bulletin.
Technology Needs Assessment
The Technology and Automated Systems Team and its subcommittees have been meeting since 1997 to develop an integrated information system that links existing and new technology. First, this team conducted several assessments. One assessment determined whether existing technology was adequate to notify, protect, and serve victims in Denver. Another assessment determined the capability of current systems to coordinate with the proposed technical improvements.
The assessments were accomplished through a series of focus groups conducted with Denver victim service providers. Participants were asked to identify the information needs in their work and describe ways they thought technology could help them. Service providers identified three top priorities: basic technology, such as phone systems, computers, and pagers; a continually updated resource directory to share among agencies to eliminate the frustrating, time-consuming, inefficient efforts of keeping resources up-to-date within each agency; and a mechanism to share information about victims who need services from multiple agencies to eliminate duplicative efforts and prevent victims "falling through the cracks" when referred from one agency to another.
Recruiting current and recent clients, service providers conducted focus groups of crime victims to find out what they found lacking in the way services were provided. The responses showed that the majority of victims had used the services of more than one agency while healing from their victimization. All participants reported they were required to fill out multiple intake formsa process they found "frustrating" and "uncomfortable." All participants liked the idea of working with one case manager who could "work with them to find what they need."
The results of these focus groups were combined with the results of the broader VS2000 needs assessment (as documented in Denver Victim Services 2000 Needs Assessment, published by OVC in October 2000) that included victim service provider surveys, victim feedback surveys, and a survey of training needs. The results were used to develop an integrated, Internet-based information system that includes three basic components: a shared online Resource Directory, an online Training Center, and a shared online client Case Management System (CMS).
Advantages of the Denver Technology Initiative
The information system developed by VS2000 has several advantages. This system
During the system design phase, victim focus groups were again convened and asked how they felt about having their case information shared, with their consent, among case managers. Service providers had expressed concern that victims may feel that sharing their case information invades their privacy. However, victim focus group participants stated unequivocally that they wanted their case information shared among case managers. The victims said they wanted service providers to know about their victimization and service history because they believed this would result in better delivery of services.
National Technology Search
To ensure the use of current best practices in technology, VS2000 staff researched existing technologies available locally and nationally. An OVC publication, New Directions from the Field: Victim Rights and Services for the 21st Century, highlights several promising technology initiatives, including online counseling groups offered by the Brazos County Rape Crisis Center in Bryan, Texas, and online resources offered to victims of crime by Safe Horizon (formerly Victim Services) in New York City. The New Directions publication recognizes another innovative protection provided to victims of domestic violencethe distribution of cellular phones preprogrammed to dial 911. Denver has offered this service since 1997.1
The 1998 National Center for Victims of Crime (NCVC) publication Promising Strategies and Practices in Using Technology To Benefit Crime Victims is another source of information on current technology for victim services. This compendium summarizes 35 technologies used by criminal justice and victim service agencies across the country to obtain, disseminate, and manage information for and about victims of crime. The publication divides technology solutions into five categories: case management and tracking, notification and protection, legal and financial obligations, victim service tools, and information and Internet sources.
The VS2000 technology project manager researched emerging technologies through the Internet and industry contacts and found several software applications that met a variety of victim service needs. One well-known victim notification system currently used in Denver is VINE, or Victim Information and Notification Everyday. The State of South Carolina developed a system called SAVAN (Statewide Automated Victim Assistance and Notification) that provides notification to victims there. Pennsylvania commissioned the Great Lakes Behavioral Research Institute to develop a victim-specific case-tracking system called R/Client for Windows. The National Domestic Violence Hotline, with funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, established a toll-free hotline that uses a national database to provide information and referrals for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Several other information systems offer case management and tracking functions. Integrated Tracking System (ITS) and ebase are two systems developed in the public domain and available free of charge. Currently, 68 domestic violence and sexual assault programs in Texas use ITS. Nonprofit organizations use an interactive database developed by ebase. Other available commercial systems include those developed by IRis (Benchmark Enterprises), Agency Systems, and IIS (Integrated Information Systems, Inc.). Contact information for these applications is provided in the Additional Resources section of this bulletin.
Local efforts to automate the collection and dissemination of resources also were researched. A coalition of providers serving the Denver homeless population developed a collective database of resources on disk for sharing. The local United Way chapter created a similar resource directory on disk. Three Denver victim service providers collaborated to create a shared victim service resource directory that lists information about several hundred community and government service agencies and resources. This shared victim resource directory became the foundation of the VS2000 online Resource Directory.
At the conclusion of the technology research effort, a decision was made to develop the VS2000 online Resource Directory by modifying existing software. Denver organizers found it necessary to develop new software for the Case Management System and Training Center because all the researched systems were designed for use by one type of agency or to serve one type of client. The researched systems could not be modified to manage the diverse services and clients in the VS2000 network.
Information System Design
The VS2000 information system is designed to benefit victim service providers, the victims they serve, and the general community. Access to the system is provided for two categories of usersthe general community and ProviderNet users. With Internet access, general community users, including victims, can interact with the VS2000 system; however, community users and victims do not have access to confidential information and the Case Management System.
A ProviderNet user is a staff member or volunteer at an agency that
Of the many agencies that serve victims of crime in Denver, 38 are members of the VS2000 ProviderNet and use the Resource Directory and Training Center. ProviderNet users can access the system through the ProviderNet gateway on the VS2000 Web site. System technology includes a security system that limits each user to his or her appropriate level of access. CMS is being developed for 20 agencies that provide direct services to victims of crime and together provide the primary victim services in Denver. These are a smaller subset of the ProviderNet.
Advantages of a Web-Based System
The entire VS2000 information system is available on the World Wide Web at www.vs2000.org/denver.htm. An Internet location offers many advantages and allows the VS2000 Web site to serve the largest number of users and provide the greatest amount of information. The site is easily accessible and always available, serving community members and victims of crime equally. The Internet location offers public access to the Resource Directory, the Training Center, and CMS and provides resources on crime and victimization. The Internet site also provides contact information for direct service agencies that work with Denver victims. An Internet presence allows the VS2000 agencies to increase their visibility to the general public and to those seeking services. To reach more crime victims, the Denver VS2000 Web site links to many community-based technology initiatives and advertises in locations that provide public Internet access, such as libraries, schools, and public housing developments. Available in both English and Spanish, the Web site receives more than 500 "hits" per month, many of them from Spanish-language search engines.
From its Internet location, the Denver VS2000 information system provides users with technical assistance and access to technology. The information system connects users and the public to each Denver VS2000 system component and connects users to each other by hosting e-mail accounts for more than 120 ProviderNet users.
1. In Denver, AT&T Wireless Services provides this 911 program, along with cellular phones and access for nonprofit victim services staff and volunteers working with victims of crime.