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Faith-Based Initiatives

Millions of Americans call upon clergy and religious leaders for spiritual guidance, support, and information in times of personal crisis.1 One study found that people responding to the death of someone close to them were almost five times more likely to seek the aid of a clergy person than all other mental health sources combined.2

Although the faith community historically has provided prison ministry programs, few religious institutions have developed programs specifically to serve crime victims and their families, and few of the victim assistance programs funded under the Victims of Crime Act are operated by religious organizations. However, faith communities have joined with victim service programs and made substantial progress in expanding this important source of support. The Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) supports several collaborative projects between the faith and victim assistance communities designed to improve the response of faith-based practitioners to victims of crime. These initiatives will also help communities create services through their faith-based organizations, network with secular victim service programs, and train providers and members of the faith community to meet victims' needs.

Collaborative Response to Crime Victims in Urban Areas

Through a cooperative agreement with the Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center (MCVRC), OVC is supporting the development of networks of faith-based and victim service programs in five urban communities—St. Paul, Minnesota; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Baltimore, Maryland; Concord, California; and Nashville, Tennessee. MCVRC is continuing the work of the Stephanie Roper Foundation, which was created in 1982 as a victim service organization. MCVRC has shifted the focus of the organization's mission from direct services to training and technical assistance, legal advocacy, and outreach to low-income victims. Under the project, each site will strengthen partnerships between faith institutions and victim assistance programs to maximize the faith community's involvement in supporting victims. MCVRC serves as the conduit of funding and provides technical assistance for the pilot sites, which began their 3-year projects in June 2003. For more information, visit MCVRC's Web site or call 301–952–0063.

Protocol Development for Community-Based Grief Centers

In 1989, Separation and Loss Services at Virginia Mason Medical Center (VMMC) in Seattle, Washington, initiated a support program for family members of victims of violent death. With the cooperation of the county medical examiner, this community support program continues to contact Seattle families affected by homicide to offer outreach, advocacy, and clinical intervention.

To further enhance these services, OVC initiated a cooperative agreement with VMMC that is intended to help five cities prepare for incidents of mass violence and terrorism and crimes that affect entire communities, such as school shootings and sniper attacks. This project will bring together victim service providers, mental health practitioners, criminal justice professionals, community leaders, and members of the faith community to design protocols for establishing grief centers in the event of community violence. The cities undertaking the 1-year pilot projects are Houston, Texas; Altoona, Pennsylvania; Lockport, New York; Detroit, Michigan; and Memphis, Tennessee. VMMC will serve as the conduit of funding to the pilot sites and provide guidance for site staff. For more information, visit www.vdbs.org.

Good Samaritans

A partnership between the Mobile County District Attorney's Office, police, local churches, community organizations, and volunteers, the Good Samaritans program responds to the emergency needs of victims, makes referrals to service agencies, and offers victims emotional and spiritual support. The Good Samaritans project will develop a training curriculum on effective volunteering that will cover ethics and confidentiality, an overview of the impact of crime on victims, communication skills, guidelines for responding to crises, and self-care. In addition, the project will train volunteers and professionals, reach out to community members through public service announcements and a Web site, and identify a pilot site in which to replicate the initiative. The national office of Volunteers of America and the National District Attorneys Association are partners in this effort. For more information, visit the Mobile County District Attorney's Office Web site.

Helping and Lending Outreach Support (HALOS)

HALOS was initiated in April 1997 by the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) and is a collaboration among the MUSC departments of pediatrics and psychiatry, the Exchange Club Center, College of Charleston Center for Learning, Lowcountry Children's Center, Charleston County Department of Social Services (DSS), and the faith, business, and civic communities. By supplementing caseworker budgets, the program provides child abuse victims with services and support above and beyond what DSS caseworkers are typically able to offer. In addition to partnering with HALOS by "adopting" a DSS caseworker, organizations, businesses, and community members can participate in the program by making donations, providing services or materials, helping with transportation, and recruiting teachers. Some of the regular services provided by HALOS partners include summer camp opportunities, birthday salutes, back-to-school drives, and holiday giving programs. HALOS also assists vulnerable adults served by DSS. OVC is funding the program to evaluate its existing protocols and to expand and develop protocols and information for possible replication in other communities. For more information, visit the HALOS Web site.

Community Chaplaincy Program

Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Sacramento (LECS) was incorporated in 1977 and trains chaplains to serve as first responders to victims. Its roster of emergency responders includes about 90 trained and credentialed volunteer chaplains. Of those 90, about 20 are licensed or ordained chaplains who serve law enforcement employees, and about 70 chaplains who serve the community at large. LECS has long-standing relationships with 14 federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies and responds to homicides or suspicious deaths; assaults; barricaded subjects with or without hostages; kidnappings; alcohol-related collisions; rapes; child, spouse, or elder abuse; and other incidents. In addition to providing a comforting presence, chaplains may also help victims deal with stressful situations; provide information and resources; arrange for emergency food, clothing, transportation, or shelter; and refer victims to a broad network of public and private agencies.

To accomplish the program's goals, its staff plan to modify and expand an existing LECS curriculum to include guidance on responding to incidents of mass violence. Topics covered in the training curriculum include an overview of the grief process, confidentiality, appropriate responses to victims and survivors, death notification, working with children and adolescents, working with the elderly and disabled, working with diverse cultures, responding to large-scale incidents, secondary trauma, and self-care for responders. They will then pilot test the revised curriculum on volunteer chaplains in other sites and work with those sites to establish community chaplaincy programs. For more information, visit the Law Enforcement Chaplaincy Sacramento Web site.

Faith Community Professional Education Initiative

The Faith Community Professional Education Initiative will incorporate victimization dynamics into seminary curricula. Under a previous project, the Denver VALE Board and the Denver Seminary collaborated to develop the "Victimization: Seminary Education in Pastoral Counseling" curriculum to instruct seminary students on the issues victims face. This initiative will identify schools of professional religious education representing a range of faiths in which the curriculum will be pilot tested, then refined and broadly disseminated. To complement this project, OVC will support the production of a promising practices video highlighting effective and innovative faith-based victim service programs. The video will feature both direct service and education initiatives that improve how faith communities respond to victims. For more information, visit the Denver District Attorney's Web site.

Communities Against Senior Exploitation (CASE) Partnership

OVC is supporting a training project to help faith-based practitioners identify and intervene in cases of elder financial fraud and exploitation. The Denver District Attorney's Office, working with Denver's faith-based institutions, has developed the Communities Against Senior Exploitation (CASE) Partnership program, which provides community-based services related to elder financial fraud prevention, intervention, reporting, and victim support. The partnership includes a train-the-trainer program and weekly financial crime prevention messages and urgent alerts. Specifically, the project trains staff and volunteers at faith institutions and uses these partners to educate the elderly about fraud in general and to warn them about specific fraudulent schemes as they become known. A grant award supports both the continuation and expansion of the CASE Partnership program and its replication in another Colorado county. The award also provides for intensive technical assistance to the new site to build a similar initiative in that community. The project targets many types of fraud and exploitation against elders and focuses particularly on underserved populations.

The Family Violence Project

The Family Violence Project is a collaboration of the courts, schools, faith community, and social services of Orange County, California, whose ultimate goal is to eliminate violence in the family and community. The project actively works with the county's faith community and, with the collaboration of the Orange County Superior Court, sponsors an annual interfaith conference. The goals of the conference are to educate the clergy about domestic violence and teen dating violence, to assist clergy in appropriately counseling victims, and to teach clergy when and how to help victims seek secular assistance. For more information, visit the Family Violence Project Web site.

Helping Outreach Programs to Expand (HOPE)

OVC directly supports grassroots victim service efforts. The HOPE grant program provides grassroots community-based victim organizations and coalitions with up to $5,000 to network, develop programs, build coalitions, and deliver services. Faith-based victim service programs are eligible to apply for these grants and to use the funds to develop and disseminate brochures, newsletters, and other victim-related materials to the community; to provide financial support for advocates and volunteers to attend victim-related training conferences; and to support a 24-hour crisis counseling hotline. Some innovative uses of HOPE funding include establishing a support crisis hotline; offering SMILE Bags that contain personal care items, stuffed toys, books, and so forth for women and children who are victims; and supporting National Crime Victims' Rights Week activities.


OVC recognizes the vital importance of enlisting the faith community to serve both the spiritual and material needs of victims of crime. Consistent with the mission of the Justice Department's Task Force for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, OVC continues to reach out to faith-based organizations and groups to encourage their participation in OVC programs. We hope our partnership with them will result in better and more complete services for crime victims.

1. H.P. Chalfant, P.L. Heller, A. Roberts, D. Briones, S. Aguirre-Hochbaum, and W. Farr, 1990, "The Clergy as a Resource for Those Encountering Psychological Distress," Review of Religious Research 31(3):305-313.

2. J. Verhoff, R.A. Kulka, and E. Douvan, 1981, Mental Health in America, New York: Basic Books.

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