Victims of Crime: A Social Work Response: Building Skills To Strengthen Survivors, a 3-year demonstration project from 1999 to 2002, was funded through a discretionary grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). Its goal was to enhance the capacity of professional social workers to respond to the needs of adult victims of violent crime. The grantee, the Texas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW/Texas), collaborated with the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Social Work and the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work to develop the project. It pilot-tested materials at the state level that can be used and replicated by state National Association of Social Workers (NASW) chapters; other national, state, and local professional associations; and social work degree programs across the Nation.

The project was based on the assumption that all social workers need information about the needs of crime victims because, at some point during their careers, they will come into contact with individuals who have been victimized. At a minimum, social workers should have basic knowledge about the rights of crime victims, victim compensation programs, the criminal justice system’s structure, crisis intervention with crime victims, and safety planning. Most important, social workers must know how to respond to the immediate needs of crime victims and provide clients with links to institutions, agencies, and professionals who provide crime victim services.

The project was unique in its systemic approach to reaching social workers in various phases of professional development, from practitioners in the field to students in the classroom. The project looked at the profession of social work to determine the fit between its knowledge, skills, and values and victim assistance work and its current capacity to train and maintain social workers in the field.

The objectives of the project were to—

  • Conduct a professional awareness campaign to increase social workers’ knowledge of the victim assistance field and the needs of crime victims.

  • Develop and provide introductory training to social workers on crime victims’ rights and services.

  • Develop links between professional social workers and the victim assistance field.

  • Replicate the project with other NASW chapters. (This objective was added during the project’s second year.)

During its first year, NASW/Texas collaborated with the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work. In the second year, personnel changes necessitated replacing the University of Texas at Austin with the University of Missouri–Columbia School of Social Work.

NASW/Texas formed a statewide advisory committee composed of representatives from state agencies and organizations such as the attorney general’s office, crime victim compensation programs, state police, coalitions against domestic violence and sexual assault, and Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapters. Committee members had an average of 14.5 years of experience in the victim assistance field; five members had 20 or more years of service. They represented a range of experience at the local, state, regional, national, and federal levels and at all levels of practice—volunteer, basic, specialized, independent, and advanced.They worked in direct practice, supervisory positions, local and state agency administration, national direct service (e.g., National Domestic Violence Hotline), state advocacy organizations, consultation, teaching, training, and research.

The committee assisted the project by reviewing curriculum materials, contributing information about the field, and participating in an exercise to rate generic social work competencies for their applicability in the victim assistance field. In addition to rating competencies for generic social work knowledge, skills, abilities, and values, members also were encouraged to list the knowledge, skills, abilities, and values they felt were specific to the victim assistance field.

In the area of social work knowledge, all members of the expert panel agreed that of the 25 knowledge items, the one encompassing crisis intervention theories and techniques was the most important. For social work skills, all members selected discussing sensitive emotional subjects in a nonthreatening supportive manner as the most important of the 12 items presented. In the area of social work abilities, all members of the panel agreed that the ability to function under stress was the most important of the 14 items presented. Three social work values tied for the most important: a strong commitment to a high standard of personal and professional conduct, a willingness to keep personal feelings and needs separate from professional relationships, and respect for the confidentiality of relationships with clients. Ironically, the lowest rated generic value was a commitment to the primary importance of the individual in society. Only 2 of the 61 total competencies were rated below a “somewhat important” classification. The project concluded that professional social work and the field of crime victim assistance would make an excellent fit. If social workers wanted to enter the field of victim assistance, their generic social work competencies would serve as a good foundation for the knowledge, skills, abilities, and attitudes they would need to function successfully; however, they would need to learn competencies specific to the victim assistance field.

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The Victim Assistance Field and the Profession of Social Work
March 2006