Researchers conducted a statewide study to better understand crime victim needs, identify service gaps, and measure the capacity of Illinois victim service providers. This report focuses on how victim service providers from across Illinois discussed their service delivery and capacity to meet victim need. Study findings have policy and practice implications for funders, victim service providers, and other service agencies that interact with victims in Illinois.
In June 2016, ICJIA researchers conducted a statewide study to better understand crime victim needs, identify service gaps, and measure the capacity of Illinois victim service providers. Victim service providers (N = 235) from all regions of the state responded to an online survey and a subset of providers (N = 28) also participated in focus groups. A separate report on the main findings related to victim needs is available on our website. This article summarizes the main research findings related to provider capacity. For a more detailed discussion of the study methodology and results refer to the complete report.
Victim service providers representing different regions of the state discussed their capacity to provide services that respond to victims’ needs. Victim service providers discussed the importance of being able to serve victims holistically and encountering barriers in resources, service availability, and capacity. Agencies discussed how their capacity and the barriers they experience impact the awareness, accessibility, and delivery of victim services as well as their abilities to expand services.
Identification as a victim and awareness of victim services were identified as barriers to service delivery. For victims of a crime, public awareness campaigns that address what victimization is and provide information about resources are particularly important. Research has shown that many victims do not seek services because they either do not know what services are available or where to access them. Training of first responders to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma is important in connecting victims to services. Victims may respond to trauma in a variety of ways, and stereotypes about how individuals respond may shape whether or not both informal and formal support providers recognize trauma and provide referrals to services.
However, providers also suggested awareness efforts need to extend beyond the general public, targeting groups that may play a more prominent role in connecting victims to services, as the responses of support providers have been shown to impact access to services and victim healing. Educating the community and formal service providers about victimization can help to reduce negative responses to victims. Negative responses that blame victims, minimize their experiences, or stigmatize victims have been shown to decrease the likelihood of future reporting and help seeking. Negative interactions with providers and an inability to access services may contribute to additional stress and trauma, or secondary victimization, which is related to negative mental health outcomes, including more PTSD symptomatology. Secondary trauma can further exacerbate the impact of the victimization of an individual’s emotional well-being. Training providers and community members to respond to disclosures and help-seeking in victim-centered, trauma informed ways can create an environment of support and safety for victims that may otherwise not exist in the community.
While providers saw raising awareness as a priority, in an effort to improve victim identification and first responder education, they emphasized the need to first restore and rebuild capacity within their agencies and in social services around the state to meet victims’ needs holistically. Without more staff, flexible funding, and consistent referral networks, agencies are struggling to provide quality services and reliable referrals to victims. Research has found that greater organizational capacity, such as increased budget size and staffing levels, impacts how successfully service providers are able to address the needs of their community. Furthermore, with referral networks having dwindled and long waiting lists, providers are finding it difficult to coordinate with other providers in the area to access services, such as therapy or legal assistance, that address complex needs. Coordination is a key strategy that agencies use to fill service gaps and increase victim access to services, but when funding, capacity, and available services are limited across partner agencies, this strategy is less effective. On top of this, funders require data reporting that can burden agencies; data entry tasks may take staff time away from direct services. Providers discussed how these practices impact service quality and also victim engagement in services, especially when services are inconsistent due to insufficient staffing or there are long waiting lists for services.
Funding practices and restrictions limited the types of services that agencies were able to provide and, as a result, who they were able to serve. In particular, providers discussed how fragmented and restricted funding makes it challenging for service providers to address victimization holistically, specifically for victims with multiple types of victimization. An assessment of victimization and victim need in Illinois victims showed that 57 percent of all crime victims had experienced more than one type of crime. However, when narrowed to just victims of violent crime, the number increases to 72 percent, see Figure 1. 
Figure 1. Multiple Victimization Experiences.
These findings, along with the themes from the focus groups, suggests the need for providers to be supported, both through trainings and funding, to address multiple victimization experiences and to treat complex trauma that likely follows experiences, especially violent victimization.
Despite barriers to service access and provision, providers were resilient and strategized around how to use limited resources to reach the most victims possible. Providers found collaboration to be a good approach to addressing awareness and delivery issues. To mitigate barriers to access, providers tried to integrate themselves in the community through satellite offices and other community locations. In addition, having a presence in the community may help the community to be more knowledgeable about victimization and decrease victimization-related stigma within communities, specifically in more rural communities. Placing more advocates in more places was a strategy seen to benefit both victims and other formal support providers because care could be better coordinated and barriers to access mitigated. Both agencies and funders should consider how they might support strategies that equip advocates and providers to deliver services in traditional and non-traditional settings, such as victim service agencies, court services, law enforcement entities, or hospitals. Nonetheless, providers had to make the difficult decision to triage, thereby prioritizing victims they accepted to receive immediate services to those primarily in crisis, limiting their ability to provide longer term services.
Victim service providers expressed hope for the future of victims services, that agency capacity would be restored, allowing them to expand their services to reach even more victims and to provide additional services. Here providers spoke consistently about the importance of prevention work and how more flexible funding would enable them to resume past prevention work or to expand the scope of their work to include prevention. They also had a strong desire to seek out new settings, including law enforcement entities that might be appropriate for victim services. They also discussed incorporating the use of new strategies, like mobile services, into their program design to reach victims with a limited capacity to actively seek or access services, such as older victims with limited mobility or victims in rural areas.
Implications for Policy and Practice
Prioritize funding to restore services and rebuild agency capacity. Providers emphasized the need for funding to restore services both within and outside their agencies. Due to a reduction in their internal capacity and in the capacity or existence of their referral sources, providers emphasized a need for funding to prioritize core needs for both victims and providers over innovative practices and programs. While agencies desired to be innovative, providers emphasized the importance of a strong foundation and network in order to expand to new areas and use innovative practices.
Address barriers to service utilization by incorporating supportive services into victim service programming design. Victims’ needs are multifaceted and intertwined. Wraparound services and support for services that facilitate access to a variety of services are needed. The availability of supportive services, such as child care and transportation assistance, reduce barriers that may prevent or discourage victims from accessing or staying engaged in services. Therefore, victim service providers should strive to incorporate these supportive services into all victim service programming and funders should encourage providers to address these elements in their program design.
Prioritize the integration of trauma-informed care at all points of victim contact. Direct services providers, as well as government entities, such as law enforcement, should make a commitment to incorporate trauma-informed practices in their everyday interactions with victims and funders should support these efforts. Providers and agencies can build internal capacity to engage in these practices by inventorying their use of trauma-informed practices and by setting a realistic goal for improvement. The integration of these practices can help to minimize the risk of re-traumatization that can occur when a victim receives a negative response (e.g., being blamed, treated like a child) upon reaching out for help. This approach also may increase the likelihood that a victim will engage in service seeking in the future. Furthermore, trauma-informed practices encourage a culture of self-care among service providers, helping to mitigate the risk of burnout and turnover. As a result, victims may be less likely to disengage from services as experienced advocates, medical professionals, lawyers, and others will be providing quality services.
Explore innovative strategies. As providers seek to reach more victims and provide them with more services, many will need to increase capacity. Additional funding will be needed to support increased staffing levels. Putting more direct service workers in more places is only part of the solution. Providers can benefit from an exploration of innovative strategies that can help sustain programs during periods in which financial resources are particularly sparse. Innovative strategies, such as mobile unit-based service delivery and in-home treatment, can enable providers to make the best use of limited resources.
Encourage efforts to coordinate services and leverage existing resources. Collaboration was noted as a key strategy to improve service delivery, and funding should support these efforts. Through networks, collaborations, and partnerships, providers can strategize on how to meet victims’ needs effectively and efficiently. Collaboration may be particularly important in the current landscape; agencies have had difficulty connecting victims to providers outside of their agency due to limited service options. Leveraging non-traditional resources, such as community health clinics and relationships or coalitions, was a strategy used by providers to improve victim service delivery. Through partnerships in the community, providers are able to address both immediate and longer-term needs for victims, thereby improving service delivery. These collaborative relationships make resources and services available to agencies that might not have the funding or capacity to provide. By leveraging non-traditional resources and relationships, providers are better situated to fill service delivery gaps, and funding should be used to support the time and effort required for agencies to participate in such efforts. Furthermore, coordinated responses may also encourage trainings and foster relationships with first responders and justice officials to facilitate better care and support for crime victims.
Coordinate funding and standardize reporting requirements. The majority of victim service providers depend on a variety of different funding sources, both public and private. Each funder has different requirements to delineate how funds can be spent. To maximize the impact that a given funding source can have, funders with more flexible spending requirements should strongly consider funding pieces of service provision that are unsupported by other funding sources. For example, VOCA, a large funding source for most providers, cannot support prevention work. Other funders with less restrictive funding policies should consider funding prevention work.
In addition, not only do different funders have different guidelines for how dollars can be spent, but they may also have different reporting requirements. Funders have a responsibility to ensure that the money earmarked for victims is being used as intended, and reporting is one way for them to do that. However, disparate reporting requirements can unnecessarily burden providers, taking away time and resources that could be spent on direct service work. Funders should consider the burden of certain program or reporting requirements and strategize on how to reduce this burden. Funders may want to consider how to coordinate funding and standardize reporting, while better equipping providers with the knowledge and resources to satisfactorily meet requirements. All victim service funders have the same goal of helping victims and can collaborate to use staff time productively in a manner that aligns with best practices in victim service programming.
Across Illinois, victim service providers expressed difficulties in meeting the needs of crime victims holistically, but they also discussed effective strategies to adopt in the future to improve the awareness, accessibility, and delivery of services. Exterior pressures, such as reporting requirements, funding restrictions, and partner agencies’ service availability, made it challenging for victim service agencies to access services or provide the level of coordinated care they desire for their clients. In light of the service landscape at the time of the present study, providers demonstrated resiliency in continuing to address victims’ needs and in their collaboration with others as they worked to address key service barriers in their communities. As new funding becomes available and capacity is rebuilt after the end of the State budget crisis in July of 2017, this study sheds light on areas for restoration and expansion that will enable victim service providers to effectively and comprehensively meet victims’ needs in Illinois.
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- Aeffect, Inc. (2017). 2016 Victim Needs Assessment. Chicago, IL: Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/wwPqt1 ↩︎
- Logan, T. K., Stevenson, E., Evans, L., & Leukefeld, C. (2004). Rural and urban women’s perceptions of barriers to health, mental health, and criminal justice services: Implications for victim services. Violence and Victims, 19(1), 37-62. ↩︎