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Promising Practices for Serving Crime Victims With Disabilities Toolkit
Publication Date: October 2008
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Keys to Collaboration: Choosing, Nurturing, and Maintaining Successful Community Partnerships

Building cooperative relationships with key individuals and agencies working in your local area is a natural place to start the process of improving services to crime victims with disabilities. Fruitful collaborations can enhance your work by expanding the reach of your efforts in ways a single service provider cannot accomplish. Partnering with others also helps nurture the community’s investment in your plans and ideas. Collaborations—also referred to as task forces, coalitions, steering committees, advisory committees, or working groups—enable members of partnering agencies and organizations to achieve something together that they cannot do alone.

It takes hard work to cultivate and maintain collaborative relationships, and you or your potential partners may have questions about the collaborative process, such as—

  • How do organizations benefit from working together?

  • Where does an organization find partners dealing with similar issues?

  • Who should be involved?

  • What is expected from each collaborating partner?

Collaborations are forged and function in many ways. You may find other persons and organizations working on the same issues that you are, or you may decide to pool resources with partners in other fields to broaden the scope and perspective of your efforts. You may meet weekly, quarterly, or sporadically, depending on the timeline of your project and the schedules of the people involved. Some collaborators will consistently contribute to the progress of your effort, while others will fill a specific need or purpose and only contribute when their counsel or resource is needed.

The key to successful collaboration is to recruit partners that are willing to do what they can to help your project succeed. Look for persons and organizations that can contribute their own strengths and resources and that are interested in helping to guide your efforts.

Ideal collaborators for a project involving crime victims with disabilities include—

  • People with disabilities, as well as their friends and family members.

  • Disability service providers and rehabilitation professionals.

  • Victim advocates from domestic violence, sexual assault, and other service agencies.

  • Criminal justice personnel (law enforcement officers, forensic nurses, defense attorneys, probation officers, and judges).

  • Transportation and housing providers working with people with disabilities.

  • Representatives of government agencies that oversee services for people with disabilities (e.g., adult and child protective services, departments of mental health and human services, and disability-related commissions).

  • Other community stakeholders invested in the issues to be addressed.

The right collaborators are essential to creating community-based support networks and bridging gaps in service for crime victims with disabilities. Consider the experiences of the Promising Practices project subgrantees as they worked through the following steps of the collaborative process:

Build strong working relationships with other agencies and providers serving crime victims and people with disabilities.

Safe Passage, a domestic violence center in Western Massachusetts, initially chose to develop fewer but more intensive partnerships, targeting the local district attorney’s office; the Stavros Center for Independent Living, a disability service agency that eventually took over as lead subgrantee of the project; Everywomans’ Center, an anti-oppression/sexual assault center at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst; and the Freedom Center, run by and for people with mental health disabilities. The task force eventually recruited additional members, and persistently sought out and listened to crime victims with disabilities about their experiences with victim services.

Other subgrantees cast a wider net in recruiting partners. In developing its community coalition, the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA) in Tucson sent out 84 initial invitations to disability service organizations, as well as social service and crisis response agencies. Staff also developed a brochure inviting people with disabilities to participate in the project and distributed it to disability-related organizations and at community outreach events. A permanent group of 10 coalition members was formed, with an additional 85 interested professionals and people with disabilities participating in the group’s e-mail listserv.

A few subgrantees discovered that they could impact their communities most by joining existing coalitions. Ability1st, an independent living center for people with disabilities in Tallahassee, Florida, was invited to join a statewide domestic violence task force. Through this partnership, staff members were able to encourage many Florida domestic violence centers to consider improving access to domestic violence survivors with disabilities. Ability1st staff also joined local victim service task forces and community networking groups that involved city and campus police, the sheriff’s office, and the state attorney’s office, and lobbied within those groups to address the issues of disability and accessibility.

Conduct community outreach that not only expands the range of voices informing service provision, but also creates new outlets for disseminating information about available services.

The Chadwick Center for Children and Families in San Diego kicked off with a day-long SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) meeting that included disability service providers, criminal justice and victim service providers, and people with disabilities. The 30 participants discussed access to services for crime victims with disabilities, with the understanding that most community groups are overburdened, underfunded, and not inclined to pick up “extra” work. The meeting served as a nonthreatening forum for people to learn about the activities and objectives of organizations in the community, and to generate enthusiasm about promoting services for crime victims with disabilities. Individuals and organizations alike discovered common ground and began to network on their own, independent of grant activities. In retrospect, participants realized that the initial meeting had served as an important milestone in the community’s response to crime victims with disabilities.

A document outlining the group’s goals can help focus the efforts of a new partnership or advisory body, and ensures that all parties move forward with a common purpose. The bylaws drafted by Louisiana’s Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office to guide its Beyond the Barriers program offer a good example of this practice, as well as a goal-oriented approach to collaboration.

Lesson Learned: Collaboration requires adaptability.

In Pennsylvania, the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA) planned to assess the accessibility of six police departments, in theory opening an avenue for dialogue about the results. However, staff realized that informing officers about the ways in which their services were not accessible could come across as criticism, and therefore was not the best first step to building those relationships. They decided instead to work on establishing a better relationship with each individual department prior to assessment so that officers would be more willing to make the changes proposed. NOVA first offered training and technical assistance, and later successfully conducted their accessibility assessments.
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