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Promising Practices for Serving Crime Victims With Disabilities Toolkit
Publication Date: October 2008
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Making a Plan: Think Strategically, Act Accordingly

Creating and following a plan of action is important to achieving goals, both in terms of keeping a project on track and improving community response to crime victims with disabilities. Steering committees or other advisory bodies formed during the collaboration process should play an important role in planning, as should the results of the needs assessment.

Forming a plan can sometimes feel more like talking than taking action, but careful consideration and agreement among staff and advisers on a course of action is one of the hallmarks of successful collaborations. A solid plan for achieving your desired outcome helps ensure the efficiency and effectiveness of the effort you are about to put forth. Common questions about the strategic planning process include the following:

  • How does strategic planning address ongoing needs?
  • Who in the organization should create the plan?
  • How comprehensive should the plan be, and for what length of time?
  • Who outside of the organization should be involved in planning?
  • Can the plan be modified or changed if new issues arise?
  • What if the plan doesn’t work?

There is much to consider when you are planning to change the way a community responds to its citizens. The following measures, although implemented in different ways, were common to each of the subgrantees’ strategic plans:

Define and address service barriers that impact crime victims with disabilities.

As noted previously in this toolkit and further detailed in the companion bulletin, people with disabilities often don’t report being victimized. NOVA learned in its needs assessment that people with disabilities in the area were most likely to report abuse or crime to their case managers in sheltered workshops or to other disability service providers. NOVA also learned that persons in those roles often struggled with how to handle such reports. In response to this realization, one of NOVA’s key strategic moves was to invite local law enforcement and case managers and other disability service personnel to a training seminar facilitated by staff from the Portland State University Regional Research Institute. The event highlighted the needs and issues of crime victims with physical disabilities, and opened the door for an interagency dialogue that continues today.

Other planning strategies focused on reaching out to people with disabilities through a variety of means, including brochures, Web sites, resource guides, public service announcements, self-empowerment classes, and educational programs that featured speakers with disabilities who were crime victims.

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Partner with law enforcement to address issues such as crime reporting and forensic interviewing techniques when discussing a crime with a victim who has a disability.

The Carbondale Police Department and Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office worked within their agencies to schedule training for officers and civilian staff on best practices for working with crime victims with disabilities. However, some of the other subgrantees encountered resistance to their efforts to train the staff of local police or sheriffs’ departments. As outsiders to these professions, many subgrantees found that it took significant legwork and resources to develop a rapport with criminal justice representatives before they could convince them that learning to work more effectively with crime victims with disabilities was worth their time, and that they could best learn how to do so through the trainings the subgrantees were offering. Some groups had to get creative—paying stipends to law enforcement staff to attend the training offered or purchasing TTY equipment (a telephone device used to communicate with people who are deaf or hard-of-hearing) for police departments to enhance their accessibility to people who are deaf and hard-of-hearing.

One strategic relationship between a subgrantee and a criminal justice agency led to a new way of working that combines the best practices of both organizations. The Chadwick Center for Children and Families worked with professionals in the San Diego criminal justice system to develop an extended assessment protocol for conducting forensic interviews with children and adults with developmental disabilities. The advisory committee for the project included detectives and prosecutors from local child abuse and sex crimes units, as well as child and adult protective services staff.

Building on the work of the National Children’s Advocacy Center, this extended assessment protocol included a pre-interview intake form that asked what accommodations the crime victim would need to address his or her disability (such as physical or communication-related accommodations) prior to the meeting. Professionals using the protocol reported that having accommodations in place often made a significant difference in how interviews were conducted. The process was not only more efficient but also increased the comfort level of the crime victim, and better communication frequently shortened the amount of time or number of sessions needed for the interview. Chadwick Center staff also partnered with a detective from the San Diego Police Department’s Sex Crimes Unit to conduct state and national training in using the protocol for law enforcement officers and child and adult protective services caseworkers.

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Partner with victim service agencies and crisis service providers to ensure their support is accessible to people with disabilities.

An important part of the subgrantees’ strategic plans was to connect with other victim service organizations in their communities, including domestic violence and sexual assault response systems personnel, adult protective services caseworkers, and crime victim advocates. Each group provided community partners with technical assistance on accessibility and conducted training seminars on working with crime victims with disabilities and law enforcement.

PADV addressed a local lack of affordable and accessible long-term housing for domestic violence survivors with disabilities by forming housing collaborations in Atlanta and Athens, Georgia. In both locations, staff members met with domestic violence center staff, mental health care providers, and disability-related service providers who offer long-term care to women with disabilities. The meetings yielded strategies and resources to help move survivors with significant disabilities into safe, accessible, and lasting living situations. Cross-training between disability and housing groups also furthered the effort.

Lesson Learned: Accessibility begins at home.

When surveys indicated that people with disabilities did not consider their rape crisis services accessible, the staff of the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault realized their first strategy should be to make significant internal changes. The center stated its commitment to making reasonable accommodations to services, as requested by people with disabilities, by developing new accessibility procedures. It also established a grievance procedure for clients with disabilities who want to file a complaint concerning the center’s response to their request. The center then trained all its staff in how best to provide crisis intervention and other services to people with disabilities. It also moved into a building that provided easier access for people who have disabilities that affect their mobility.

Planning strategies can address both the needs of crime victims with disabilities and the challenges identified within the local service system and community. The strategic possibilities are endless if you are willing to get creative, collaborate with law enforcement and people with disabilities, and include community members with disabilities in the trainings and presentations you provide for victim service providers.

See NOVA’s Helping People with Disabilities: A Guide for Law Enforcement Officers and the Stavros Center’s Access to Equality Coalition for examples of outreach materials that demonstrate a clear strategic focus. Each was used to share information, open lines of communication, and create access to justice and service systems for crime victims with disabilities.

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