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Promising Practices for Serving Crime Victims With Disabilities Toolkit
Publication Date: October 2008

Needs Assessments: Listening to the Community

The opinions, experiences, and perceptions revealed by talking to community residents are perhaps the most critical feedback needed to improve local response to crime victims with disabilities. In this exchange lie the answers to innumerable questions, including why systems are overburdened, why some people don’t report being victimized, and why people with disabilities aren’t accessing existing crisis service agencies, along with innovative suggestions and solutions that were once elusive.

Common questions about the needs assessment process include the following:

  • What kinds of information can you get from an assessment?

  • What are the right questions for our constituency?

  • Who should be asked to respond, and are people comfortable with giving information?

  • Will the information collected be valuable?

  • How should an organization respond to assessment results?

The questions and answers generated by your community needs assessment hold the key to changing local systems that have been unresponsive to crime victims with disabilities. The process may seem daunting at first, but if you want information from your community, you have to go out and ask for it. Community members may not respond in the numbers or ways you expect, but they will respond. Compiling the right questions, choosing a format, and determining what incentive people need to reveal the information you seek is where the science of designing a good needs assessment comes in (and where your project steering committee can help).

The most important aspect of any assessment tool is its relevance to the person or organization being approached for information. Below are some common assessment methods and forms, and notes on the various ways subgrantees gathered information during the project.

Before using these survey tools, your organization should consider how it will protect the confidentiality of crime victims with disabilities who participate in the needs assessment. Promising Practices project staff established safeguards so that participants could make informed choices about whether to participate and how much information to share. For example, agencies developed consent forms to inform potential participants of their rights and responsibilities. These consent forms included information about the limitations of confidentiality in their state. In many states, individuals and agencies are required by law to report suspicions or knowledge of victimization of people with disabilities, as well as any intention by a participant to hurt him/herself or another person. Consent forms may also affirm—

  • That participation in focus groups, interviews, and surveys is voluntary. Participants can leave at any point, and can choose not to answer particular questions.
  • That participants’ names and any identifying information will not be disclosed in any reports. (Some agencies use pseudonyms in reports, while others ask participants to use only their first names.)
  • Options for finding emotional support if talking about a crime causes further emotional trauma.
  • The responsibility of participants not to disclose the names or comments of any other participants.

In the Promising Practices project, staff members also worked to reduce the potential dangers to crime victims who responded to surveys, questionnaires, and interviews. They were careful to mail surveys and questionnaires in packaging that would not arouse the suspicion of an abuser who might be living with the person with the disability. Individuals volunteering to participate in focus groups or interviews were prescreened to make sure they were safely able to participate (i.e., that participating would not put them in physical danger or cause them undue emotional distress). Counselors were available after focus groups and interviews to provide support and referrals to appropriate intervention services as needed.

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