Story by: Erika Butler
Being the victim of a crime can cause significant trauma, and the Harford State’s Attorney’s Office and Office of Family and Children’s Services are partnering to ensure victims of all crimes — not just domestic violence or sexual assault — get the support they need to deal with that trauma.
“I saw a void where all our victims could have a need for services,” State’s Attorney Al Peisinger said. “People don’t ask to be assaulted, have their house broken into. They are situations people are not asking for, it’s a trauma that can affect the whole family dynamic.”
Under the new partnership, a case manager from Family and Children’s Services working at the Harford Family Justice Center, through a referral by a prosecutor, can begin to provide victim support right from the beginning, said Jennifer Redding, deputy chief of behavioral health services for Family and Children Services.
“In real time, as soon as they come in contact with a victim, they can link up with us immediately and our case manager can jump right in and assess what an individual’s needs are and help meet them,” Redding said. “By being there, we’re given the fortitude to do whatever the client needs.”
Such services could include therapy, counseling, case management and safety planning.
Peisinger used an example of a young child whose home is broken into and his Xbox is stolen.
“That child is scared to go back in his house or bedroom,” Peisinger said.
Support services have been available to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, but prior to the partnership, victims would have to seek out help to work through their trauma, how to minimize it and how it might affect them in the future, he said.
“When you look at ACE [Adverse Childhood Experiences] scores, there is a direct correlation to post-traumatic issues arising later in life,” Peisinger said. “There is a high probability of other adverse conditions affecting individuals who have trauma in their childhood.”
Young victims could suffer now, tomorrow or in 10 years, in school, in their daily lives, he said.
“Giving that trauma victim therapy now may keep that individual from getting addicted to a drug,” Peisinger said.
“Servicing these needs with this partnership will dramatically augment the effectiveness of our in-house victim advocates by incorporating a broad range of high-quality therapeutic interventions,” Peisinger said. “Taking care of the behavioral health needs of our victims is just the right thing to do and will increase the likelihood of a successful criminal prosecution which will enhance public safety.”
Victim assistance could be as extensive as helping a victim through or simply providing a meal for a family, like a recent client who didn’t have the means to feed her family during a crisis.
FCS went to local businesses and got food to give the woman and her family dinner.
“In the big picture, that’s not a long-term fix, but at that moment, when the client was really struggling and given what she was going through, it really helped,” Redding said.
The impact of crime can have longstanding effects on individuals as well as their families and communities, Redding said.
“It is vital to help crime victims regain a sense of control and hope through supportive services such as advocacy and therapy as soon as possible,” she said. “It just makes sense that Family and Children’s Services partners with the Harford County State’s Attorney’s Office to provide this type of care at such a critical time of need.”