Victim Service Provider Standards and Certification Issues
Dr. Dana DeHart, Dr. Mario Gaboury  -  2007/3/28
The Commonwealth of Virginia will have a Victim Assistance Academy in 2008. Can you tell me the benefits of certification for advocates in the field? Also, the grant to establish the academy requires that attendees during the grant period must have less than 3 years of services. Doesn't it seem odd that the new employees would be certified before the directors? I undertand that new advocates need this training but you would think directors would be certified first.
1.  Dana DeHart
 Benefits of certification include formal incentives, such as being able to earn a credential or funding incentives (e.g., in some states, a certain number of advocates on a VOCA grant must be certified). Certification can also promote use of a common toolbox of language, skills, and processes to facilitate coordination and increase portability of skills across disciplines and jurisdictions. Certification and other standards can also establish a recognized interagency benchmark for assessment, reporting, and goal setting. Finally, certification can bring accountability to service, thereby heightening credibility, consistency, and quality control in service. Regarding your second question, I can understand the rationale for prioritizing training for the newly hired, and some programs incorporate a grandparenting process or managerial training to certify seasoned advocates (who presumably would require different training than new hires).
Are there any resources/guidance available on standards/certification for those providing post-disaster psycho-social services? I am also interested in any info/resources on program evaluation methods for disaster/victim service programs.
1.  Dana DeHart
 The programs that I've heard about from providers in the victim service field include training and certification through the National Organization for Victim Assistance ( and the Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists ( Other disaster-relief organizations such as the American Red Cross ( provide training and may do so in your region. A great website for linking to post-disaster resources is Regarding your second inquiry, I'm not familiar with any resources specifically geared toward evaluation of post-disaster services, but I'd imagine you may be able to adapt methods used in evaluation of other victim service programs. Some examples of victim service evaluations can be found online at (survey for victims of sexual assault) and http://www.rri.pdx.ed/upg/Crime/Victims.shtml (detailed needs assessment that includes evaluation instruments).
Our domestic violence shelter program accepts victims w/substance abuse, mental health and prior homelessness issues; all of course, living in close quarters. What impact does this have on our clients experiencing dv-related trauma? Is anyone aware of other agencies w/similar policies and subsequent concerns? Any "model" programs out there?
1.  Dana DeHart
 This question is a bit out of my area of expertise, but I believe many programs are coming to the realization that excluding women on the basis of these issues means denying services to those women who may need them the most. Victimization is inextricably intertwined with other social problems such as substance abuse, mental health disorders, and homelessness. I think the model programs have guidelines in place to facilitate safe arrangements for detox if women present to the program while under the influence. They presumably would have protocols in place to ensure safety of other residents as these women are transitioned into the shelter from the detox facility. Ill have to defer to members of the domestic violence service community to provide you with more specific information.
Are you aware of the "Critical Analysis of Victim Assistance" Professional Certificate that is offered through the Joint Center on Violence and Victim Studies (Washburn University/California State University @ Fresno/University of New Haven)? If so, how does this program/certification compare to what you would consider to be on par with "best practices" standards you would like to see developed?
1.  Mario Gaboury
 There is a difference, in my view, between certification and receiving a certificate of training attendance. The response below is relative to the JCVVS as you requested, but generally could apply to other similar training and professional development programs. The Joint center of Violence and Victim Studies is an inter-university consortium of California State University Fresno, University of New Haven and Washburn University ( In addition to the Critical Analysis of Victim Assistance ( the JCVVS offers a number of other professional development trainings programs ( Critical Analysis offers CEU hours and a certificate of attendance for successful participants ( Certificates of Attendance, CEU Contact Hours and the like are often awarded for program participation. A Certificate such as this, though, is different than Certification, which is typically a much larger process that completing a single course. The JCVVS is offering a certificate to advocates, not certifying advocates. In terms of the quality of the program, I am a little biased as I am from the University of New Haven and serve on the JCVVS Executive Committee. I have always been pleased with the JCVVS courses that I have attended or where I have been a trainer, and we are offering the Critical analysis course again in Connecticut this fall:
2.  Dana DeHart
 Ill have to defer to Mario on this one. Ive not attended the Critical Analysis training and cannot attest to its content. However, I do know that folks involved in the development of the Critical Analysis program were involved in the National Victim Assistance Standards Consortium and development of those model standards (available at
How can I get certified as an advocate?
1.  Mario Gaboury
 Your state may have a certification program. Also, there is a national certification process, NACP, and you can get information from: The best email address for the NACP is: or NACP:
2.  Dana DeHart
 If there is a certification program in your region (e.g., through a local coalition, victim assistance network, or state academy), it may offer state-specific concentrations that would be of benefit to you. Alternatively, theres a National Advocate Credentialing Program for providers nationwide (find out more at, and some universities offer distance-learning options (e.g.,
What is the single most important reason for Certification of Victim Advocates?
1.  Natalie
 Quality Control, especially as funding shrinks.
2.  Dana DeHart
 Not being a direct service provider myself, I'll draw my perspective primarily from what Ive heard from those in the field. The two reasons for certification that I hear cited most often are 1) recognition of accomplishment, and 2) promoting quality and accountability in service to those served. As an outsider and an evaluator, the importance of the latter carries special weight for me. However, I can also understand the importance of recognizing professionals individual efforts toward achieving and maintaining excellence in service. This would seem an especially important consideration in hiring, promotion, merit increases, service awards, etc. Finally, benefits of certification for promoting shared knowledge and skills seems especially important given national trends toward coordinated responding and the emerging need to mobilize cross-jurisdictional responses during national crises.
What are some of the best approaches or best practices for maintaining certification?
1.  Dana DeHart
 A good starting point to find out about different certification programs in victim services is the Standards for Victim Service Programs & Providers document developed through the National Victim Assistance Standards Consortium. It is available through my staff webpage: Beyond the documents model program standards, competency standards, and ethical standards, it also contains a directory of existing credentialing programs, a directory of related standards, and a compendium of promising practices. I'd suggest perusing for ideas and then contacting the relevant programs to inquire from those involved about pros and cons of their approach.
We are developing recommended best practices for crime victim rights compliance in Oregon. How do best practice recommendations differ from standards and do you know of standards and best practice recommendations that already exist for crime victims' rights compliance and/or enforcement?
1.  Dana DeHart
 Standards are not confined to best practice. That is, some standards may define a MINIMUM level of service versus others that may function more as aspirational guidelines for excellence. Again, a good resource may be the Standards for Victim Service Programs & Providers (linked from These model standards are based on consensus from a wide range of victim service providers and might thereby constitute and/or reflect best practice.
In my state, (as in many), state certification/oversight is mandated in professions including beauticians, morticians, nutritionists & massage therapists. With the potential for tremendous harm to be caused by untrained, inexperienced and/or unprofessional service providers, there is a clear need for some type of standard. While our state professional association has created a professional credential, (as has NOVA), how can we obtain statutory recognition of the victim service profession?
1.  Dana DeHart
 I think such statutory recognition must ideally come from the field as represented by a broad range of providers. Victim services derive from multiple disciplines, including social work, psychology, law, grassroots activism, criminal justice, etc. It includes representatives from government, nonprofit, and private sectors working in settings ranging from hotline services to court-based advocacy to long-term clinical counseling. This leads to conflict around the idea of who sets the standard; that is, whose values and philosophies guide the agenda? Any statutes defining parameters of practice would need to accommodate the fields diversity and include mechanisms for equity in representation of the field, periodic review and refinement of standards, processes of appeal, and so on. Looking to those other professions you mention may be informative regarding how victim service providers can collectively advance the field.
I am hearing more & more about certification programs for Victim Advocates & Victim Service workers. I like the idea of having greater accountability and credentialing wtihin the field. But what states & agencies recognize the certification? Who administers the certification program? What are the requirements and is there a test? How do I get more info about this? Thank you!
1.  Angela S.
 Thank you for the info. I will definitely check out the resource you posted. I work in a University setting and train student volunteers to work on a campus crisis/advocacy service for survivors of sexual assault & dating violence. It isn't feasible for them to become certified but if I was able to do so it would give professional credibility to the program.
2.  Dana DeHart
 As I've mentioned, a good starting place to find out about different certification models is the Directory of Credentialing Programs contained in the Standards for Victim Service Programs & Providers (linked from Since that time, I've been trying to keep up with certification programs, but I'm sure there are some changes with which I'm not familiar. There are a number of different ways to go about certification. In OH, NC, & SC, there are certification programs for advocates administered through victim assistance networks or stand-alone certification boards. SC & TX court-based advocates have certification affiliated with the prosecution commission or attorneys association. DE, KY, & IA have certification for sexual assault or domestic violence providers through coalitions. In only a handful of states there are requirements or mandates for certification. For instance, IA's nonprofit certification assists providers in meeting statutory requirements for privileged communication. FL's designation (like a certification) is administered by the state and is tied to VOCA funding (e.g., one person on a grant must be certified). CA has the most stringent requirements, requiring 40 hours of training for all mandated providers of victim services.
How does the advocate of the SART Team gain access to the emergency room forensic examination to audit the compliance of the forensic evaluator with the SA Protocol? What's your opinion of the APSAC (Association of Professionals on sexual abuse) standards for professionals? Do you recommend any other standards for professionals working with sexual abuse survivors?
1.  Mario Gaboury
 I am not completely familiar with the SANE-SART program certification, but I do occasionally note that there are specific trainings related to this area (e.g.: and the OVC had previously posted some relevant information and contacts at: In terms of the APSCAC standards, they seem to have been developed in the normal fashion for such professional standards (i.e., through an expert peer review process). I cannot comment specifically on them, and they do have a lot of standards as I recall, however as a professional society they can contribute to establishing a recognized standard of professional practice in terms of both actually setting useful professional standards and in terms of establishing standards of practice that could be recognized by regularoty agencies and courts of law.
2.  Dana DeHart
 The first question is not really within my area of expertise, and the only guidance I can provide is to check with the International Association of Forensic Nurses ( Regarding APSAC, I am familiar with their code of ethics but not with any other standards that they may have. I think compliance with ethical standards is extremely important and perhaps one of the most urgent needs in the field of victim assistance. Depending on your position on the SART team, you may want to check with your state sexual assault coalition (if you havent already) to ascertain whether they recommend particular standards in your region. If there arent any, you may want to look in the Directory of Related Standards within the Standards for Victim Service Programs & Providers to identify other sexual assault coalitions with standards (linked from
Where does Maryland stand as far as certification with victim service providers? Different groups are working on certification efforts.
1.  Dana DeHart
 Again, I am probably working from dated information, as it's hard to keep up with efforts in 50 states. Last I heard, MD's main standards efforts were affiliated with the MD State Board of Victim Services and the MD Victim Assistance Academy. I'm not sure if any certification efforts are underway or if the concentration is on program andor training standards. I think the Victim Assistance Academy is geared toward providing training that might apply toward the National Advocate Credentialing program ( In any case, nearby PA has some interesting standards efforts affiliated with the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency. You may want to check out what they are doing to think about whether their models might be instructive to MDs efforts.
Are there any programs required for university students in the legal, mental and medical fields to prepare them to have the necessary knowledge to provide victim services. Are there any educational programs for instance, that are aimed at developing a more conscientious manner to work with victims with disabilities or to have more cultural sensitivity in our multi-cultural society?
1.  Dana DeHart
 I don't know of any REQUIRED programs of this sort, although some of the existing higher education programsconcentrations in victim services are cross-disciplinary and thereby may be attended by students from the fields you mention. To my knowledge, however, the focus has typically been within criminal justice or human service departments at the university level. The diversity and multicultural awareness issues you mention are certainly on the rise within university curricula, although I am not aware of specific programs.
What type of certifications are available for victim advocates?
1.  Dana DeHart
 I mentioned a few specific ideas in one of the previous posts (how can I get certified...?). With regard to types of certification, I'm not sure if you are talking about disciplines, processes, etc. For the former, there are certifications through regional or national victim service programs, through university certificate programs, and through certification or licensure in related fields (e.g., social work). For the latter, some of the processes involve applying for a certification after having already achieved training andor experience, while others involve training programs that include an additional test or project for certification as an end product.
With the extensive use of volunteers in the practice of victim services, and the lack of funding for training this group compared to the "employed" group, how can we assure 1) consistent training standards are met, 2) victims receive consistent and standardized response and care? Do you feel that the dependence on volunteers is a barrier to the professionalization of victim services? (Submitted from Canada)
 Volunteers must be working with an approved organization (non-profit, faith-based, state/local government) in order to qualify for a Professional Development Scholarship. When completing an application, individuals must indicate the organization for which they are volunteering, budget information, etc. And the application must be approved by their supervisor. More information can be found at Also, any volunteer working in the practice of victim services may attend an OVC TTAC training. More information can be found at
2.  Dana DeHart
 I'm interested that you write from Canada, as I think Canada has (or had) a really good system for training volunteers; this curriculum is mentioned in the Standards for Programs & Providers that I keep bringing up (in the section on Promising Practices). There are more resources for training of volunteers becoming available; for instance, the Victim Assistance Training Online program sponsored by OVC will soon offer a self-instructional online resource for training. Regarding achieving consistency in training and service, I think we must not forget the necessity of good supervision within victim services. Volunteers are a valuable resource and can contribute to even the most advanced professional fields.
3.  Mario Gaboury
 I personally believe that volunteers are far from a barrier to professionalization in the field. And, particularly given grass roots history and the lack of available resources, but the use of volunteers does present particular issues and challenges as you point out.I think the way you provide consistent training standards for volunteers is similar to the way you would provide such standards to paid staff and that is through quality control of training programs. Using similar curricula, mandating minimum hours, looking to recognized training programs from outside sources, etc., are some methods. I noticed the question came from Canada and I am not familiar with your local or national training resources, but the US Justice Departments Office for Victims of Crime Training and technical Assistance Center (OVC-TTAC: provides recognized training programs and scholarships for some attendees, which I believe extends to volunteers (particularly if they are victims and survivors themselves). There should be more information on the website.In terms of the consistency in response to victims, again in my opinion, this comes primarily from supervision and program monitoring and evaluation. OVC-TTAC has developed some trainings for program managers in related areas and will be developing more as I understand it.
There seems to be a lot of opposition from the DV field regarding certification. How can this opposition be overcome?
1.  Dana DeHart
 Opposition to certification typically stems from some common concerns. These include whether standards will: exclude some providers from service network; be biased toward mainstream valuesmethods; fix or stagnate service within minimal or narrowly-defined range; disallow critique & activism required for social change; or bring about negative, unintended consequences. These are valid concerns and need to be addressed at the outset of any certification program. Concerns from the DV community also may relate to the prohibitions that some certifications place on persons with past histories of violence; that is, in the DV field, some of the most seasoned advocates began their careers following involvement in abusive relationships, during which time they may have had arrests or convictions for fighting back against abusive partners. I think overcoming opposition requires inclusion of DV advocates in the certification effort from the outset, as well as recognition of these valid concerns. I believe the CO Coalition Against Domestic Violence put out a position paper on certification a while back (authored by Barb Paradiso who is now at U. CO. Boulder, I think); getting a hold of that paper might help get up to speed on concerns and potential ways to address these.
What can you tell us about how providers have been able to promote the value of certification of advocates to the agencies/programs that employ them? In Delaware, many advocates work for governmental entities, and therefore in settings that don't clearly understand the needs of victims.
1.  Dana Hart
 I believe that providers have been training advocates through experience, and taking them through the steps with questionaires and visuals to help them help the victims.
2.  Mario Gaboury
 The need for certification can be a tough sell for agencies/programs and directors. Particularly in times of limited resources things that involve training moneys are often among the first to be cut. I am sure Dana will have more to add to this, but a few quick points would try to make are: (1) It is important to provide high quality services to victims and survivors. (2) Even if this is not the primary mission of the agency, as you alluded to, it is an important part of what we do and we do not want to inadvertently harm anyone (and better yet, do the best job possible under the circumstances). I would point out that it may also be a good idea to engage in or encourage some strategic planning relative to this and see what can be done to raise the priority of victims in the agencies you have in mind. In addition to the positive reasons that we need to do our best for victims, there are some negative scenarios that most agencyprogram heads should want to avoid (even if victims are not their first priority). These include negative publicity if something untoward occurs and also the liability that an agencyprogram may be exposed to if they do not meet what are becoming recognized standards of practice and which certification is, at lest in part, meant to address. It is a delicate area, though.
3.  Mona Bayard
 Sound advice. Tricky for those of us in law enforcement or prosecution, however, since those fields are allowed to sacrifice everything to the exigencies of their missions as they see them. Victims rank low.
4.  Dana DeHart
 I think demonstrating value of certification within these umbrella agencies would be the same as demonstrating any other type of need, in that one must use powers of persuasion to illustrate to the higher ups how this will make the program and the broader organization more effective. That is, find ways to help the ones in power understand that this will save THEM time and resources, etc.
Should professionals in the legal, medical and mental health areas obtain distinct victim certifications? What is the best way to gain the expertise necessary to deal with victim heterogeneity? Victims can be elderly or children, legal or illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence, disabled, etc...
1.  Dana DeHart
 I think thorough training in any field requires both core content and specialized content. In most education, we have specialty areas or concentrations within our broader discipline. Some certificate and degree programs already allow for specialization through concentrations on DV, SA, child abuseneglect, elder abuse, and so on. Within the context of higher education, specialized coursework can build such expertise. In the field, I think it comes from getting involved with providers from across your community and across the nation--attending trainings, meetings, developing collaborative relationships, etc.
In other states that have certification, has there been a "buy in" for recognizing the professionalization of VA from other groups? (judges, lawyers, social workers, etc) Are there suggestions for getting the "buy in" from others?
1.  Dana DeHart
 Because attorneys work closely with court-based advocates, I think there has definitely been buy-in from that particular group in a number of states (IA, TX, & SC to name a few). In fact, some certification efforts have arisen from within prosecutors' associations or related entities. Again, I think getting buy-in is like any aspect of persuasion--you need to demonstrate to the group in question how this effort will benefit them. Also, a good persuasion strategy is to find a cause-friendly individual with credibility who can then bring his or her colleagues into the fold in terms of buy-in (e.g., get one judge who can convince others).
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