Sturgeon Victim Services looking for advocates

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Morinville News File Photo

by Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – A local group is looking for a helping hand to offer victims of crime or crisis a helping hand through times of trouble. Sturgeon Victim Services, a volunteer-run organization that operates year round and 24 hours a day in connection with the RCMP, are often called upon to immediately work with victims when an incident occurs or within a day or two, depending on the assessed need.
In addition to offering 24-hour crisis response support, SVS Program Coordinator Donna McPherson said the organization deals with post trauma support, bereavement support, court accompaniment, and providing basic information on general RCMP procedures and referrals to other agencies, including the food bank and other social agencies. It is not uncommon for advocates to stay in contact with victim for as long as two years, particularly when assisting victims through the court process.

Advocates needed

Sturgeon Victim Services are currently looking for advocates, people who sit down with clients to assist them in their time of need and to work with them in providing resources appropriate to the situation. “These are the volunteers that respond to those crisis moments or work in the office and provide follow up phone calls to the victims and provide resources,” McPherson said, noting advocates must be at least 18 years of age and reside within the Morinville RCMP Detachment coverage area. “We’re looking for people that have good communication skills, who have a lot of compassion and empathy for people.” McPherson said many people who would be good advocates often feel they are not suited for the work, but McPherson said we have all helped a friend or family member through a crisis. “That’s exactly the same service that you are providing, only it’s to someone you don’t know. A lot of the time the people we are providing the service to don’t have those family supports or don’t have their friends that can assist them through the process.”

But the process to become an advocate is not a quick one. McPherson said an RCMP security clearance is required, a higher level one than most volunteers are required to have. The process icurrently takes up to six months. “It is not the criminal records check where they take your name and run it through the system to see if you have a criminal record that pops up,” she said. “This is in-depth. The same as a person that wants to become an RCMP officer.”

Because of the in-depth check and the seriousness of the work to be done by advocates, Sturgeon Victim Services require a one-year commitment from volunteers and provides a strong focus on training. “The Alberta Solicitor General has teamed up with the Justice Institute of BC and they do an online learning course that has all different modules,” McPherson said, adding there are approximately 39 modules that take two hours each. “It gives them a broad overview of what victims look like [and] all the different things they will encounter. So in the area of family violence, they will talk particularly about what is family violence, what does it look like, what are the implications of it, and what’s the emotional impact of it. That is all done in very great detail.” McPherson said the e-learning portion of advocate training usually takes place while advocates are waiting for their security clearance.

Beyond the provincial training, Sturgeon Victim Services have their own in-house training program, which takes place after the clearance is given. McPherson said new advocates are partnered with existing volunteers who provide mentorship.

Many advocates needed

Currently Sturgeon Victim Services have six advocates working files. McPherson said ideally she would like between 12 and 15 advocates on hand to better serve SVS’ crisis schedule. “To avoid duplication so that no one is on the schedule more than once a month, I’d need 24, but we don’t have the caseload,” she said, adding currently the majority of calls are through referrals and one or two volunteers are handling about 20 files per week.

Family violence tops caseload

McPherson said the number one file is family violence. Of the roughly 375 files SVS have dealt with this year, approximately 75 of those dealt with family violence. The numbers are not isolated to anyone community. McPherson said family violence files are spread throughout the Morinville RCMP Detachment area.

McPherson is hoping people will be willing to look into becoming an advocate. “To come into Sturgeon Victim Services as an advocate is probably one of the more rewarding things that people can do,” she said. “A lot of the time you don’t get that instant gratification that you are doing a good job, but six months down the road when somebody sends a letter in and thanks you for changing your life, you’ve had that impact.”

Those interested in becoming an advocate or volunteering with SVS can contact Donna McPherson at 780-939-4590 or by email at sturgeonvictimservices@shaw.ca.

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