October 04, 2019

Our Wraparound Victim Legal Assistance Networks Project is Finally Wrapped!

Kathrina Peterson, Acting Deputy Director of the Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) articulated the vision of the Project. “The idea came from the field.  One of the number one needs was for legal services, and not just individualized legal services, but holistic, wraparound legal services that were provided in a comprehensive way.”  This need emerges because in the wake of a crime, victims face many hurdles on the path to healing – many of which are legal.  They may be involved in criminal or civil justice proceedings or both.  Victims may be experiencing problems with housing, employment, education, immigration, public benefits and more, all while being asked to participate in criminal justice.  “It’s really hard to participate in a legal case if you don’t have housing, if you’re about to be evicted, if you have immigration concerns, if you have a civil suit pending…” explained Kazi Houston, the Legal Director of the Rocky Mountain Legal Center. Each of these legal systems is complex; qualified legal assistance can help. Unfortunately, no- and low-cost expert legal services for victims are in short supply.  

As part of addressing the need, the federal Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) funded a national project of ten Victim Legal Assistance Networks (VLANs).  From 2014-2019 NCVLI served as the training and technical assistance provider to these Networks.  Here is just a glimpse of the work of the Networks over the life of the project.  The Georgia Network served more than 3,000 victims; the Minnesota Network represented victims on nearly 1,000 different legal issues; and the New York Network launched a new website that has had more than 6,300 users. 

What started as an idea in each jurisdiction has become a new way of doing the business of serving victims.  “By having a Network, we can understand what other services are out there and then we can link clients to those services,” noted Diane Trunk, Director of Evaluation, Policy and Practice at the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice.  When asked about how the Wraparound Victim Legal Assistance Project changed their work, Mel Fisher of the Montana Legal Services Association said “[the Network changed] how we do crime victim services – instituting a healing component into the system.”  She added, “We’re now paying more attention to our partnerships,” which is a critical part of wrapping services around the victim.

Building upon the partnerships and lessons learned from the project, each Network is finding new ways to continue and expand their provision of wraparound legal services for victims.  Katrina Peterson remembered what the initial stages were like. “When we started off, it was a very small group and we were kind of lost. It was a challenge. Now you look…and the Networks are huge!  They have served thousands of clients and have done work on all kinds of topics, from immigration to family law to crime victims’ rights enforcement.” NCVLI’s Executive Director Meg Garvin commented on NCVLI’s role in the Project: “NCVLI’s job is not to be the Network - it’s to help make these Networks better. That way we serve survivors the best way we can.”  Along the way, not only did NCVLI train nearly 2,500 people and respond to more than 280 requests for technical assistance, but NCVLI documented the “how to” of replicating these amazing VLANs.  All of this information is available on the Victim Legal Assistance Network replication website: https://victimlegalassistance.org/ .  Now it’s your turn – launch a VLAN in your state!

Through the VLAN replication website, you will learn about:

  • the Networks involved in the Wraparound Victim Legal Assistance Networks Project (including lessons learned);
  • a step-by-step process for setting up and implementing your own VLAN in your state;
  • ways in which NCVLI can assist you as you consider launching a VLAN; and
  • tools you can use, including templates, samples and other resources to build on your vision.

“Thank you is not enough to express my gratitude to NCVLI and the other Network sites for the years of sharing and support.  Your work made us so much better. I hope to continue our collaboration for many years!”                –Network Partner