Providing practical and emotional support to victims of crime and trauma takes a special kind of person.
They’re a lifeline among a sea of hurt and pain and will sometimes walk alongside victims for years while they navigate the judicial system and work to overcome their grief.
“Our support workers are someone they can talk to and ask questions of. We liaise with the police and the courts and can refer the victims to some of the services they need in the community to help them as well,” explains Victim Support BOP Area Manager Lydia Allan.
“So we act as that link to help them understand what’s going on and then point them in the right direction if they need some external help.
“Sadly the need in the Bay is ongoing and significant. We supported 2500 across the Bay of Plenty last year. Serious vehicle crashes, homicides, suicides, family and sexual violence are the most common referrals we receive. So recruiting enough volunteers to deliver the service, that’s our key challenge and ensuring the training we’re giving is relevant and as up-to-date as possible.”
Regular in-house training is held for all volunteers to help them understand what’s going on for the victim and any legislative or procedural changes in our judicial system. Lydia says volunteers have always been at the heart of Victim Support’s 24/7 service but the organisation has to actively maintain that workforce.
“For a lot of the victims, the incidents are something they’ve never been exposed to before. The judicial system is a whole new beast they have never seen before. So we need to have volunteers who can digest all of those systems and the mechanics around them and actually help those victims navigate through all of that.”
Lydia says around 20 people currently volunteer as Victim Support workers in the Bay of Plenty and the region also has three paid Service Coordinators.
“Our volunteers enjoy the training they receive and get a lot out of it but you’re never truly prepared for that very first meeting with your very first victim. You still have that anxiety so we try to ensure we give them as much support not only while they’re being trained but after as well. That’s the role of the Service Coordinator.”
BayTrust has just given Victim Support (NZ Council) a $15,000 grant to support their BOP volunteer programme – money which will go towards operational costs including resources that are handed out to victims themselves.
Lydia says about 80 percent of the organisation’s budget is Government-funded while the remainder has to be fundraised or sourced from community funding bodies such as BayTrust.
“What that money means is we can keep locally-based staff here in the Bay to support volunteers and we can provide volunteers with the training they need to provide quality support to victims.
“This grant is a huge help. It means we’ve got that little bit more money toward what we need for the year. We also feel encouraged and supported – it tells us the community appreciate the work we do.”
Victim Support is always on the look-out for new volunteers and Lydia says people come from all walks of life. Current volunteers include semi-retired nurses, mental health workers and various professionals and consultants.
“We need people who can communicate with a diverse range of people, who have empathy but are not going to take over and do everything for victims, someone with a caring nature but who’s professional enough to know how to keep those professional and personal boundaries.
“You can easily feel sympathy and get caught up in what the victim is going through, so we need people who can remain objective and still have a clear view of what’s happening and be able to offer the help the victim needs at that time.”
The work is emotionally challenging but the satisfaction is immense, Lydia says.
“The reward is in seeing that victim start to move towards what was normality for them and feeling empowered enough that they can begin to move forward in their life. That’s the reward we all get from it.”
Anyone who is interested in becoming a volunteer is welcome to call 0800 Volunteer or visit www.victimsupport.org.nz for more information.