2016-60: Guide to victim-awareness for forensic social workers (Call 2016-60)
In 2016, a guide was developed to promote victim-aware work in clinical forensic care. In the current project, this guide has been implemented in three FPCs and one FPK. Based on these experiences, the guide was further developed into a new version that is more in line with practice.
To investigate the usefulness of the old version of the guide, 70 interviews were conducted with 35 forensic social workers. In each interview, a case was discussed in which there was contact with or the request for contact with victims. This was either contact between the victim and the offender, or contact between the victim and a forensic social worker.
Of the 70 cases, direct contact between victim and offender occurred in 30 cases. In 22 cases, one of the parties did not agree to contact (the offender, the victim or the offender's treatment team). In 9 cases, the cases are still ongoing, and the outcome is still unknown, and in 9 other cases, the forensic social worker took the initiative to contact a victim and offender. In these cases, the forensic social worker wanted, for example, to discuss the offender's extension of leave with the victim, or they wanted to bring the offender and the victim together to discuss the crime. For both offenders and victims, restoring contact with family members or a (former) partner was a reason to seek contact. Also, offenders sought contact with the victim to express their regret or to allay the victim's fears, among other things. Victims sought contact with the offender to find out the facts of the offence or to ask the offender questions. Of the 70 cases, in the majority of cases (57), the victim knew the offender or was known to the offender: a family member, (former) partner or another known person.
Target groups for the guide
The research did not reveal any indications that the guide could not be used for certain types of offences or mental disorders. Contact requests occur and are realised with offenders with different forms of psychopathology (such as personality disorders, disorders in the schizophrenia spectrum, developmental disorders, intellectual disability and sexual disorders) and different types of crime (such as (attempted) life crimes, sex crimes and violent crimes). The success or failure of the contact seems to be influenced by the mediator's ability to take into account the possibilities and limitations of the offenders and victims during the preparation and implementation of the contact. Aligning expectations between offender and victim, searching for a suitable form of contact that takes into account the psychopathology of the offender and thinking in terms of possibilities rather than limitations are important elements.
Differences between the current guide and the previous version
The guide created in 2016 has been further developed based on the cases. The current guide contains a process-based description of the most important steps to be taken in contact with victims. More than in the 2016 version, the guide emphasises that that victims' needs can be taken into account in two ways: not only through contact between the offender and the victim but also through contact between the victim and the forensic social worker. The guide has also been expanded with substantive information and case studies. An infographic of the most important steps of the guide can be used by forensic social workers and, for example, hung on the office wall. As a result, they are regularly reminded of the importance of victim-conscious work and they quickly see the most important information.
Based on the results, the following recommendations for the future are made:
- Optimising the preconditions for recovery with victims of offenders by using a different criminal title (other than hospital order). This could include making a neutral party available to establish contacts with victims, such as the Detention Process Information Point does for offenders on a hospital order.
- Creating good records about contacts and agreements with victims. When offenders are transferred to follow-up institutions, the agreements with victims can be transferred, and it is clear which attempts have already been made in this area, ensuring that victims do not have to be approached unnecessarily.
- For employers: enabling forensic social workers to implement the guide. This means, for example, that they must have sufficient time to apply the guide in each case.
- Implementing the guide in the FPCs and FPKs that did not participate in the pilot project and monitor the experiences with this guide in further research. It is also important that the use of the guide is properly guaranteed in the primary treatment process of the organisation concerned (see also the implementation guide).
- Conducting further research into this theme in the future, with a larger sample group; it is important to take into account the experiences of offenders and victims themselves.
Dr. S. van Mesdag and Van der Hoevenkliniek.