Victim Services looking for advocates

Masha Scheele
reporter@hintonvoice.ca


Hinton’s Victim Support Services (VS) is looking for volunteers to get involved and provide support to locals in need.

Volunteers fill the advocate role, which entails being on call, providing direct support to clients, and assisting the RCMP. Advocates can assist and provide support in crisis intervention or non-crisis situations where advocates will work with the victims and provide referrals to other services for help.

While some will show more interest in the court side or fundraising side of things, 95 per cent of advocates are doing crisis response work.

“That’s what we recruit for and that’s our main focus. That requires being on call and being able to respond to a crisis whenever it comes up and providing that referral support when needed,” said Natascha Thoennes, executive director of Hinton Victim Support Services.

VS is on call 24/7 every day of the year, and all evening and weekend shifts are filled by advocates. Advocates always go out in teams of two and no one goes on a call alone. 

Located in the RCMP detachment, VS is its own organization working with vulnerable victims. The RCMP call out advocates to assist with victims, which allows officers to focus on their duties like an investigation or dealing with a perpetrator.

The organization currently has 12 advocates, some with more than 10 years experience and some who started only a few months ago.

While operations have been a little different during the pandemic, advocates normally go out to a scene and provide support in situations like sudden death, next-of-kin notifications, providing support for victims of domestic violence, victims of sexual assault, or any time police need extra support for the victim.

At the start of the pandemic, calls were coming in slower, but the number of calls are now back on track compared to any other summer, according to Thoennes..

Domestic incidents have slightly increased recently, which makes up the majority of their calls, Thoennes said. A close second are calls to provide support for victims of property crime or theft.

Support for victims of theft or break and enters include speaking about victim impact statements, restitution applications, and court support. 

“We’re seeing anywhere from 30 to 50 referrals a month. So it depends on the month itself and kind of what’s going on,” Thoennes said.

Summer is usually a quieter time as many people leave town, but more people seem to be staying home and numbers haven’t decreased yet.

Advocates also assist with referrals, mostly from RCMP or other community agencies, which includes providing emotional support on a short term basis for clients. 

“We advocate for the victims, we provide referrals and support for the court process,” explained Thoennes.

Three employees make up VS, a program coordinator, and a court support worker, who both work part-time, and a full-time executive director. Advocates are sometimes asked to help with court support as well, Thoennes added.

“We have a really diversified group of people. The skill level is always helpful if they have a background in justice or in any human services field,” Thoennes said.

VS also looks for people who are able to work in stressful situations, work with people in crisis, and work with highly vulnerable people. 

“Those types of attributes sometimes overlap with certain jobs, there’s no requirement in terms of [needing] a certain education level or [needing] a certain degree or anything to be an advocate,” Thoennes said.

All advocates receive the exact same training once they take on the role. Training consists of an extensive online training course provided through the Alberta Justice Solicitor General and additional in-house training.

Some months are very busy and some are quieter, but advocates get out of the program what they’re willing to put in, Thoennes said.

VS does require a minimum number of on-call shifts per advocate and that is usually about three days each month, which includes some weekend time. Some advocates take on extra referrals, while others just take on the on-call shifts.

“It depends on how busy you want to be. There’s a lot of other opportunities such as court or fundraising. There are other aspects,” Thoennes added.

On-call shifts start at 4:30 pm when the office closes, until the next morning, while on weekends it’s an entire 24-hour day.

Ideally, Thoennes would like to recruit enough volunteers to staff every day with two advocates so that staff doesn’t have to cover on-call work.

Thoennes joined the Hinton VS as a court support worker and recently took over the executive director position. Prior to Hinton’s VS, she worked in victim support services in Northern Saskatchewan.

Hinton VS  recently recruited an advocate into the court support worker position. 

Thoennes added that anyone can contact her about how they can get involved if the advocate role isn’t the right fit for them.

Applications for advocates can be found on hinton.ca/victimservices, or contact Thoennes at 780-740-2227.

Advocates will need to complete an application, including an RCMP security reliability screening.