There are hundreds of non-profit organizations in Texas whose mission is to assist survivors of crime with their legal needs or provide other supportive services. But finding the right service provider is a challenge for victims of crime. Matching a crime surviver with appropriate service providers depends on many factors including the type of crime, the mix of services needed by a victim, the services provided by an organization, and the provider's current capacity. Some victims of crime may have to apply to several organizations in order to fully meet their needs.
A new statewide initiative, the Texas Crime Victim Legal Assistance Network (TCVLAN), will address this issue by building a network of collaborating service providers. At the forefront of this effort will be a website at which victims of crime can connect with organizations that provide the services they need to help get their lives back together. Under this initiative, victims of crime will need to apply only once for assistance to any TCVLAN partner. The network of organizations that are part of this initiative will then collaborate to connect victims with suitable service providers.
The project is funded by a grant from U.S. Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). The grant comes from the Crime Victim Fund established under the Victim of Crime Act (VOCA) of 1984. This project was funded based on the recommendations of OVC'S Vision 21 Initiative. The goal of Vision 21 Initiative is to "create networks of diverse victim service providers who will coordinate to meet the legal needs of crime victims in a manner that will bring needed services to the survivor rather than the survivor having to seek services from a variety of providers."
The TCVLAN project is spearheaded by Lone Star Legal Aid (LSLA) and led by LSLA attorneys Jessica Alas and Sonia Lopez. LSLA worked with the Urban Insight led by Abhijeet Chavan, to develop the technology strategy and to build the system.
The TCVLAN website features a directory of over 300 legal and supportive service providers in Texas that assist victims of crime. Users can search the directory to find the organization that best meets their needs based on location, services provided, eligibility requirements, and other selection criteria. At the time of launch, the directory contains basic public information about each service provider. Each provider (TCVLAN Partner) can "claim" their profile in the directory by signing up. This enables the partner to update their profile. and add more information about the organization.
TCVLAN Partners will also be able to share additional information about their organization with other partners to help with referrals and collaboration. Partners can search and review referral details, eligibility criteria, and schedule availability. When a partner is unable to provide services to a victim of crime they can search for other partners that may be able to assist and make a referral.
We built the TCVLAN website with Drupal, an open source website management system. To ensure implementation of best practices and to reduce development effort we started with Drupal for Legal Aid Websites (DLAW), a pre-built open source template specifically designed for legal services organizations. DLAW is developed by Urban Insight with support from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC). We customized DLAW to develop new features for TCVLAN including adding a partners directory containing partner profiles. Each partner profile has public information that is visible to any website visitor and some private information that is only visible to other partners.. Drupal/DLAW is a great foundation for TCVLAN as it provides a solid framework to build new features in later phases. (To learn more about DLAW see DLAW 5.0 Released: Open source platform for public information websites.)
As of 2013, there were 46,255 violent crimes and 309,919 property crimes reported to Texas law enforcement in the 72 county area serviced by TCVLAN. (1) According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2013 only 46% of violent crime victims report to law enforcement (2). The TCVLAN project aims to help victims of crime in Texas rebuild their lives by connecting with appropriate support providers. It will also make it easier for victim services professionals to collaborate in assisting those that need their services.
- Calculated from Tables in the Texas Department of Public Safety's The Texas Crime Report See Ch 10b.
- The Bureau of Justice Statistics, Criminal Victimization, 2013, September 2014 NCJ 247648, http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv13.pdf (last accessed September 22, 2016).
Follow Abhijeet Chavan @legalaidtech