Schools Benefit From Its Vast Experience

Victim Assistance Offers Support
Posted on 09/14/2018
Image of Victim Assistance Program Logo(Jennifer Conn writing for

The Victim Assistance Program Inc. has been designated Summit County's sole provider of mental-health support if large-scale crisis, violence or tragedy affects the schools.

Akron Public Schools and Victim Assistance are now finalizing a memorandum of understanding establishing the organization's role if a critical incident impacts Akron schools, said APS Director of Student Support Services and Security Dan Rambler.

"Victim Assistance does the kinds of things that none of us wants to have to do to help people," Rambler said. "They do so much for our community and our people."

A nonprofit, Victim Assistance has provided crisis intervention, advocacy and education in Summit County for nearly 50 years, said President & CEO Leanne Graham. It's located on Furnace Street under the All American Bridge, so tucked away that many residents and organizations don't know the organization exists.

"This is our work, day in and day out," Graham said. "What's new is that the schools will now know about us. Victim Assistance is now written into the county plan as the mental health agency that responds to any situation to address mental health needs."

Designating a central organization to work onsite at schools in emergencies is a result of a recent change in the 2018 Ohio Revised Code. It requires all schools - public and private - to include a mental-health component in the schools' Emergency Operations Plan.

Those situations can include natural disasters, mass casualties or civil unrest -- any event that affects schools, said Emergency Management Agency of Summit County Senior Administrator Thomas Smoot. In those situations, Victim Assistance will work under the direction of Smoot's agency.

Staffed with a core group of experts, the Emergency Management Agency of Summit County directs large teams of volunteers who are trained to respond to several kinds of emergencies, Smoot said. Graham has served on the agency's behavioral health subcommittee for five years and has co-chaired it since January.

Graham recently sent informational packets to more than 200 Summit County schools to notify them of the designation, introduce Victim Assistance and help schools develop their emergency plans.

Victim Assistance already works closely with the area hospitals. Local law enforcement contacts the organization regularly to assist people who are victims of crime or suffer trauma, Graham said.

In case of large-scale emergencies in schools, Victim Assistance will work onsite to support crisis teams already established in larger schools. Small schools are likely to rely solely on Victim Assistance support, she said.

Although Akron Public Schools has a strong crisis team of psychiatrists and psychologists, Victim Assistance is a welcome resource in an emergency because the district is large and has the potential for different types of emergencies, Rambler said.

"They have expertise and certifications, and they practice doing the things the schools might need," he said. "It's such a good resource."

In June, the Summit County ADM Board brought together experts from various mental health-related organizations that interact with the schools to clarify the roles of Victim Assistance and the Emergency Management Agency of Summit County if a large-scale crisis occurs, Graham said.

"It's very reassuring to know to know how much planning and resources have been allocated in case of an emergency," she said.

In 2017, Victim Assistance provided 6,000 unique services to residents and employees across Summit County by phone, onsite or from one of its five satellite offices. The organization operates 24/7 through its hotline, as well as through new texting services.

Schools that want to partner with Victim Assistance to receive mental-health support in times of crisis should call 330.376.0040.
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