Work as a victim advocate is among the most rewarding and important career choices open to entry level graduates in psychology, social work, or criminal justice. Though the hours are unpredictable and the needs will vary from client to client, the role victims’ advocates play in the justice system is highly meaningful to the victims and the families involved in each individual case. Having the proper training and education is essential for long term career growth in this field. Professionals can enter this field in a variety of ways.
Completing substantial victims’ advocacy experience as a volunteer is a vital component of this job. Many bachelor degree programs in social work include opportunities for internships, volunteer experiences, and other mentoring relationships where degree candidates can acquire the practical knowledge to serve the target population. Because the work requires detailed knowledge of the court system, an understanding of community services available to victims, and a wide array of psychological factors associated with trauma, abuse, and crime, the most successful victims’ advocates seek ongoing education often including a master’s degree, which generally adds two more years of education to the candidate’s portfolio.
For career changers and graduates with degrees outside the traditionally accepted path, the National Organization for Victim Assistance offers volunteer opportunities and training seminars on different levels. Connecting with the National Organization for Victim Assistance can also be a first step on this career path. Many online degree programs offer courses in psychology which students can take while remaining employed at their current job. Social work, psychology, and criminal justice courses are all important to success in this field.
First response trauma and treatment centers often have paid victims’ advocates on staff. In addition, many hospitals, non-profit victims’ advocacy groups, community organizations, and state and local governments also employ skilled victims’ advocacy professionals. These important professionals ensure that recent victims of crimes know about the services that are available to them, and also help them navigate through related issues such as understanding legal documents and creating treatment and safety plans.
After a number of years in the field, professionals often seek the advanced master’s degree and use their expert knowledge in leadership roles. Leaders in this field coordinate programs and services that provide training and support to victims’ advocates, create training curriculum, and work as program specialists to coordinate information and services. Additionally leaders may also run non-profit organizations, supervise other victims’ advocates, and appear before legislative groups to persuade policy makers on issues related to victim’s rights. Ongoing education, professional service, and personal development is essential for longevity on this career path.
For students with high levels of patience, compassion, and understanding in critical situations, the job of a victim advocate is rewarding and important. To create a résumé that will prepare you for the best jobs, it is essential to seek strong practical skills and education from a highly regarded school. Students with backgrounds in psychology, criminal justice, and social work will find their degrees useful for a career path in this profession. Ongoing volunteer work when beginning in the field is common, while continuing professional development over time is vital to long term goals in this field.
Once a professional has gathered a wide variety of knowledge and expert training, it is common to move into a leadership role as a coordinator, trainer, or policy maker. This important work requires a non-judgmental personality and utilizes highly developed communication skills along with the ability to remain calm in stressful circumstances. While victims’ advocates may have an unpredictable work day, the intrinsic rewards are many. For those professionals with a strong career plan, solid training, and a reputable education, the extrinsic rewards can be impressive as well.