Burnout, inadequate pay plague Ohio’s victim services workforce

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 25, 2022

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman
Ohio News Connection

Ohioans who work, day in and day out, with some of the most vulnerable populations are struggling with major burnout, according to new data.

Program directors and staff in the Ohio Victim Services Compensation 2022 survey reported they don’t earn what they see as a living wage, and 45 percent of staff said their salaries don’t cover their basic needs.

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Rosa Beltre, president and chief executive of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, explained that these workers are first responders for survivors of violence and sexual assault. She agreed that they are overextended and underpaid.

“We are on the field of anti-oppression and anti-violence,” she said, “and the way that we pay our staff, the way that we compensate our staff continues to fall into the cycles of oppressive methods.”

In the survey, 57 percent reported having to work more than one job to make ends meet, which leads to fatigue and lower performance at their Victim Services job. Average Victim Services budgets fell 16 percent between 2020 and 2022, which means less funding available to pay employees.

Beltre said Victim Services workers often are expected to be well-versed in legal and medical advocacy as well as social work and psychology. She contended they deserve a compensation package that includes a competitive salary, health-care and retirement benefits, and reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, from gas to education.

“We’re asking them to come in with a master’s degree in social work or be a sociologist,” she said, “and what we’re paying them doesn’t cover their expenses, or the years that it took them to obtain the degree or the experience.”

The bulk of funding for victim-services organizations comes from the federal Victims of Crimes Act, which consists of fines and penalties paid by convicted offenders. Beltre said the funding has decreased more than 70 percent in Ohio in the past few years.

“That has trickled down to the programs, that has trickled down to the services, and we are not exempt from the exodus that all of the corporations or organizations are experiencing,” she said. “We have been heavily hit, and it’s not sustainable.”

The VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victim Funds Act of 2021 will provide more federal dollars to states. However, it will take time for the funds to be distributed.