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Social Work opens first Trauma Recovery Center at USC to provide California crime victims free mental health services

  • Practice

The violent crime rate in California increased 6.7% in 2021. While remaining relatively low compared to historic highs in the early 1990s, that still suggests that over 1.8 million people across the state experienced a violent crime in 2021. Studies find that 68% of individuals who survive a serious violent crime will experience social and emotional problems as a result, including high emotional distress, disruptions at school or work, and a significant increase of problems in relationships with friends, family and colleagues. Yet up to half of those most profoundly affected by violent crime do not report the crime to the police.

The issue of violent crime also has societal and economic impact, with direct tangible costs to crime victims across the U.S. representing up to 6% of the annual U.S. gross domestic product. Increasingly, public policy focus is on not only crime prevention but also victim support services and compensation aimed at reducing both the individual and societal burden due to violent crime, with California leading the way.

The new Trauma Recovery Center at USC (TRC@USC) at the USC Suzanne-Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, the first comprehensive victim recovery behavioral health clinic at USC, is an important tool in the effort to serve the local community and victims of violent crime throughout the state. TRC@USC is funded by a $2 million grant over two years from the California Victim Compensation Board (CalVCB), with an additional $120,000 in flexible emergency cash assistance for victims.

Complicated trauma, complicated needs

“When a violent crime is involved, you may be dealing with a lot of different things,” said Ruth Supranovich, director of TRC@USC and professor of social work field education. “Maybe I got assaulted and I’m in therapy. But I've got a court hearing coming up and I've got to do a disposition. I've got medical appointments. I may also be suffering from a lot of grief or loss because someone else may have died. And I'm in shock and not necessarily functioning that well. It’s a lot of complicated emotions, so people need extra support and handholding. We can help them identify their priorities right now and get them into a position where they're ready to get some counseling.”

The new clinic will offer no-cost victim support services, including both virtual and in-person mental health care services as well as wraparound services to support victims in every area of their lives impacted by their experience, from medical care to food and housing to attending court appearances with them. Services are available to all California residents who are victims of a violent crime and will not require any proof of the crime, such as a police report, in order to receive treatment.

One of the strengths TRC@USC brings is a holistic social work perspective and integrated, cross-disciplinary services that address the range of support needs. The clinic will be primarily staffed by interns and alumni of the Master of Social Work (MSW) program, as well as a licensed psychologist for in-depth evaluation and a psychiatrist to manage any recommended medication.

“Our clinicians are going to be doing home visits. They're going to be in the community doing outreach. They're going to be doing telebehavioral health therapy and in-office visits,” said Sarah Caliboso-Soto, clinical director of TRC@USC and associate professor of social work field education. “Our clinicians and staff will create and develop unique treatment plans and be flexible and adaptable to wherever their clients are.”

Leveraging strong community relationships

TRC@USC builds on the strong community relationships USC Social Work has established over decades to encourage referral of crime victims in need, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles Department of Child and Family Services and the Los Angeles County Office of Education. Additionally, the clinic works closely with the Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center, the Suzanne-Dworak Peck (SDP) Keck Human Rights Clinic, USC Department of Public Safety and the larger USC community to refer survivors of violent crime.

“Our safety net emergency department serves some of the most vulnerable patients in Los Angeles County. These communities suffer disproportionately from interpersonal violence, leaving physical and mental scars that negatively impact health outcomes for generations,” said Dr. Todd Schneberk, assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine and co-director of the USC Keck Human Rights Clinic. “We are thrilled to collaborate with the Trauma Recovery Center at USC to expand delivery of trauma-informed care to these populations, offering services that will begin to disrupt the cycles of intergenerational trauma and injurious behavior in our communities.”

TRC@USC will also design and implement community outreach sessions to educate police, emergency room personnel and other frontline responders on the nature of trauma that affects survivors of violent crime so they can receive more compassionate care at every step of the way.

Virtual services expand access across California

While focused on the Los Angeles neighborhoods right outside its doors, TRC@USC helps to address growing mental health care provider shortages throughout California, which is currently experiencing the highest number of Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in the mental health discipline of any state in the country. Many of these are concentrated in rural areas making the challenges even greater for crime victims in those regions of the state to seek help.

USC Social Work has been delivering high-quality telebehavioral health care to the most vulnerable and underserved populations across California for over a decade, well before the pandemic made virtual health care delivery a norm. TRC@USC will build on this experience, drawing from many of the same faculty and staff members who provided care through the telebehavioral health clinic. In addition to making services available to those in more remote areas of California, virtual access will enable those who have difficulty negotiating the time, expense and logistics of in-person treatment, such as people experiencing homelessness or migrant workers, to receive care.

TRC@USC also serves as an important training center for both current MSW students and alumni seeking to gain experience using the latest evidence-based, trauma-informed practices with high-need clients to help fill the mental health care provider gap across California.

“Learning from this multidisciplinary team will give MSW interns invaluable experience and exposure to different perspectives and insights based on the variety of educational backgrounds and the expertise of the team members,” said Debra Waters-Roman, clinical psychologist at TRC@USC, as well as an LCSW and associate professor of social work field education, who was named the 2022 Social Worker of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers-California Chapter. “All of this will combine to enhance the likelihood that a comprehensive response to the needs of the client will be provided, thus increasing positive client outcomes.”

The curriculum includes best practices for cultural proficiency, professional boundaries and ethics, confidentiality, advocacy, crisis intervention and referrals, and promotes increased collaboration within and between agencies on behalf of crime victims. TRC@USC’s vision is to create a trauma-informed and victim-centered community response that provides care for the client while also helping to reduce the social and economic impact of violent crime.

“Serving these clients and providing wraparound services will, in the end, really save all of us,” Soto said.

“It will not only lift up individuals but also help them to be productive citizens and contribute to our community in a much better way.”

To reference the work of our faculty online, we ask that you directly quote their work where possible and attribute it to "FACULTY NAME, a professor in the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work” (LINK: https://dworakpeck.usc.edu)