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March 16, 1998

UW study finds state crime victims program effective
Report measures use of mental-health services in 926 cases

TUMWATER - Mental-health treatment provided through the Washington Crime Victims Compensation Program is effective and results in appropriate assistance to patients, according to a study by the University of Washington.

The study, "Mental Health Service Utilization by Victims of Crime," is the work of Lucy Berliner and Michelle New of the Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress at the University of Washington.

Berliner is research director at Harborview. New is a clinical psychologist there.

The Department of Labor & Industries manages the Crime Victims Compensation Program. It provides various benefits for eligible victims of crime.

The researchers selected fiscal year 1994 to study mental-health benefit costs in the program. They examined the records of 926 crime victims who received mental-health benefits during that period. Of the cases, 608 were children under 18 years of age. The remaining 318 victims were adults.

Overall, about three-quarters of all claims for children are for sexual assault.

The findings for child victims:

  • 88 percent of the children in the study were victims of sexual assault.
  • 83 percent were white.
  • 72 percent were female.
  • The median age of child victims was 7 years, 5 months.
  • 39 percent of these victims were assaulted by "non-related acquaintances," such as baby-sitters, daycare providers (usually husbands or sons of female daycare providers) and neighbors. Another 36 percent were victims of parent or step-parents. Twenty-one percent were victims of other family members.
  • 67 percent of the children were diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress syndrome associated with the assault against them.
  • The median number of mental-health counseling sessions for child victims was 23.
  • The average cost of mental-health treatment for these victims was $975.

The findings for adult victims:

  • 88 percent of the victims were women.
  • 38 percent were victims of sexual assault
  • 40 percent were victims of physical abuse.
  • 78 percent of the victims were white.
  • The average age of the victims was 34.
  • 35 percent of the victims were assaulted by strangers, 32 percent were victims of spouses or partners, and 30 percent were victims of acquaintances.
  • 70 percent of the victims were diagnosed as having post-traumatic stress syndrome associated with their assault.
  • The median number of mental-health counseling sessions for adult victims was 15.
  • The average cost of mental-health treatment for adult victims was $905.

Researchers said the number of treatment sessions for children and adults are "relatively few" and the associated costs "modest."

During fiscal year 1994, the cost for mental-health counseling for crime victims was $4.4 million.

The researchers also issued a caution about mental-health counseling for crime victims.

"It is important to emphasize that data relating to mental-health service cannot be used to draw conclusions about the proper length of effective treatment for crime-related psychological consequences," according to the report. "Learning that a crime victim used a given number of sessions does not reveal whether that person improved, stayed the same or even became worse during treatment."

The report also praised the Crime Victims Compensation Program for its initiative to provide training to claims adjudicators about the psychological effects of crime on victims and possible approaches to treatment.

The hiring of a psychologist consultant to assist the claims adjudicators also is helpful, according to the report.

"Having a qualified expert on staff provides claims adjudicators with immediate access to consultation on complex or difficult cases," according to the report.

The Crime Victims Compensation Program at L&I annually receives between 6,000 to 6,500 claims from  victims of violent crime who have no other insurance coverage. About 70 percent are accepted. Benefits include payments for time lost from work, medical care, pensions and mental-health counseling, among others.

The current two-year budget for the L&I program is $25.7 million. This includes a $6 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice.

A summary of the report can be found here

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