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Herzing University

Dr. Elizabeth Wilson and Dr. Dorothy Jimenez

Victim-Centered Social Work: Supporting Survivors of Child Abuse and Neglect, Sexual Assault, and Crime

Social workers play a vital role in advocating for the rights of individuals of all ages who have been victims of violence.

Social workers play a vital role in advocating for the rights of individuals of all ages who have been victims of violence. Their work spans across various fields, including child welfare, family violence shelters, and within the criminal justice system as providers of support for victims of crime. 

These healthcare professionals are trained to understand and identify patterns of abuse, identify risks and protective factors, and provide crisis counseling and case management services for children and their families. Trauma-informed care is an essential component of working with survivors of violence and social work’s unique person-in-environment focus is perfectly aligned with understanding the impact of the environment on a survivor of trauma. 

Let’s review these three in-demand fields and how you can join the fight to be an advocate for those most in need of support.

Social Work with Child Abuse and Neglect Victims

It is estimated that one in seven children has experienced child abuse or neglect in the past year alone. In 2020, approximately 1,750 children died of abuse and neglect in the United States. Social Workers in the child welfare fieldwork with allied professions such as law enforcement, physicians, teachers, and foster families. They collaborate to develop multidisciplinary teams to review cases, identify services, develop treatment plans, and provide family interventions. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Social Workers in child welfare provide social services and assistance to improve the social and psychological functioning of children and their families and maximize the family well-being and academic functioning of children. Social Workers may assist parents, arrange adoptions, and find foster homes for abandoned or abused children. The BLS estimates that 340,000 social workers work in Child, Family, and School. 

Roles within the field of child welfare can include: 

  • Adoption Social Worker – works with the biological mother, adoptive mother and baby to establish a permanent home. They conduct home studies and recruit adoptive placements.
  • Case Worker – develops a permanency plan for the child while also looking for immediate safety. 
  • Child Abuse Investigators – work in local offices and respond to allegations of abuse and neglect, often in cooperation with local law enforcement.
  • Child Advocacy Center Professionals – assist at places where children can go through a forensic interview and medical examination in the same location to prevent additional trauma. 
  • Forensic Interviewers – specially trained to conduct fact-finding interviews with children who were victims of abuse. 
  • Foster Care Social Worker – specializes in recruiting, educating, and monitoring foster care homes for children. 
  • Juvenile Officer – works on behalf of the state to determine if protective custody is needed. 
  • Prosecutors Office Advocate – works with the child and family to educate them about the criminal trial and prepare for court.
  • Trauma Therapist – a specially trained therapist in trauma-informed interventions who helps children and adolescents heal from the impact of abuse. 

Social Work with Sexual Assault Survivors

It is important to recognize and advocate for change to end the ongoing sexual violence in our communities. Statistics tell us that one in five women in the United States experienced completed or attempted rape during their lifetime. quarter of men in the U.S. experienced some form of contact with sexual violence between the ages of 11 and 17.

Social Workers provide immediate and long-term care for survivors of sexual assault. According to NASW, “The physical effects and mental health issues that are associated with sexual violence may include pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, chronic pain, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and depression. Oftentimes, the victims of sexual assault may experience social isolation as well as strained relationships with family and friends.” 

Roles to support victims of sexual assault can include:

  • Community educator – may work in a variety of agencies and provides prevention services through education on consent, healthy relationships, resources for survivors of assault and increased awareness.
  • Domestic violence shelter – provides 24-hour support and crisis services for victims of sexual assault. 
  • ER social worker – Licensed Clinical Social Worker who works with survivors of sexual assault within the hospital setting to provide crisis intervention, emotional support and linking patients to resources. 
  • Trauma Therapist - Licensed Clinical Social Worker who provides trauma-informed therapy to survivors of abuse. 
  • Victim advocate – usually based within the prosecuting attorney’s office to provide advocacy for the victim of a criminal case while the case moves through the system.

Social Work with Victims of Crime

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were more than 4.6 million reported violent victimizations and 11.7 million property crimes in 2021.

Social Workers provide advocacy and direct services to victims of crime in a variety of settings within the criminal justice system. Victim Advocates ensure the voices of victims are heard and their rights are upheld within the criminal justice system. Advocates assist by providing supportive listening, referrals to services, assistance with restitution, preparation of Victim Impact Statements, and case management. Since 1981, National Crime Victims’ Rights Week (NCVRW) has challenged the Nation to confront and remove barriers to achieving justice for all victims of crime. The 2023 theme is Survivor Voices: Elevate. Engage. Effect Change. It calls upon communities to amplify the voices of survivors and commit to creating an environment where survivors have the confidence that they will be heard, believed, and supported.

Roles to support victims of crime can include: 

  • Community-based Advocate – may assist in obtaining protection orders, therapy, group services and supportive services.
  • Crime Victim Advocate – most often housed in prosecuting attorneys’ offices to provide advocacy for victims of crime. This advocate works to assist with restitution, apply for Crime Victim Compensation Fund and prepare Victim Impact Statements. 
  • Police Social Worker – works in collaboration with law enforcement to respond to cases of violence and mental health calls by providing crisis intervention. 
  • Trauma Therapist – LCSW provides trauma-informed therapy to assist with the emotional impact of an assault.

Social Workers provide supportive services and advocacy to people impacted by violence and crime in numerous settings and alongside other professionals. Working in child welfare, sexual assault services, and crime victim services allow social workers to impact their communities and clients’ lives by providing empowerment, advocacy, and trauma-informed interventions to clients of all ages. To learn more about social work services, check out Herzing University's MSW program, including its Children, Families and Aging Services Specialization. 


Dr. Elizabeth Wilson – Ph.D., MSW, LCSW

Dr. Wilson is an established social work professor with over 20 years of teaching experience and 15 years as a social work program director in higher education. Dr. Wilson has extensive practice and teaching experience in crisis response, crime victimization, child abuse and neglect, family violence, mental health, and suicide prevention. She has delivered numerous professional presentations, and continuing education sessions, and chaired numerous dissertations focusing on social issues. Dr. Wilson is a licensed clinical social worker in the state of Missouri, a member of NASW, and has provided service to many community boards. Dr. Wilson has received several teaching recognitions and was awarded the Jane Bierdeman-Fike Humanitarian Award in 2019.

Dr. Dorothy Jimenez, Director of Field Education

Dr. Jimenez has over 30 years of service within the Social Work sector, is clinically licensed, and has extensive practice experience. Her background includes work with youth in the foster care and correctional systems, in medical settings, as a therapist, program director, and her most recent position as an executive director at a large rape crisis center. Her expertise is in trauma, sexual violence, and nonprofit management. In addition to her hands-on experience in the profession, she has had the opportunity to engage in teaching and administration within the field of higher education since 2007. As part of her journey, she has been very engaged in field education as a supervisor, field liaison, and faculty member, supporting and guiding students through the most rewarding and challenging part of the social work degree. Dr. Jimenez has found a passion for working with students who want to impact the world, developing coursework to guide them and ensuring rigorous and innovative programs. She is thrilled to be part of the Herzing community as the Director of Field Education.

Learn More About Our Master of Social Work Degree


* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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