Claire Kerman is the ISVA Team Leader at St Mary’s Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Manchester. She has been an ISVA for 3.5 years and completed her ISVA training with LimeCulture in March 2012. Claire’s Team (pictured below) includes 4 ISVAs working with males and females over the age of 13 (one of the ISVAs specifically works with adolescents). Her team also works alongside a Child Advocate for under 13 year olds and a Young Persons Advocate for those involved in child sexual exploitation who are based at St Mary’s.
Claire has approximately 80 clients that she is actively in touch with regularly, although she points out it is difficult to say what her average case load is as it will depend on the outcome of a support needs assessment and also the stage at which the case is at. For example, in cases where the court case is delayed or where there has been an adjournment, the client will need flexible support throughout their journey. Claire explains that some clients have excellent support systems in place already and need minimal input, however the support they require is frequently reassessed and tailored to meet their needs. Claire explains that the ISVAs at St Mary’s do not close cases, as clients who felt they did not need to access support often come back further down the line, especially if they have a court case coming up.
The ISVA service based at St Mary’s SARC runs in parallel with the SARC counselling service and enables them to be flexible about the support that is offered to clients. Claire explains that clients will often take up the ISVA support in the early stages of the case, then access counselling and return for more ISVA support at a later stage, while other clients will access the counselling and ISVA support simultaneously if there is a need.
What does your average workday consist of?
“On an average day I start work at 8am and look at my emails. I catch up on some paperwork, making phone calls to clients or police officers. At 9.15am every weekday morning we have a multidisciplinary team meeting consisting of a Crisis Worker, Counsellor, ISVA, Doctor, and member of the Admin Team, a member of the Child Team and often the Manager and Clinical Director. In this meeting we review the cases that have been referred over the previous 24 hours or weekend. We can frequently review between 10 and 20 cases on a Monday morning. The meeting gives us the opportunity to ensure that all actions and treatments have been made and that any follow up management is addressed. Safeguarding decisions are often complex so we discuss safeguarding referrals and allocate further actions between the team.
We take a holistic approach to our client’s recovery and, as I work at a SARC, our client’s journey with us often begins with a medical examination. With regards to physical health we can use the notes to tell us what follow up the client needs and remind them of any appointments they need to make on recontact. We can refer clients to our counsellors for assessment or look at other agencies that may be appropriate or if the client is already involved with and liaise with them. After this meeting, I generally have a MARF (multi agency referral form) to complete and a list of recontacts or other related jobs. I also have planned face-to-face support session during the day and a list of around 10 or more telephone recontacts to do.
I spend lots of time liaising with police officers and making referrals to other services, such as social care or community alcohol teams. I am also regularly in touch with the Witness Service teams at the 2 Crown Courts in Manchester making appointments for pre-court visits or arrangements to attend court with clients. We have seen a marked increase in the number of court attendances we are making. My colleague Gail and I had 5 court cases booked in for one week in January!
We are a very busy Centre and during the working day have many phone calls from people wishing to gain information or access the Centre. We also have a people dropping into the Centre from time to time, so despite having a plan for the day we never quite know how things are going to pan out. As we are part of a Team, we have to be adaptable and in cases where we are short staffed I may do some Crisis Work during the day or help out with the Child Clinic’.
What is your favourite thing about your role?
‘My favourite thing about the ISVA role is seeing the difference in someone from when we started working together to when they are ready to finish working with me or my colleagues. I suspect this is the same for most ISVAs, but to be a part of helping someone in their recovery is a real privilege. Some clients require very little input and some need a much larger proportion of time but I think all are supported in the knowledge there is a specialist service to help them. When you have that connection with the client and see such a change in them, it really serves to reinforce your belief in the power of humans to overcome huge adversity.
I really enjoy working as part of a team and while we might all come from different backgrounds, academically or professionally, we are all striving to ‘get it right’ for the client. I also think working in a multi-disciplinary team has really helped me to broaden my knowledge and thought process’.
What is the hardest/most challenging thing about your role?
‘I sometimes find it challenging to help a client get back on their feet after they have given evidence in court if they have had a particularly tough time in the witness box. I often share the client’s frustration at the way they have been spoken to or about the line of questioning but in order to remain professional I must push my feelings to one side to help the client with theirs. I think it can be a real balancing act sometimes to acknowledge things had been tough for them but not enter into a ‘barrister bashing’ discussion, which would only serve to frustrate the client further.
I would really like to see things change for vulnerable victims in terms of the Criminal Justice System, I think the ISVA role goes a long way to providing a huge support here but the system itself needs constant review if we are to change the experiences of some of the most vulnerable people who have experienced sexual violence.
On a less serious note when it comes to being challenged, sharing an office with a Gary Barlow fan isn’t great, especially when she is also a Manchester City supporter!!’
What is your greatest achievement in relation to your role?
‘There have been many achievements I can think of within this role. Some may seem small to others, but sometimes just engaging with a client who had given up on services and being able to give them hope can feel like a huge achievement. It’s those times when the job feels really worthwhile and you feel you can really make a difference to the direction someone’s life takes. I am currently working with a young person who finds it very difficult to engage with people in general. My client has many issues and finds it very hard to communicate what they need. We have built up a really good relationship over time and we have worked through some real difficulties. I see this as a huge achievement and hope that their trust in me, and the rapport we have built, will continue to help when the time comes to attend court.
I have also had a couple of achievements in terms of my personal development within this role. Becoming the ISVA Team leader has been both challenging and rewarding. I have started to master my public speaking fear by doing presentations at courses run here at St Mary’s’.
How would you like to see the ISVA role developed in the next 3-5 years?
‘I am hoping that ISVAs can be seen in a more professional light and have a higher profile. I have worked closely in the past with barristers and CPS when there has been a difficult case, and it has been very beneficial for the client as I have been able to advocate for the client or empower them to communicate their wishes. I would like to see a more joined up approach between ISVAs and other professionals so we can work together to provide the client with more choice, better information and a solid platform to communicate their wishes. I would like to see the criminal justice process change for victims of sexual violence and I am passionate about ISVAs being part of this.
Is there anything else you would like to share about your role with other ISVAs?
‘It’s really valuable to work as part of a dedicated team. I am very grateful to be able to reflect with my colleagues on the best course of action and discuss cases. We have group supervision every 6 weeks but without the support of my colleagues I think I would find this job overwhelming. I think it is important for ISVAs to support but also allow ourselves to be supported by colleagues as vicarious trauma can be a big problem in roles such as these and we can find ourselves lost in the world of the client’.
Clare was interviewed by LimeCulture as part of our new blog series “Interview with an ISVA’. LimeCulture is the leading ISVA training provider, having successfully trained over 100 ISVAs since 2011. LimeCulture is a huge supporter of the ISVA role, which we believe to be a vital part of the response to victims of sexual violence. The aim of this new blog series is to showcase the important and varied work that is done by ISVAs across the country in support of victims. I