Victim of success

Curriculum Vitae 

Name: Peter Dunn

Job: Head of research and development, Victim

Qualifications: MSc Social Work Studies,

Last job: Policy adviser, Youth Justice

First job: Bank clerk 

In 1974 members of rehabilitation agency Nacro in Bristol were
concerned that victims of crime faced significant emotional,
practical and financial problems, but no statutory agency was
helping them. And so the first victim support group was formed.

Thirty-one years on, Victim Support is a well-known and
well-respected national association with 10,000 volunteers and
about a thousand staff. Its 90 local charities provide emotional
support, practical help and information to victims of crime. It
also has a witness service in every court in England, Wales and
Northern Ireland. It is a remarkable success story. However, there
was a gap in their service.

“Up until two or three years ago we didn’t really provide a
service directly to young victims of crime,” says Peter Dunn, head
of research and development at Victim Support. “Instead we used to
work with parents and carers to support the young person

However, this was proving unsatisfactory. “Sometimes parents or
carers were not really able to respond to a young person’s needs in
an appropriate way; they, too, may have been affected by the crime
– a burglary, for example. Also, quite often the young person may
be acting as a carer to the parent.

“There was also increasing evidence that young people expect and
want to use services in their own right, saying, ‘I don’t want you
to tell my parents’ or would want to talk to us directly,” says

A big challenge was the need for cultural change. “There was
some resistance from managers and staff to the idea of working with
young people. We had to tackle that mindset by first showing that
it was potentially discriminatory: they wouldn’t take that approach
with other groups – so why do it with young people? Second, we
needed to convince members that there wasn’t a need for a whole set
of new skills, but rather an enhanced level of existing skills
which could be developed through our learning materials,” he

Crucially, Dunn continually consulted members so that concerns
could be raised and tackled. “We used our bi-annual regional
meetings to discuss developments with members locally, and ran a
workshop on the new service at our national conference.”

Victim Support worked on four areas – standards, practice
guidance for managers, child protection policy and a learning
programme for volunteers. “We also did some secondary research,
with the help of criminology students, looking at the needs of
young victims,” adds Dunn.

A development group of interested managers, staff and volunteers
looked at the research evidence, and over a year with the
development officer (funded by a private donor) produced standards,
a service framework and practice guidance (for example, what do you
do if the young person asks for a hug?), which were helpfully
scrutinised by willing children’s organisations.

“At the same time we produced an assessment tool. It was clear
that we couldn’t provide the right sort of service unless we had a
thorough assessment of a young person’s needs. This was different
to what we had done before,” says Dunn.

The net result was three age-related versions of a young
people’s support pack. “We piloted the support pack and the
learning materials in areas where members were keen on it – to help
get word around that it’s all working out quite well. That was
quite a successful approach,” smiles Dunn.

The new service was also sold as an opportunity. “One of our
major preoccupations over recent years has been looking to increase
the diversity of our volunteer profile. Most of our services are
delivered by volunteers – and people who want to volunteer tend to
be mainly, but not exclusively, older women.

“We were able to persuade members that this new service would
help us attract more young people into volunteering; in particular,
young men, people from black and minority ethnic groups and more
lesbians and gay men. And we are beginning to get some evidence
that this is working,” says Dunn.


  • Find out what service users want – don’t make assumptions about
    their needs.
  • Make sure that stakeholders are consulted properly – not just
    as a gesture.
  • Have  sound research evidence – look at what works.


  • Be confident that the government and statutory agencies will be
    interested in what you are doing.
  • If there’s resistance from stakeholders, just push on because
    you know what you are doing.
  • Don’t spend too much time on consultation – someone has to 
    make a decision.


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