Compassionate Care In Saddle Hills & Central Peace

Compassionate Care In Saddle Hills & Central Peace
Posted on 05/15/2019

Victims Services Provide Compassionate Care In Saddle Hills County And The Central Peace

Quietly and without any fanfare, the volunteers who act as Advocates for the Victims Services team in Saddle Hills County are happiest working quietly and out of the public eye.

For anyone unfortunate to have needed their help … they are angels of mercy.

Deb Cardwell, Program Coordinator of the Victim Services office in Spirit River, manages a team of three Advocates, (Shirley Klatt, Lyla Yanishewski and Betty Yuha) all of whom live in Saddle Hills County. In addition to managing the operation, Cardwell is the fourth Advocate and, as such, she is available, 24/7 on top of her administrative duties.

The Spirit River Victim Services office, a branch of Grande Prairie & District Victims Services, provides service to victims of crime or tragedy throughout the entire region represented by the G5 municipalities (Birch Hills County, M.D. of Spirit River #133, Village of Rycroft, Town of Spirit River and Saddle Hills County).

In order to become an advocate for Victim Services, a volunteer must complete 70 hours of online training, and courses. Each advocate also must pass a police screening which includes a security check. The whole process can take up to three months. Advocates typically work one-week on-call but, according to Cardwell, they are sometimes called in on other occasions as needed.

When she speaks about her job, it is with a real sense of purpose. She describes it as a dark business but says it is incredibly rewarding.

Can I Give You A Hug

“Sometimes being someone who says, ‘Can I give you a hug,’ during one of the toughest moments of their life, and helping them to feel safer knowing they are being taken care of, is very fulfilling,” says Deb  Cardwell.

The organization’s goals consist of lessening the immediate impact of a crime or tragedy on the victim(s) and attempting to alleviate stress on the victim(s) through support, information and referrals. The highly skilled and compassionate staff provide a 24/7 coordinated crisis intervention service following a traumatic event that has had an overwhelming impact on a group. This is called Critical Incident Stress Management (CISM) and the objective is to reduce negative impacts of an event on the groups and individuals involved.

A critical incident is an unusual, traumatic event which has an impact on groups of people and may overwhelm their ability to cope.

Examples include line-of-duty or work site deaths, a fatality, serious injury or multiple injuries often in unique or unusual circumstances. Advocates never know what to expect when they are called upon, at all hours of the day or night.

“This is really a life-time choice,” says Cardwell. Advocates are well-trained experts at helping victims through the most difficult moments of an incident.


What Happens Now?

Advocates provide consultation services for members of the community impacted by crisis both at the scene and afterwards by providing information and support to assist victims to cope with the effects of crime and tragedy.

“We are there for people at what is often the worst moment of their lives,” she says. “We’re there to answer the question, ‘What Happens Now’,” by providing emotional support, and help through the difficult process of adjusting to an often scary new reality.”

The Unit is a policed based, non-profit, charitable society that works with the RCMP to provide support, information and referrals to residents of Grande Prairie and District during times of crisis, trauma or tragedy, whether they are victims of crime, sudden death or family crisis.

Cardwell has been working for Victims Services since 2013 when she worked at their Slave Lake office. She moved to Spirit River in 2014 and was an advocate in the Spirit River office for nine months when the Program Coordinator position became available. Her position is a 20-hour per month paid position while the rest of her time is spent as a volunteer.

“When I think of our team here in the Central Peace I think they are the best team of Advocates you could ever wish for,” she says.

Community, Family and Friends

Being an Advocate for Victims Services in a rural area such as the Central Peace poses different challenges than the same function in cities.

“The chances of needing to offer care to someone you know are much higher in rural areas than in the city,” she says, adding “Quite often we know the people we are helping.”

One of the more positive aspects of rural life, according to Cardwell is that there is often a very close knit group of family and friends who step in to provide support to victims of tragedy or crime.

Cardwell describes the work of Victims Services as providing comfort and assistance to people who are often at their most vulnerable after a crime, fire, disaster or tragedy. Cardwell says the advocates from Victim Services often go out with police and/or firefighters when called upon. First responders, fire fighters and police are often so focused on the event at hand that they have little time to help residents or victims.

“That’s where we come in,” says Cardwell, adding that the services they provide run the gamut from providing a safe, warm place to sit down away from the scene, to answering questions and providing support and help getting through the process of dealing with the aftermath of a tragedy.

Just The Beginning

Care and comfort at the scene of the accident or tragedy is often just the beginning. The organization helps victims deal with the legal and court system, the aftermath of domestic violence, and any processes through which the victims require assistance.

In some cases, according to Cardwell, people at the scene of a tragedy may turn down the services offered but, after time passes, they begin to realize they need help. Victim Services stays in touch with victims right through whatever process they are engaged in, including keeping them informed of court dates, doctor’s visits, and follow up when required.

Close Bonds

Victims Services Advocates develop close bonds and provide emotional support to one another as well. Cardwell refers to what she describes as ‘de-briefing,’ a process whereby Advocates rely on each other to share their experiences and help one another deal with the toll of their chosen work.

Those bonds also extend to the large first responder, policing and firefighting community. “We are a family,” she says, describing the community of professionals and volunteers who are prepared to wake up in the middle of the night and respond to the often tragic emergencies that happen in the life of communities.

Funding for Victims Services comes from the RCMP and the G5 municipalities they serve. Donations are processed through the Grande Prairie office.

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