Since the field of victim legal services has so far lacked a conceptual framework that specifies the ultimate goals of these services and how the provision of these services promotes those goals, this formative evaluation seeks to address this gap by first creating a conceptual model and theory of change and then testing it in practice.
The research team began by collaborating with a group of legal professionals and crime survivors to broadly define the services provided by victim legal services agencies, identify both the desired short-term outcomes and long-term objectives, and frame the underlying theory of change. This represents Stage 1 of the project, which culminated in the development of a conceptual model. Stage 2 used the model to guide continued work with three victims’ rights enforcement legal clinics: the Arizona Voice for Crime Victims (AVCV), the Oregon Crime Victims Law Center (OCVLC), and the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center, Inc. (MCVRC). Activities consisted of site visits, staff interviews, document review, and research design collaboration; operationalizing implementation and outcome measures; pilot testing data collections for feasibility, appropriateness, and reliability; and evaluability assessments. All these activities, the clinics themselves, and the larger criminal justice system were affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, which was reflected in the research design. The conceptual model identifies the pathways through which victim legal services can lead to desired outcomes and objectives for victims/survivors, communities, and systems. It is the first fully conceptualized model of victim legal services and can be adapted to a broad range of agencies. This framework is useful for practitioners seeking to design and deliver more effective services and to establish measurable guidelines to assess progress. The pilot tests demonstrate the model’s applicability in the field, which should continue to be further tested by others in other settings.