Encinitas nonprofit addresses trauma in victim service workers

The Encinitas-based nonprofit Innocent Justice Foundation is preparing for Giving Tuesday on Dec. 1, which will help raise money to support programs that help protect children from online predators.

The Innocent Justice Foundation was founded in 2007 to help serve the professionals who experience trauma as a result of the countless hours they spend seeking justice for victims. Certain aspects of their job, such as countless hours reviewing evidence against online predators who target children, can wear down their mental health.

“As we looked at how to help try to eradicate child exploitation as it pertains to online activity, we saw there was nothing really done to support the people who were doing the work,” said Beth Medina, the nonprofit’s CEO and a resident of Carlsbad.

The first $2,500 raised during the Giving Tuesday campaign, running through Dec. 4, will be matched by Catalytic Risk Managers.

The nonprofit also works to educate the public about “the true nature and scope about crimes against children.”

“We pulled together mental health professionals who had a background in trauma and recovery, and had an understanding of law enforcement culture and had worked with law enforcement,” Medina said.

Those two sides, she added, did not have a history of working hand-in-hand on a comprehensive way to address these issues.

“Oftentimes mental health professionals were not part of any relationship with law enforcement unless it had to do with a fitness for duty question or some sort of assessment,” Medina said.

Two years after it launched, the Innocent Justice Foundation began working with the Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Internet Crimes Against Children task force and mental health experts, according to a news release by the nonprofit. Together, they’ve developed a way to address the “vicarious trauma” experienced by those working and volunteering in victim services, law enforcement and related fields.

For more than 10 years now, the Innocent Justice Foundation has provided over 50,000 hours of mental health support and training to over 16,000 recipients.

“Part of our job was relationship building and helping redefine that relationship between law enforcement and mental health professionals to one of a more collaborative, team approach, like a multidisciplinary approach,” Medina said.

In 2019 and 2020, the nonprofit received grants from the Motorola Solutions Foundation to work on a program that addresses trauma among people who work in victim services, according to a news release. After rolling out the program in San Diego County, the nonprofit wants to expand it nationwide.

“That can’t happen, we can’t keep losing our best people to burnout,” Medina said. “We just try to figure out ways to support them as best we can.”

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