Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos


In this CVR podcast series, we talk with those doing research and serving victims and learn about the work they've done together.

Tell Us About It, Episode 24: Synthesizing Victim Compensation Services Data in California

A convo with Robin Foemmel BieNov 01Time: 17:57

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On this episode of Tell Us About It, we spoke with Robin Foemmel Bie about the data evaluation project completed at the California Victim Compensation Board. This project aimed to understand the effectiveness of the victim compensation services and the needs of their community. She talks about the completion of a baseline data report, needs assessment, and a gap analysis, and how they synthesized this data into strategies to address their community’s needs.

Robin Foemmel Bie is the Assistant Deputy Executive Office, Victim Compensation Division, at the California Victim Compensation Board. She is also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and previously provided expertise on policy, networking, regulation, and training for the Department of Mental Health.

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Susan Howley: Welcome to Tell Us About It: Victim Research Convos, a podcast from the Center for Victim Research with support from the Office for Victims of Crime. On each episode of Tell Us About It, we talked to researchers and practitioners about their work, the tools being built for use in the field, and how we can work together to build an evidence base for victim services. I’m Susan Howley and today we’re talking with Robin Foemmel Bie, Assistant Deputy Executive Officer, Victim Compensation Division, at the California Victim Compensation Board. Robin, welcome.

Robin Foemmel Bie: Hello, thank you for having me.

Susan Howley: Robin, can you give us a little background about the massive undertaking of the California Victim Compensation Board back in 2015? I know you all did a baseline data analysis, a needs assessment, a gap analysis. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

Robin Foemmel Bie: Sure. CalVCB – which is what we call our program – applied for the OVC fiscal year 13 Crime Victim Compensation Program initiative. This was an opportunity for compensation programs to apply for a grant, which is not something that comes up very often. And we knew that we were ready to do a deep dive into our program and the utilization and the data, and we really wanted to know where we were meeting people’s needs and where we weren’t. So the grant required the compensation program to complete a baseline data report, as you mentioned, and then a needs assessment. And we also did an implementation plan and evaluated the results of all of our efforts. So our research led to the gap analysis and finally, we tried to come up with strategies to address those gaps that people described to us.

Susan Howley: So aside from the grant opportunity, was there anything else that inspired that massive undertaking?

Robin Foemmel Bie: Yes. We wanted to engage with our stakeholders to ask them, specifically, what was working about our program, what wasn’t, and we knew we had some access issues that were impacting the utilization. So we wanted to use this opportunity to see if we could identify them and resolve those issues. We also wanted to identify the underserved communities – where are we reaching and where are we not and how could we do it better. We know that not everybody feels comfortable or knows about the victim compensation programs, both in California and nationwide. Also, we felt we were well-poised at that time to do the work related the grant and we knew we could use this information, at that time and in the future, for further research and program development.

Susan Howley: So that sounds like a common concern for victim compensation programs. Who are they missing, who’s being underserved, who aren’t you reaching. What did your effort reveal or what did it confirm? Did anything surprise you?

Robin Foemmel Bie: Sure. Well the effort confirmed that we had a lot of work to do. We found out that some of our processes are burdensome to victims and at times, they create barriers to victims. There’s a general lack of awareness of CalVCB by the general public and not all victims of crime learned about the compensation program. I think that this is true in most states and given the size of California, it’s a challenge to ensure that there is public awareness. We have 40 million people in our state. Also we weren’t always providing compensation for the losses that victims experience, such as when a person is a victim of a hit and run and their car is towed, the compensation program will not pay for that expense and that’s the true and immediate need of that victim. What surprised us was the amount of victims who did not apply for compensation expressed that they internalized the idea that they’re neither eligible nor deserve our help. And their reasoning ranged from perceptions of judgment or profiling on the part of law enforcement as well as challenges with substance abuse, mental health status, gender expression, and documentation status. Some of those victims who were denied commented that the experience of denial kept them from seeking other services. So I think it’s really important for agencies to look at their policies and what they cover and who they cover and how they cover and how they do outreach to ensure that it feels accessible to all of the populations.

Susan Howley: Wow that’s really fascinating. So it’s not just that people didn’t know about compensation, although that continues to be an issue, but that people didn’t think they could access it or that it wasn’t for them.

Robin Foemmel Bie: Exactly. Well, when you think about trauma and how people internalize that and how they blame themselves for their own trauma, it makes sense that that would be expanded upon the programs too.

Susan Howley: How have you used that information moving forward?

Robin Foemmel Bie: We went right to work. We started internally with looking at our organization and how we could make ourselves be a trauma-informed organization. And that goes to every single form that we have, every single letter that we have, every single policy that we have. We’re still in that process. We’ve done trainings with staff. We’ve done workshops. Every time we’re looking at a policy and editing it for other program changes, we look at the trauma-informed language. And that’s one of the things that we really did because when we are hearing that people aren’t feeling welcomed basically into the program, the way we communicate with them and the tone makes a huge difference. So then what we did with all of the findings – because there was a lot of information about people who said that our reimbursements rates were not sufficient to meet the needs and the expenses, and that also some of the things that they wanted us to offer are things that we didn’t offer. We presented the findings of our research to our board, and we developed a recommendation on increasing certain benefit types, such as funeral burial and the total claim maximum. And then we received their approval to move forward to get legislation, and some of the legislation was successful. We were able to increase our funeral burial back to the $7500 statutory limit. We had a regulation in place that reduced it to $5000 due to the stability of the restitution fund in 2011. And also that the claim maximum went back to the $7000 from the regulation that reduced it to $6300 for the same reason in 2011. So we wanted to look at that. We also developed e-learning for both the public, advocates, mental health and medical providers and our public e-learning was in English and in Spanish. So that was really important for us. And it really gives a deep dive for the advocates and the providers on the requirements of our program, how they can help with what they provide to victims. So a mental health provider, we explained all of the mental health programs, but we also explained to them all of the other benefits that are available to them. Because we would see situations where mental health providers would submit documentation to us and say, “hey we’re working really hard in therapy, we’re making some progress but what’s really holding them back is that the offender knows exactly where they are and they keep showing up their house.” Well, that mental health provider could actually help that person access our relocation benefit and they could actually write the verification for that person saying their emotional well-being is not going to improve while they’re living in this home and they really need to relocate. That’s all it would take. And so having our providers be well-versed in our program was something that we think is really important.

Susan Howley: I can see that you’ve gotten a lot of use out of your findings and your data. Is there any piece of it that you would say has been the most impactful?

Robin Foemmel Bie: I would say a couple of things that we did. We translated our application, our brochures, and our letters into 13 threshold languages in California and we’ve posted those on the website. And if somebody needs our information in another language, all they have to do is tell us and we will have that translated. Making our information linguistically and culturally appropriate is very important. Other things that we did was we’ve found 2000 stakeholders throughout the state and we mailed them what we were calling a toolkit for a shortcut – it had our brochures in it, it had information about our program, it had a poster that they could put up in their lobbies, things like that. And we received quite a few requests for more of that information. They said these brochures were very helpful for us, please send us more. And we’re still getting requests today from those folks. And so we do want to look at some of those strategies and then repeat them.

Susan Howley: It sounds really promising. Was there anything that you had hoped to learn about in this effort but you just couldn’t make the determination from the information you were able to gather?

Robin Foemmel Bie: We really wanted to know more. The baseline data report really did help. The hardest part was figuring out how to get the information from victims who have not used our program. We don’t really have a way to contact them. It’s hard to reach them and finding them, you really need your other stakeholders to help you with that. So our sample size was just way too small for actually hearing directly from victims and we want to know more. So we would like to do that, ideally, on a larger scale. And we would like to identify specific underserved communities to do a deep dive to identify their needs and raise awareness with them. So we had like 13 identified underserved communities and I think the strategies for each of them need to be different based on their needs and what would be effective.

Susan Howley: So do you have plans to update that baseline data or any other part of your statistical analysis?

Robin Foemmel Bie: Yes, we’re actually in the process of updating our statistical analysis right now. We will be looking at the year 2015, so then it will be apples to apples for the baseline data to report that we did do. We looked at crimes from 2010 – of reported crimes from 2010 – and any application that was received with a crime date of 2010, and we would have three years of program utilization to see the difference. So we’ll do 2015. We’re right in the process of it right now, so I don’t have any findings to share yet. But we’re doing all of this in-house. We have two staff who are in our program, who are dedicated to our data needs. They provide us our working reports for inventory management, our annual reports, and help us answer questions about what’s going on with our application and bills and what are those trends, and just so much more.

Susan Howley: So you have in-house staff for your statistical analysis.

Robin Foemmel Bie: Yes we do. We have two.

Susan Howley: What are the benefits of having that capability in-house?

Robin Foemmel Bie: Compensation and this program data is very nuanced and you have to know the details behind the data in order to do an accurate analysis. For example, just because an application has a certain received date doesn’t mean the application is ready to be processed and just that kind of information can make a difference of what’s the average processing time of an application. So you have to know exactly what data to look at.

Susan Howley: Are you finding it easier to do the second round of data analysis because of everything you learned about the process the first time around?

Robin Foemmel Bie: Yes. We now have a roadmap. We didn’t have that before and so we’re using the previous baseline data report as the template and we really want to do that apples to apples comparison to see what changes have happened and what improvements have occurred since the implementation plan and all those efforts that we did then and that we’ve continued to do.

Susan Howley: Do you have an in-house data collection system that helps you do all this analysis?

Robin Foemmel Bie: Yes we do. We have a system and we call it Cares and it is a very robust database. We do all of our application and bill processing throughout the entire state. We have about 19 satellite offices that also do the same processing, so we’re able to see everything in real time. We did some improvements to our database and that ended in about 2017, so we feel very confident that our data is stable and reliable and that really makes a large difference in the ability to do this analysis.

Susan Howley: Oh I’m sure it would. You said your evaluation revealed a lot about unmet needs and underserved victims. Did the process of gathering that information, or what you’re doing now to gather it, or the process of then sharing what you learned open any doors to new stakeholder groups?

Robin Foemmel Bie: It most certainly did. We’ve engaged with groups who are letting us know how our program does not meet their needs. There are groups of people who don’t feel safe or welcomed going into the traditional path of seeking help, but they are seeking help in different ways. So we’re listening to them and looking at what we’re doing to see what we have the authority to do within policy and procedures and what we need regulation and statute changes for in order to meet the needs of these victims.

Susan Howley: What would you say to other state compensation programs that might be considering taking a deep dive into their data?

Robin Foemmel Bie: Make sure that you have computers that can handle those large spreadsheets. Many times my computer overheated and stalled out on me because you’re dealing with like two or three hundred thousand rows on Excel. So they’re big. Carefully plan out what you’re measuring to ensure your methodology will measure what you intended to measure. Write down your methodology. When you’re dealing with such large datasets, it’s easy to forget some filtering that you did. And writing down every step that I did with calculations, with filtering, and in the order that I did them makes a big difference so that when you go back to do it, you can come out with the same answers. That’s very important. So basically, like your math teacher taught you to show your work. And I encourage that all programs do this analysis. Even if you do pieces of it, it does provide insight to your program and when you have data, it can help make arguments for change. So when you’re trying to make data-driven decisions, having this type of analysis can really help with that. And we’re happy to talk to anybody who wants to do an undertaking like this and share with them some of our methodology and what we did.

Susan Howley: Robin, where do you think the compensation program’s data analysis effort will go in the future? So you’re already planning to repeat one set of baseline data analysis. What other plans do you have?

Robin Foemmel Bie: I think that these efforts will lead to increased access, removal of barriers, and overall better meet the changing needs of victims. In California, compensation has been in place since 1965 and the structure of the program may or may not meet the needs of victims in 2019. And we need to continually look at what are we doing, who are we serving and who are we not serving, and how are we serving them, in order to be as effective as possible.

Susan Howley: Well Robin, this has been a fascinating discussion. You’ve given us so much to think about, especially with the potential to harness data to re-evaluate how our programs have developed over time. I want to congratulate you and the California Victim Compensation Board for all of this great work.

Robin Foemmel Bie: Thank you. Thank you for having us so we can share this information. All of our reports are posted on our website,, as is our e-learning, so anybody can go read them, take the e-learning courses, just to see some of the work that we did.

Susan Howley: Thanks again.

Robin Foemmel Bie: Thank you so much for having us.