Chapter 3: Agency Partners
This chapter discusses the importance of building and maintaining strong partnerships with already existing survivor support services and/or community partner agencies. The goal is to ensure that survivors who receive assistance from technology abuse clinics have access to comprehensive safety planning and a wide range of support services beyond the clinic. We begin by explaining why agency partnerships are needed and some features of good partnerships, before detailing pragmatic advice for setting up an agency partnership. We then discuss managing client referrals to and from a clinic, as well as the importance of actively maintaining strong partnerships.
In this chapter:
Why is an agency partnership needed?
As mentioned in the chapter Overview of a Technology Abuse Clinic, technology abuse clinics are only one of a constellation of support services that survivors might need. It is therefore important to ensure that technology abuse clinics are embedded within a broader ecosystem of support services and/or community partner agencies that can provide survivors with comprehensive support (e.g., legal, financial, shelter, etc.) and safety planning.
In addition, although technology consultants should receive training on how to provide basic counseling and technology-specific safety planning, they may not be comprehensively trained as professional survivor advocates. More broadly, it’s unrealistic to expect that any single individual has all the expertise needed to help with all facets of survivors' complex situations.
It is therefore recommended that the role of technology consultants is limited to assisting survivors with technology abuse: partnering with survivor support services and/or community partner agencies ensures that mechanisms are in place to refer clients to other expert advocates and agency partners should the need arise.
Examples of agency partnerships
All the technology abuse clinics that form the basis for this guide have built strong partnerships with local agency partners, utilizing different partnership models. For example, the TECC Clinic in Seattle is housed within and operated by a local domestic violence advocacy agency, New Beginnings, that provides survivors with comprehensive support services. Technology consultants meet with clients to help solely with technology abuse, and clients can receive other support services via the parent agency, including shelter, legal advocacy, and support groups.
As another example, CETA partners with New York City's Family Justice Centers (FJC), operated by the Mayor's Office as hubs that offer services from dozens of local partner agencies. The FJCs provide case management, economic empowerment, counseling, civil legal assistance, and criminal legal assistance, among other services. Survivors receiving services from any FJC partner agency can be referred to CETA for help with technology abuse. Likewise, CETA’s volunteer technologists can refer survivors to other services/agencies at the FJC. CETA has a similar partnership with the Anti-Violence Project, an anti-violence organization in New York City serving specifically the LGBTQ+ and HIV-affected communities.
Features of successful agency partnerships
We anticipate that strong and productive partnerships between technology abuse clinics and partner agencies could take many forms. That said, we have found that successful partnerships often offer at least the following:
Complementary services - A technology abuse clinic is intended to complement, not replace, other support services. In existing clinics, partner agencies provide client intake, case management and general safety planning to complement the assistance offered by the technology abuse clinic.
Community-centered expertise - Partner agencies should be deeply embedded in the local communities they serve and offer tailored, context-specific advice.The services and support available to survivors may be highly dependent on the local context and will vary across state, country, and rural and urban locations. Partnering with agencies already embedded in local communities helps ensure that the technology abuse clinic can, in turn, learn from partners about how to tailor their services to specific situations and contexts.
Capacity and resources to sustain the partnership - Partner agencies should be enthusiastic about taking on the work of building strong partnerships with the technology abuse clinic, and be willing to invest the time and resources needed to sustain the partnership. For example, leaders from the partner agency may need to do extra work to set up referral mechanisms, while advocates from the partner agencies will need to spend time communicating with technology consultants about clients. To make this work worthwhile, efforts should be made to ensure that partnerships clearly benefit all parties: the technology abuse clinic, the partner agencies, and survivors.
Clearly defined roles and expectations - Technology abuse clinics and partner agencies benefit when their respective roles and expectations are clearly defined. Examples of predefined expectations may include: the clinic capacity (e.g., number of clients per month that may be referred to the clinic), expected response times, whether clinics can provide emergency services, whether volunteer technologists are on-call 24/7, and more. We recommend using a written memorandum of understanding (MOU) to ensure all parties are well-informed and agree in advance on the roles and expectations involved in the partnership. We provide some sample MOUs among our resources in the Appendix.
Establishing an agency partnership
In setting up a technology abuse clinic, one of the earliest steps will likely be identifying potential agency partners. Many municipalities or counties have intimate partner violence survivor support organizations. One can ask people working in the IPV survivor support ecosystem about what agencies operate in an area, or even simply search online. Of course, it may be easier to contact potential partners by gaining introductions from existing contacts or relationships with relevant/adjacent organizations. If no such relationships exist, there may be opportunities to get involved via community-based activities or events, e.g., participating in local task forces, attending community meetings, or volunteering with organizations. As a last resort, one might cold call or email potential agency partners to discuss your plans and gauge interest.
Before reaching out to potential partners, it’s good to already have one or more potential clinic service modes in mind (see Service Delivery Models). Most survivor support agencies will not need convincing that technology abuse is a problem for their clients, but it is good to be prepared to briefly review the motivation for a technology abuse clinic and clarify with agency representatives about the types of technology abuse they see within the community they serve.
Agency representatives may be skeptical about whether non-IPV professionals are suitably prepared to work with clients. This cautiousness is a healthy check on entering into new partnerships, as even well-intended individuals who lack proper training may cause serious harm to survivors. It also emanates in part out of a painful history of ill-informed technologists hawking “solutions” that fail to sufficiently account for the complexity of IPV, potentially causing harm. To build trust, we recommend directly addressing the issue via your service model and training plan, which should explicitly recognize and have plans to manage the expertise and experience gaps between the envisioned technology consultants and agency partners. In addition, it will likely take substantial time investment and ongoing work to build the levels of trust needed to sustain a successful partnership.
Technology abuse clinics are unlikely to succeed without understanding that the clinic’s leadership needs to learn from agency partners and adapt their clinic plans to ensure they fit into the survivor support ecosystem. That means that the new technology abuse clinic should complement existing services (to fill a widely acknowledged technology support service gap), avoid usurping resources used by other important services (e.g., housing, counseling, legal advocacy, etc.), and by developing strong collaborative working relationships.
Managing client referrals
After setting up an agency partnership and agreeing on roles and expectations, the next step is to create and manage mechanisms for referring survivors to the technology abuse clinic. These should be designed with respect to your clinic’s service delivery model, which usually will be tailored based on feedback from agency partners. For most service models, technology abuse clinics will need to work with partner agencies to (1) advertise the clinic’s services, (2) receive client referrals from partner agencies, and (3) make client referrals for other services.
Advertising clinic services
It is important to ensure that partner agency staff know about the technology abuse clinic and how to refer their clients for services. Advertising can be done via presentations at partner agency staff meetings, circulating (e.g., via email) handouts and instructions for making referrals, etc. Due to partner agency staff turnover, we recommend frequent, periodic advertising and communications to ensure that new agency staff quickly learn about the technology abuse clinic and how to make client referrals. We provide an example of flyers used to advertise services at existing clinics along with a one-page "referral guide" intended to clarify what the services of the tech clinic are for advocates who are unfamiliar with the tech clinic, available in Appendix II.
Receiving client referrals
In existing service models, survivors are already receiving services from an advocate at a partner agency and, in the course of receiving these services, clients mention or discuss their concerns regarding technology abuse. The advocate at the partner agency will then make a referral for the client to the technology abuse clinic or share contact information for the technology abuse clinic with the survivor, who then initiates contact directly.
Existing technology abuse clinics have used a variety of mechanisms for receiving client referrals from partner agencies. For example, the TECC Clinic offers services on specific days. The survivor calls the partner agency that manages the clinic, an advocate completes the intake process with the survivor and then the advocate schedules the survivor to meet with a technology consultant on a dedicated clinic day. As another example, in CETA’s current referral model, clients (often with assistance from an advocate) complete CETA’s online referral intake form (see Intake section of Ch 4: Service Delivery Models). Submission of the intake form triggers an alert for CETA leadership who, after reviewing the information provided on the form, assign a technology consultant to the client’s case. The technology consultant then contacts the client to schedule services.
Client referral mechanisms could take many forms. Whatever the mechanism chosen, it is important to ensure that all client referrals are attended to in a timely manner, that clinic capacity constraints are respected, and that next steps and expected response times are clearly communicated to clients and advocates.
Referring clients to other services
Technology consultants who work with clients within the technology abuse clinic may often encounter situations that call for other types of support services. For example, clients who want to document evidence of technology abuse for use in court may need legal advice, clients who discover financial abuse or fraud may need economic assistance, and clients who have experienced trauma may need counseling/therapeutic services. To accommodate clients’ diverse needs, technology abuse clinics and agency partners should create an agreed upon plan that enables technology consultants to refer clients to services outside of the clinic. This might involve, for example, creating a standardized referral sheet that the technology consultant and/or survivor fill out. Any process for how a technology consultant assists survivors with referrals for services outside of the clinic should be incorporated into the technology consultants’ training.
At CETA, for example, referrals for services outside of the clinic are facilitated via communication (e.g., phone calls or emails) between the technology consultant and the client’s advocate at the partner agency. Typically, these communications require the client's consent to share information with their advocate. By contrast, TECC Clinic technology consultants do not directly coordinate follow up referral services, but instead encourage the survivor to connect back with their advocate for referrals.
Maintaining strong and productive partnerships requires ongoing work and clear communication between partner agency and technology abuse clinic leadership. Several mechanisms that we have found useful in this regard include:
Open lines of communication - It is essential that partner agency and technology abuse clinic leadership are responsive to each other’s communications and empowered to provide honest, critical feedback, especially for matters related to survivor, staff, and technology consultant safety.
Regular check-ins - Partner agency and technology abuse clinic leadership should schedule regular (e.g., quarterly) meetings to discuss progress, raise issues, ensure a space to ask/answer questions, and seek feedback regarding service delivery.
Structured feedback activities - Implementing formal feedback opportunities, such as surveys or interviews, with partner agency staff and/or technology consultants assists with assessing experiences with the technology abuse clinic and standardizing this feedback practice can improve communication and service delivery.