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Socio-Economic Development Center (SEDC)

Who are we?

There are  an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 Southeast Asian immigrants and refugees living in Rhode Island, the majority of whom reside in Providence. SEDC’s VOCA Program addresses the problems that Southeast Asian teenage girls and adult women face in understanding and seeking access to the American criminal justice system and in accessing programs and services that are meant to assist them as victims of crime. In addition to their naïveté regarding the criminal justice system, there is also a strong reluctance on the part of most Southeast Asian women to acknowledge the violence in their situations and to obtain help.

We propose to address these problems through the provision of direct services that meet the immediate needs of Southeast Asian victims by providing the following:

First: SEDC proposes to continue utilizing the current Cambodian Coordinator, Rachana Mak, who has very effectively taken over the role since January 7, 2002 As coordinator, she continues to assist the victims of the Cambodian community in obtaining medical care, crisis counseling and support, transportation and accompaniment to hospitals, as well as food, clothing and shelter. In addition, the coordinator assists victims in obtaining restraining orders, criminal justice advocacy and support, court and law enforcement accompaniment, and other services as needed.

Second: A replacement will be hired for Pat Phommachanh who served as the Laotian Case-Worker, but whom recently moved out of state. The individual hired will continue his or her predecessor’ s role of reaching out to the Laotian community by educating women on how the justice system works in this country regarding domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. He or continues direct service to victims.

Third: SEDC proposes to provide culturally appropriate group counseling and group supportive services for teenage girls and women who have been victims of sexual assault, child abuse and/or domestic violence.

Fourth: The program coordinator contacts Rhode Island Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital, and the Providence Police Department to obtain the names of Southeast Asian victims who have sought their services and have agreed to be contacted. The coordinator and the caseworker follows-up with these individuals to provide services as needed.

We anticipate that the impact in the Southeast Asian community is great because women, teenagers, and children are no longer "silent victims". They know their rights as victims and how to protect their rights. We anticipate SEDC to serve an estimated maximum of 46 primary and 30 secondary victims of the combined Cambodian and Laotian communities.

Organization Description. The Socio-Economic Development Center for Southeast Asians (SEDC) is a community-based organization which was formed in October 1987 when the four Mutual Assistance Associations then in existence joined to form a coalition and to become one organization to better serve the communities. They were the Cambodian, the Laotian, the Hmong, and the Vietnamese Mutual Associations. SEDC incorporated in January 1988 in the State of Rhode Island as a non-profit corporation with 501©(3) status.

SEDC is governed by a Board of Directors, the majority of whom are Southeast Asian-Americans. The Board of Directors hires an Executive Director who is responsible for the overall operation of the agency. The Executive Director in turn hires all staff. The majority of SEDC . staff members are bilingual or trilingual, representing the Cambodian, Hmong, Laotian and Vietnamese languages and cultures. As ethnic Southeast Asians (and as former refugees themselves), SEDC staff have an in-depth awareness and understanding of the needs of the Southeast Asian community. An organizational chart, which illustrates the structure of the agency, is attached in the Appendix.

Since its incorporation, SEDC has provided emergency assistance, crisis intervention, case management, casework/counseling, housing and utility assistance, and help with family reunification. The host of social services offered to immigrant and refugees includes Citizenship/English-as-a-Second-Language instruction, Project Early Start, Substance Abuse Prevention, Access to Health Care, Tobacco Control, Family Networks, Youth and Family Development and Elderly Services. SEDC also operates The International Language Bank, a fee for service program, which provides interpretation and translation services in over 40 languages, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

SEDC has previously received contracts and grants from the Rhode Island Department of Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement, the Rhode Island DCYF, Hasbro Charitable Trust Fund, the United Way, Rhode Island Department of Education, Providence School Department, Rhode Island Foundation and the Rhode Island Department of Health.

The staff of SEDC is very knowledgeable of Southeast Asian culture and typically members of the culture they serve. They know how to approach their clients in a culturally acceptable manner. For that reason, outreach to the community is easily accomplished. Their clients know them and mutual trust has been established.

SEDC has received VOCA funding from the Public Safety Grant Administration Office for the past eight years. This assistance has enable us to serve 467 cases of domestic violence/sexual assault and child abuse/neglect in the Southeast Asian population. All services to the clients have been recorded and kept confidential. Our services to the victims include crisis intervention, case management, referral to shelters, obtaining restraining orders, follow up services, etc. All services are provided at no charge to the victims.

The bilingual Cambodian VOCA Program Coordinator, Rachana Mak, is responsible for the day-to-day operation. Ms. Sao is bilingual in English and Cambodian. She is very knowledgeable of the Southeast Asian culture, and she is a graduate of the University of Rhode Island in the field of Human Development and Family Studies. She has established a wonderful rapport with her clients and is well known throughout the community.

A Laotian speaking caseworker is responsible for conducting outreach activities and identifying Laotian victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and/or child abuse. This person is in contact with various human service agencies and providers such as DCYF, the Police Department, hospitals, The Sexual Assault & Trauma Resource Center of Rhode Island and the office of the Attorney General. This person is provides direct services such as assistance in obtaining medical care, crisis counseling and support, interpreter services, restraining orders, criminal justice advocacy, court accompaniment. . .

The coordinator and the caseworker undergo training that enables them to lead support groups for women.

The program utilizes the services of a consultant Mr. William Pellicio, is a licensed clinical social worker and chemical dependency professional. He has been working with SEDC for nine years. He has an extensive background in social work and is currently an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Services at the Community College of Rhode Island. He used to work as a social worker in the Emergency Room at Rhode Island Hospital and Hasbro Children’s Hospital where he dealt with victims of domestic violence. He trains the staff to lead the support groups for teenage girls and women who have been victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and/or child abuse and provides training and technical assistance as necessary to emergency service providers on how to access SEDC services. He provides counseling services to those victims who require individual counseling. Mr. Pellicio is paid for one hour a week for training and supervision and he gives l/2 hour a week without pay as an in-kind contribution.

What is our Challenge?

The particular problem addressed by this program is the great difficulty that linguistic and cultural minorities face in understanding and seeking access to the American criminal justice system and in accessing programs and services that are meant to assist them as victims of crime.

The specific target populations addressed by the program are Southeast Asian adolescent girls and adult women (Laotian and Cambodian) who are the victims of child abuse, sexual assault and/or domestic violence and who face linguistic and/or cultural barriers to accessing victim assistance services and information. Southeast Asian girls and women are particularly at risk of re-victimization because of their lack of knowledge about how the legal system works in this country and their own attitudes about these crimes. Many Southeast Asian girls, women and/or their families have a "learned helplessness" response to sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse which may be due in part to past traumas suffered during war, escape, or as refugees.

Coupled with all of this is their reluctance to seek help from either traditional or mainstream sources.

Over the past eight years, the SEDC VOCA program staff has worked to educate the Southeast Asian communities about child abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence as well as the services available to assist victims of these crimes. They have helped many victims obtain services in the areas of emergency medical care, crisis counseling and support, emergency financial, food, clothing, transportation and/or housing assistance, interpreter services, advocacy services, restraining orders, criminal justice advocacy and support, court accompaniment, and law enforcement accompaniment. Victims are also notified about the state’s victim’s compensation program and many have been assisted with the application process.

For the period of October 1, 1998 through March 1999, the program has served a total of 48 primary and 27 secondary cases. There are currently 25 victims on Ms. Sao’s active caseload. Six of these cases are Laotian.

SEDC, through its VOCA Program, has worked cooperatively with the following agencies and providers:

  • Coalition Against Domestic violence

  • The Women’s Center

  • Office of the Attorney General - Domestic Violence Unit

  • Rhode Island Legal Services

  • Department of Children, Youth and Their Families

  • Providence Police Department

  • The Sexual Assault & Trauma Resource Center

  • St. Joseph’s Hospital

  • Rhode Island Hospital

In spite of our community education efforts and the efforts of the mainstream agencies to assist Southeast Asian victims of crime, the reluctance on the part of most Southeast Asians, girls and women, to acknowledge the violence in their situations and to obtain help remains strong. Police involvement, DCYF and hospital emergency rooms are at best frightening experiences for many victims.

Multiple risk factors have been identified among our targeted Southeast Asian girls and their families. These include: depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, inadequate parental role modeling (especially within families which lack life experience in the United States), problems with inter-familial communication and intergenerational conflicts, cross-cultural misunderstandings within families (especially in those families where parents and elders tend to maintain traditional language and cultural customs and the young people adopt the more mainstream teenage American language and values), lack of social skills development on the part of the Southeast Asian women with limited interpersonal skills and few encounters in situations of conflict, and high risk neighborhood living with the presence of street violence and crime. 

There is a general feeling of distrust between the Southeast Asian community and the police. Gang influence and negative peer pressure are recognized as problems for Southeast Asian boys, but they are also problematic among Southeast Asian girls, many of whom find themselves in situations of sexual advances and acquaintance rape. Many Southeast Asian girls and women oftentimes have a "learned helplessness" response to problems such as gangs, sexual assault, domestic violence and other forms of abuse.

The need to develop more effective problem solving skills, interpersonal skills and positive female role models within the Southeast Asian community are critical components of our training. Our plan includes training current SEDC VOCA staff and interpreters, in addition to training students or volunteers who have an interest in working with the Southeast Asian communities.

We plan to use a group seminar approach to the training in order to provide a mutually supportive and culturally accessible environment where trainees can safely discuss these very sensitive issues. We see this as a sorely needed link, which has been missing to bridge Southeast Asian adolescent girls and women to accessing mainstream services.

The Laotian caseworker’s role has traditionally been much different than that of the Cambodian Coordinator’ s role. The Laotian caseworker spends the majority of his or her time performing outreach activities. The past caseworker experienced hesitancy from the Laotian population. Traditionally, Laotian females are not inclined to speak openly about being victimized. The previous Laotian caseworker was hired with the intention of infiltrating this reluctant community. The task is a difficult one, because the victims do not usually come forward voluntarily. Out of the eight Laotian cases in the past year, three were referred from DCYF, two from Department of Human Services, one from Rhode Island Legal Services, two were self referrals. We plan to hire a new bilingual Laotian Case Worker to continue to provide services to such cases as well as to persistently perform outreach and educational activities to inform this population about the crucial services we offer.

We propose to continue to address these problems with the following approaches:

The continuation of direct services that meet the immediate needs of a victim in such areas as assistance in obtaining emergency medical care, crisis counseling and support, emergency financial, food, clothing, transportation and/or housing assistance, interpreter services, advocacy services, assistance in obtaining restraining orders, criminal justice advocacy and support, court accompaniment, and law enforcement accompaniment.

The continuation of services to include culturally appropriate group counseling and group supportive services, especially for Southeast Asian women who have been victimized by sexual assault, child abuse, and/or domestic violence. In the past, we conducted a short-term problem solving group (five weeks) which served twelve Laotian and Cambodian girls who were referred to the SEDC Youth and Family Development Project because of school problems. When the girls were asked to name the top three problems that they wanted to focus on in the group, the top two choices were personal problems related to gang violence and sexual assault. Of the twelve girls who attended the group, only one had not been a victim of sexual assault, child abuse and/or domestic violence; only a handful of these instances had been reported to the appropriate authorities. 

Thus, we envision using a "group work" approach to provide a mutually supportive and culturally accessible environment where victims can safely disclose the assault, violence and/or abuse. We see this as a sorely needed link to bridge Southeast Asian girls and women to accessing mainstream victims assistance services.

The continuation of enhancement direct service to the Laotian and Cambodian community. Although there are many similarities across Southeast Asian cultures, there are also many differences. Our experience has been that, particularly in sensitive areas such as victim assistance, it is oftentimes imperative that the advocate be a member of the particular indigenous community and able to speak both English and the native language rather than rely on the services of an interpreter. In addition, although the teenage girls speak English, we have found that Southeast Asian parents are more likely to cooperate and sanction their daughters’ participation in group sessions and/or other services when they know that an adult member of their indigenous community is providing the services or leading the group.

The continuation of SEDC VOCA services to include staff development training for staff to lead the support groups for teenage girls and women.

What is our action plan?

We intend to continue to employ Ms. Rachana Mak as a full-time Project Coordinator (35 hours per week). During these hours Ms. Rachana continues to provide outreach and education as well as services to those victims who come forward. She continues to show the Southeast Asian community how to navigate the criminal justice system. The full-time position allows her to provide more adequate service to the victims who rely on her.

Given the difficulty that the Laotian caseworker has experienced trying to permeate the hesitant Laotian community, we propose to keep this position’s schedule to 10 hours per week. Because of the Laotian victims’ hesitancy to report their victimization, the caseworker has to work very hard to organize workshops as well as assist victims who are referred by DCYF.

Overall implementation of the project is the responsibility of the VOCA Coordinator, Rachana Mak and the Laotian caseworker, to be hired. They continue to be under the direct supervision of SEDC’s Executive Director, Mr. Joseph R. Le. They are responsible for making certain that daily logs of client activity are maintained and client case records are kept in a secure file. The two staff members are responsible for preparing all progress reports and meeting all reporting requirements of the program. Mr. William Pellicio, LICSW, LCDP, an SEDC clinical social work consultant, provides the staff development training and is available on an as-needed basis for one-on-one consultation/counseling.

The coordinator and the Laotian caseworker also have the clerical support of an administrative assistant who applies three hours per week to VOCA efforts. Because the coordinator and caseworker are often assisting clients in court, etc., it is difficult for them to accomplish the administrative tasks of the program. The use of an administrative assistant allows them more time for direct services to clients. The administrative assistant, Heidi A. Pina, provides clerical assistance by preparing reports and various correspondences as needed. The Fiscal Officer, Phuong Bui Dao has overall fiscal responsibility for this program as an in-kind contribution. Mr. Joseph R. Le. SEDC Executive Director, is responsible for all supervisory issues related to this program.

Goal 1: To enhance access to mainstream victim assistance services for Southeast Asian teenage girls and women.

Objective A: To provide individual and family counseling and support in a culturally and linguistically accessible manner to Southeast Asian adolescent girls and adult women who are victims of child abuse, sexual assault and/or domestic violence.

Objective B: To assist victims of child abuse, sexual assault and/or domestic violence in taking appropriate actions through existing mainstream services.

Activities: To meet objectives A and B includes community-based indigenous counseling services from the appropriate Cambodian or Laotian staff. 

The caseworker and the program coordinator links victims with community resources to meet their needs in the areas of emergency medical care, crisis counseling and support, emergency financial, food, clothing, transportation and/or housing assistance, advocacy services, assistance in obtaining restraining orders, criminal justice advocacy and support, court accompaniment, law enforcement accompaniment, etc. 

The case worker and/or project coordinator provides follow-up counseling, reassurance and empathetic listening and guidance as needed.

Time Frame: October 1, 1999 - September 30, 2000.

Responsible Party: The VOCA Coordinator, Rachana Mak, and Laotian Case-Worker, to be hired.

Goal II: To provide culturally appropriate group counseling and group supportive services for Southeast Asian teenage girls who have been victimized by sexual assault, child abuse and/or domestic violence.

Objective A: To provide an ongoing group which is culturally and linguistically accessible and which provides mutual support and problem solving for Southeast Asian adolescent girls who are (or have been) victims of child abuse, sexual assault and/or domestic violence to assist them in recognizing, understanding and dealing with the violence, assault and/or abuse.

Objective B: To provide linkage to existing mainstream counseling and support services as needed.

Activities: To meet objectives A and B  includes the implementation of community-based mutual assistance groups. The groups focuses on helping the girls recognize and respond appropriately to sexual assault, violence and abuse. It is anticipated that the girls will need a great deal of support and guidance from the group leaders, their peers in the groups, and family (as appropriate) to come forward and appropriately deal with these problems. The worker and/or project coordinator provides linkage to existing mainstream counseling and support services, as needed, along with follow-up counseling, reassurance and empathetic listening and guidance. If group counseling is deemed inappropriate for a particular case, individual counseling is provided by SEDC’s clinical social work consultant.

Time Frame: October 1, 1999 - September 30, 2000.

Responsible Party: The VOCA coordinator, Rachana Mak, Laotian case worker to be hired, and SEDC clinical social work consultant, William Pellicio.

Goal III: to provide staff development and training in a culturally appropriate manner. In addition to imparting knowledge about domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse the focus of the group training is on the development of individual and group communication skills, assessment, and problem solving skills.

Objective A: To enhance the knowledge base and problem solving skills of the trainees so they are prepared and empowered to provide education, outreach and support to Southeast Asian women and girls who are at risk of domestic violence, child abuse and/or sexual assault.

Objective B.: To enhance the group work skills of the trainees so that they are prepared and empowered to provide education and support groups for Southeast Asian women and girls who are at risk of domestic violence, child abuse and/or sexual assault.

Actives: To meet objectives A and B includes providing culturally appropriate training which enhances mutual support, problem solving, and empowerment skills as an overarching theme of the training seminar. The training also focuses on helping the participants recognize and respond appropriately to situations of sexual assault) violence and abuse. It is anticipated that role modeling and role rehearsal are used extensively in the group training sessions to give participants the opportunity to progress from trainees to community trainers in educating and providing support about domestic violence, child abuse and/or sexual assault.

Time Frame: October 1, 1999 - September 30, 2000.

Responsible Parties: Mr. William Pellicio, SEDC clinical social work consultant, conducts the training programs. Participants in the training  includes Rachana Mak and the new Laotian caseworker.

How do we measure ourselves?

The program is evaluated both quantitatively and qualitatively. Quantitative criteria consists of the following:

  1. Number of Southeast Asian crime victims who attend counseling and support groups.

  2. Number of cases referred.

  3. Number of training programs conducted

Qualitative measures consist of formal input from mainstream agencies about their impressions of the overall quality of SEDC services provided through this grant. Services providers are asked to evaluate SEDC’s response to their requests. In addition, we use pre-and-post-test questionnaires to measure change in the problem-solving and mutual support capacities of the women and girls who participate in the groups.

Joseph E. Le
Executive Director
270 Elmwood Avenue
Providence, RI 02907
Phone 401-274-8811
Fax 401-274-8877