RAINN Launches New Online Training to Expand Hotline Capacity

This summer, with generous support from a former hotline volunteer, RAINN launched a brand-new, 40-plus hour, online training program for RAINN hotline staff, volunteers, and affiliates called Essential Skills. It includes a new learning management system, RAINNtrain, which will serve as the home base for RAINN’s training and continuing education program for years to come.

The new training covers the crisis intervention hotline skills RAINN staff and volunteers need in order to support survivors and their loved ones through one of the most difficult times of their life. It was created to cover some of the most challenging topics encountered in our work, such as supporting minors, as well as the skills needed to support anyone who comes to the hotline, such as safety planning and brainstorming. The training acknowledges the impact of this work and weaves self-care practices and resilience-building for staffers throughout.

The new Essential Skills training includes eight online courses, with both self-paced modules and live, facilitated virtual sessions, so staff and volunteers can train from anywhere. Previously, trainees had to attend the live portion in person at RAINN’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., thereby limiting the number of people who could participate.

“We were working to make our training program fully virtual prior to the pandemic, but Covid-19 really accelerated the need for this kind of accessible training,” noted Sarah Khan, RAINN’s interim training director. “This will help us dramatically expand the number of people we can train and the visitors we support.”

The updated training will prepare RAINN staff and volunteers to offer support through RAINN’s victim service progams, including the National Sexual Assault Hotline, with a focus on research-based knowledge and essential crisis-support skills. The Essential Skills training is required for all incoming staff and volunteers to start working on the National Sexual Assault Hotline and is National Advocate Credentialing Program (NACP) accredited. This means that trainees completing the program will be credentialed support specialists through this national certification program run by the National Organization for Victim Assistance.

The RAINN training team designed the training program to help support specialists prepare to support every survivor, wherever they may come from. To do this, they have produced dynamic instructional materials, including more than 175 video sample chats with audio and closed captioning. In fact, closed captioning is available in every element of Essential Skills as part of RAINN’s commitment to inclusion and making sure all learning materials are accessible. The training offers speech-activated software and is Section 508 compliant. This means that the training includes transcripts, alternative text, and contrastive font colors. To help users retain information, it also offers quick reference guides, tip-sheets, live learning sessions, one-on-one online office hours, and activities. Two lessons are dedicated to self-care, and trainees are given a customizable self-care plan to utilize on the job. In addition to enabling interactive training from anywhere, the new RAINNtrain learning management system includes evaluation tools and data collection functions that will allow RAINN’s training team to conduct skill-gap tests for current staff and inform the creation of additional training.

Khan says that one of the key takeaways will be that “this new training’s focus on vicarious resilience and self-care means that anyone can feel empowered and prepared to do this work.”

Khan says that the second takeaway is that hotline staff and volunteers will have an ongoing resource for support and self-care. “Anyone can access us at any time and when a staff member or volunteer needs that call or needs to build resilience or self-care skills, there are people here to answer that call as well,” she explained.

The revamped Essential Skills Training and the new learning management system would not have been possible without the support from the Cynthia P. Matthews Family Foundation.

“Working and advocating with RAINN for so many years, I’ve met countless people who wanted to volunteer, but couldn’t commit to the two days of in-person training,” said Marci Matthews, a former National Sexual Assault Hotline volunteer and managing member of the Cynthia P. Matthews Family Foundation. “Now that the training is completely virtual, I’m so excited to welcome new volunteers from all over the country! I’m honored to have provided the funding to see this important project come to life.”

The training rolled out to RAINN staff and volunteers in August and is now available, at no cost, to the more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers that partner with RAINN.

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