A longtime Pasco Sheriff’s Office civilian supervisor has earned a statewide honor from the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA).
Gina Youmans has dedicated her career to helping crime victims and their loved ones, as a supervisor of the Pasco Sheriff’s Office Victim Advocates Unit.
The 28-year veteran of the law enforcement agency is being recognized for her work.
Youmans is the recipient of the inaugural FSA Civilian of the Year award. This award, sponsored by the Florida Sheriffs Risk Management Fund, “recognizes exemplary service above self by a civilian employed at a Florida sheriff’s office.”
Youmans was officially named the 2019 Civilian of the Year at the FSA Summer Conference banquet in Tampa; she was nominated for the award by the sheriff’s office command staff.
Youmans said winning the award was “humbling,” adding it was also nice to see the agency’s victim advocates unit recognized as a whole.
“I’m just proud of the agency. It’s a big deal,” Youmans said.
“I can’t be happier. It’s a wonderful thing,” she said.
Youmans took a circuitous route into the criminal justice field and victim advocacy.
A native of Long Island, New York, Youmans followed her family to Florida shortly after graduating college.
She originally planned to work in banking or as a paralegal, but a friend told her the sheriff’s office was hiring civilian staff for the 1990 opening of the Land O’ Lakes jail.
“I was like, ‘All right,’ because I wasn’t able to find anything,” Youmans recalled.
Youmans was hired as a receptionist at the jail in 1991.
Within a year, Youmans was transferred to the agency’s fugitive warrants unit, where she worked for the next dozen or so years, handling the paperwork and logistics for extraditions, processing inmates and so on. “It was actually really cool,” Youmans said.
In 2005, Youmans transferred to the agency’s victim advocates unit at the behest of a co-worker, who put a request in for her for an open advocate position. Youmans worked her way up to unit supervisor in 2015.
Youmans admits she wasn’t really familiar with the unit beforehand. “I was like, I don’t even know what that is,” Youmans said of victim advocacy. “I read the description and was like, ‘Oh, that sounds interesting.’”
Helping people at difficult times
Youmans later learned she beat out 100 other applicants for the role.
To this day, she still recalls one question during the hour-and-a-half interview for the job that stuck out: “Could you hold a dead baby?”
It’s those types of difficult circumstances victim advocates must navigate regularly, Youmans said.
The victim advocates unit assists in major cases — homicide, suicide, sexual assault, domestic violence, robbery, burglary, and crimes against elderly, among others.
They’re on-call 24/7.
Generally, advocates offer victims information, emotional support, and help finding resources and filling out paperwork. Sometimes, advocates go to court with victims and speak on their behalf.
So, say there’s a homicide in the middle of the night, the unit responds “to be there” as liaisons for the decedent’s survivors, Youmans said.
“We form a rapport and help them, and let them know that if they need us — to reach out and we’re here,” Youmans said.
Advocates guide victims through the investigation process, too.
Youmans explained: “We’re there to explain why forensics is there, why the detectives are there, why the medical examiners are there, shield them from the media, but explain to them why the media is there, explain the entire process that is going on and accessing their needs the whole, entire time.”
Youmans said the toughest part of the job is death notifications — the delivery of the news of a death to another person, usually a family member or spouse.
Of the thousands of cases the unit responds to each year, suicides are the most common call out for the unit, Youmans said.
Youmans put it this way: “Like you see on television, you ring the doorbell, knock on the door, and you know as soon as they open the door, they’re going to know. People know when they open the door and they see a uniformed person and another sheriff’s office member there,” Youmans said.
“Anytime you deal with citizens and victims, they will guide you in the direction of where you go. There’s no certain way to deliver the message on death notifications or anything else, they guide you in the direction of where you go next,” she said.
Youmans supervises a six-member unit, which includes five other advocates and a victim services technician. She also oversees two unit volunteers and interns throughout the year.
Youmans said soft skills are a must for advocates, more so than formal education credentials.
“Approachability is so important. That’s what counts in the end,” she said.
She added, “It takes a unique person to do this position and I’ve always known that. A special kind of person has to do it, and I have six really special people that are truly passionate about it, and leaders in their own right, and hungry and want to learn.”
Through her own experience and early mistakes on the job, Youmans has a list of what she calls her ‘Do Not Says’ for her unit when they’re responding to victims and families of traumatic events.
They go like this:
- Do not say, ‘Hi, how are you?’
- Do not say, ‘I know how you feel.’
- Do not say, ‘Time will heal.’
- Do not say, ‘It’ll be OK.’
Instead, Youmans said, “It’s just reading situations and reading people. That comes from my experience of doing it. Some victims are good with the closure words. Some aren’t. It depends. Most aren’t. There’s no closure to them.”
The victim advocates unit supervisor acknowledged the job can be emotionally and physically taxing, at times.
But, a passion to help others keeps her going. That — and a Metallica heavy metal playlist has helped, too — she said, in jest.
“For myself, I’m just doing what I love,” she said. “I truly feel blessed to have been placed in this position.”
Her fellow advocates also keep morale up, when times get stressful.
“We are like family. I’m not trying to be cliché, but we’re truly there for each other. It’s an amazing thing to see,” Youmans said.
Published August 14, 2019
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