Jacqueline Baldwin has devoted her career to helping people see light through darkness, even death.
She brings a compassionate ear and a wealth of diverse experience to her new role as victims’ assistance coordinator (VAC) for the Jefferson City diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection.
She is the point of contact for people reporting abuse by a member of the clergy or anyone else working for the Church, recently or long ago.
“I can absolutely be a tool that God uses to help people get the healing they need,” said Mrs. Baldwin, “but only if they come forward to seek that healing.”
The Office of Child and Youth Protection is part of how the diocese complies with the U.S. Catholic bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.
The office’s coordinator is Connie Schepers, diocesan chancellor.
Mrs. Baldwin recently succeeded Nancy Hoey, who served as VAC for 10 years before moving out of the diocese last year.
The VAC’s role is to accept a report of abuse and offer support, resources and healing to survivors and families.
Mrs. Baldwin sees herself as an advocate and a companion for survivors of some of the worst kind of trauma.
“When someone has the courage to come forward, I see it as my responsibility to walk their journey with them as they go toward healing,” she said.
That can mean many things to different people.
“For some, it may mean just being a very active listener,” she said. “For others, it may be getting them connected with resources for individual therapy.”
“In any case, it involves being truly present to people, wherever they are in their journey,” she said.
Listening and believing are essential.
“Does that mean that I’m the judge and jury? No,” said Mrs. Baldwin. “It does mean acknowledging that something significant has occurred in your life and you are likely stepping far out of your comfort zone to report it.”
She pointed out that the Church’s efforts at creating safe environments for children, young people and vulnerable adults are working.
“Most of the reports we now receive are for things that happened 20 or 30 or 50 years ago,” she said. “Healing is still possible for those who experienced abuse in the past.”
Mrs. Baldwin has been a practicing social worker for 30 years in a broad range of capacities including adolescent treatment, home health, hospitals, long-term acute-care hospitals, and hospice care.
“I’ve been truly blessed to be able to do what I do,” she said.
She has been working with Compassus Hospice in Jefferson City for seven years. She started out meeting primarily in hospitals with patients who are drawing near to the end of life. She now focuses on helping bereaved families of hospice patients.
“I’ve worked with populations from the very young to the actively dying,” she said. “And that includes many age ranges among those who are actively dying.”
She holds a bachelor’s degree in social work from Missouri State University in Springfield, a master’s degree from the University of Missouri in Columbia and national certification through the Academy of Certified Social Workers, and is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker through the state of Missouri.
She grew up in a large Catholic family on a farm just outside Jefferson City and graduated from St. Peter Interparish School and Helias Catholic High School.
She met her husband while they were working together as social workers at Boy’s Town in St. James.
Mrs. Baldwin believes all of her social work endeavors have been opportunities to do God-inspired work.
They have also helped prepare her for the responsibility she now holds.
“It is absolutely a calling,” she said. “I truly feel like this is a God thing.”
Called to serve
When the diocesan victim’s assistance coordinator position opened up, a colleague encouraged Mrs. Baldwin to apply for it.
“It was not an opportunity I was seeking or anticipating, but I felt like it was God saying, ‘I need you here now,’” she said.
“When the bishop offered me the position, I asked for some time to pray about it some more,” Mrs. Baldwin recalled. “I did truly feel that God was telling me I needed to say ‘yes.’ I asked Him to give me the courage to say ‘yes.’”
As a way to prepare for the work, she attended this year’s national diocesan VAC conference a few weeks after accepting the position.
“I was able to meet some amazing people who have been doing this work for many years,” she said. “I was able to network and get resources and pull together a list of must-reads and must-dos, and I’m making headway on those.”
Grace and healing
Mrs. Baldwin is convinced of God’s eagerness to help people heal from the trauma of abuse by an agent of the Church, and in some cases the trauma of not having been believed.
Survivors of abuse often feel as if something is wrong with them and that they somehow caused the abuse to happen.
“One thing I always emphasize to victim survivors of sexual abuse is that it is NOT their fault,” she said.
She noted that such abuse is often particularly traumatic because the victims rightfully expected their abusers to protect them.
She is in awe of the courage and strength it takes for people to step forward and share their story, especially after feeling compelled to keep it to themselves for years, even decades.
“To me, it’s simply mind-boggling,” she said.
Her heart breaks for the people who carry the burden of betrayal and think they must continue to endure it alone.
“There’s still so much work to be done for the victim survivors and how much they have felt ostracized or blamed or not believed,” she said.
She understands she is an agent for God’s healing but not its source. She asks for prayers for God to give her the strength and wisdom to help every person who contacts her.
“Pray for grace,” she requested. “Grace for me and grace for the survivors to come forward.”
Mrs. Baldwin can be reached confidentially by phone or text message at (573) 694-3199 or by email at email@example.com.