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Crisis Assistance, Response, and Engagement for Survivors (CARES)

COVID-19 Update

The pandemic has transformed CARES services. Peer Crisis Responders are now reaching out and providing support to homicide survivors by phone, video conferences and home drop-offs of information. 

Even with these safety precautions and social-distancing measures in place, each Peer Crisis Responder is fully committed to connecting with and assisting homicide survivors through the tragic loss of a loved one.

When a homicide happens in Philadelphia, our CARES Peer Crisis Responders are there for survivors. 

Families and other survivors of homicide endure nothing short of catastrophic damage to their lives. Making things harder, they are expected to navigate law enforcement processes, the criminal justice system and a network of service providers. 

Now, they don’t have to do this alone. 

The Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office is the first prosecutor’s office in the nation to provide a comprehensive, immediate safety net of advocacy and support services to survivors of homicide—whether or not an arrest is made or a charge is filed.  

Anytime, over weekends and holidays, our specially-trained peer crisis responders show up. At the crime scene, in hospital hallways and the medical examiner’s office, and during preliminary hearings, they’re there to help survivors of homicide take steps to grieve and heal.

“With Philadelphia CARES and their team of compassionate peer crisis responders, we are showing simply that we care about them and that we’re there to support them through arguably the hardest time of their life.”

District Attorney
City of Philadelphia


CARES stands for Crisis Assistance, Response and Engagement for Survivors.

Before CARES was set up, there were organizations and individuals who provided support to homicide survivors, but everyone involved felt we could do better in ensuring no one would have to go through the unimaginable alone. 

CARES grew out of a historic partnership with the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office that was funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. 

Together, we’ve realized the bold vision for CARES. Now, peer crisis responders are there for survivors of every homicide in the city with the goal of limiting the effects of trauma for them. 

In C.A.R.E.S.’ first two years of operation, we partnered with researchers in the Temple University Department of Criminal Justice with assistance from faculty at Drexel University to conduct a PCCD-funded process evaluation. The report found that in 2020, a record year for Philadelphia homicides, the newly-founded C.A.R.E.S. program responded to 93% of recorded incidents and served more than 620 co-victims.



We partnered with researchers at Temple University to gauge the impact of the CARES initiative in its first two years of operation (2019-2020). The research, funded by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), contributes to growing literature that underscores the value of lived experience and peer counseling models. In 2020, despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and rising homicide rates, CARES peer crisis responders achieved significant impact:
Number of homicide events to which CARES responded
Number of individual co-victims to whom CARES provided support
Percentage of contacted families/co-victims who accepted CARES services
Read the Report

“The C.A.R.E.S Peer Crisis Responders Team is built on experience, love, empathy, and strength.



Led by Melany Nelson, a respected community leader who has provided victim services for nearly 30 years, the CARES Unit at the District Attorney’s Office is responsible for:
  • Creating and sustaining a coalition of agencies and community-based, homicide-survivor organizations to plan and implement a coordinated, cooperative crisis response system of services in Philadelphia.
  • Recruiting, hiring, training and deploying 12 Peer Crisis Responders to provide trauma-informed peer support and advocacy services in the immediate aftermath of a homicide. 
  • Operating a 24/7 telephone service to deploy Peer Crisis Responders when a homicide occurs.


Immediately following an incident, CARES Peer Crisis Responders work with the Philadelphia Police Department to compassionately inform survivors about the death of their loved one, whether that’s at the crime scene, hospital, medical examiner’s office or police station. 

Because one homicide can affect multiple people, if not entire communities, when the situation calls for it, the District Attorney’s Office sends multiple CARES Peer Crisis Responders. We also tap the wider network of survivor services to ensure everyone in need is served.

After notification, CARES Peer Crisis Responders sometimes stay with survivors for a full day to ensure, among other things, their safety, relocating them if necessary, and helping with other needs they may have in the aftermath of a homicide.

They also help survivors: understand police protocol, interact with investigators, secure interpretation and translation services, and handle media attention; connect with medical, mental health and social services; secure emergency food; make sure gas and electricity are not cut off; and manage the painful task of identifying a loved one to obtain a death certificate.

Once the first 24 hours is over, and survivors’ immediate needs have been addressed, CARES Peer Crisis Responders help develop a Support and Recovery Plan. 

The goal of this plan is to ensure that survivors and their families are safe, understand communications from the police and the criminal justice system and can take steps to heal from this tragic trauma.

They also help survivors apply for victims compensation assistance for support with funeral services, even crime scene cleanup, since many families don’t have insurance or funds set aside to cover these costs. 

For up to 60 days after the homicide, CARES Peer Crisis Responders provide case-management support services. During this time, the District Attorney’s Offices keeps survivors informed about offenders: if they were arrested, charged, posted bail, released or escaped. They will also be provided with the details of restitution and the final disposition of a case. 

At the end of our services, CARES Peer Crisis Responders ensure survivors are connected to ongoing services to continue with their Support and Recovery Plan. When a charge is made after an arrest, CARES Peer Crisis Responders make a direct transfer of the families to our office’s Victim & Witness Services Coordinators who then work with the survivors, counseling and guiding them through court and legal proceedings.



Melany Nelson
[email protected]
Assistant Supervisor
Shakina Deshazor
[email protected]

CARES is staffed by skilled Peer Crisis Responders, all of whom are homicide survivors themselves, representing different races/ethnicities, language abilities, and Philadelphia neighborhoods.
They each know that no one’s pain is the same, but firmly believe everyone can heal, especially with compassionate support. 
CARES provides services in collaboration with several partners, including organizers of the Anti-Violence Partnership of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Coalition for Victim Advocacy as well as hospital chaplains, medical examiner’s office bereavement counselors, court advocates and groups like EMIR Healing Center. 

Safety Exit