Community based women’s services have a long experience of working with vulnerable women with multiple and complex needs and taking an integrated approach to improving women’s lives and opportunities.
Our membership is complex and varied. Many projects which are part of the Women’s Breakout network are part of established Women’s Centres that have been delivering integrated community based support to women, girls and their families for more than 20 years. Others have developed expertise in working with specific groups of marginalized and vulnerable women such as sex workers; young women caught in pavement culture; women with drug and alcohol problems and BAME women. Others have developed out of national charities working in areas such as housing, homelessness or drug and alcohol work and bring that experience and understanding to their work with women offenders.
Our member organisations have worked in partnership with the Ministry of Justice and the National Offender Management Service over a number of years to develop the policy approach to addressing the needs of women in the Criminal Justice System; and they have worked in partnership on a national delivery model to roll out services that are gender-specific, holistic, and community based, although national coverage is not as yet adequate.
This model of national delivery has been evolving over the last four years and the services offered are known as Women’s Community Services, and although women’s community services vary in their design and delivery of services as they are adapted to their local context, they share some core characteristics:
Characteristics of a Women’s Community Service
Women’s Community Services bring a unique approach to supporting women with complex and multiple problems. They aim to provide women with holistic and empathetic support, in a women only environment, in order that they will be enabled to make better life choices.
By putting women at the centre of support services and by understanding the complex and related nature of issues affecting their lives such as: domestic violence, experiences of sexual and violent exploitation and abuse, drug and alcohol abuse, family and mental health issues, projects are able to effectively deal with the underlying reasons for offending behaviour.
By working with many statutory and voluntary organisations they can provide a broad range of support services to women, to help them address all of their needs through a ‘one stop shop’ approach (either accessing a range of services in one place, or through one key worker) that is focussed on empowering women to make positive choices and break patterns of offending.
A women only environment provides the vital feeling of safety and security from which a woman can flourish; individually tailored support means that her unique needs are addressed, while a holistic approach ensures that every aspect of her life is considered to ensure that underlying causes of offending are addressed.
In delivering services to reduce reoffending by women, our member organisations support the following guiding principles:
They acknowledge that gender makes a difference.
They create an environment based on safety, respect, and dignity.
They develop policies, practices and programs that are relational and promote healthy connections to children, family, significant others, and the community.
- They promote empowerment, choice and self-determination.
- They place importance on the underlying causes of women’s distress in addition to their symptoms.
- They value the strengths, abilities and potential for recovery of the women that use their services.
As women’s community services are committed to multi-agency working women can come to them through a variety of different routes for example a woman might already be involved with the probation service because for example she is serving a community sentence and they might refer her to the women’s community service for support; a woman might receive a court order to attend a service for a period of time; a woman might feel that the service can offer her support and just drop in.
The most common referral routes to our member organisations are as follows:
A woman’s journey to change
When a woman attends a Women’s Community Service she will be assigned a key worker. Her key worker will support her in making changes to her life, working with her on an assessment that looks at the areas in her life that she might like to change. Together they will develop a support plan that looks across the nine pathways to reducing reoffending recognised by the government. These are:
- Skills and employment
- Drugs and Alcohol
- Finance, Benefit and Debt
- Children, families and relationships
- Attitudes, thinking and behavior
- Supporting women who have been abused, raped or experienced domestic violence
- Supporting women who are or have been involved in prostitution
Under each pathway, where a woman needs support she will be offered a range of initiatives including counseling; support finding suitable accommodation; parenting courses, appointments with alcohol and drug treatment services; confidence and self esteem building courses; appointments with health services; numeracy and literacy courses; support with finding a job and money management training. Her journey will be unique to her needs but she will be given the tools and resources needed to make changes to her life, including support to not offend in the future.