Evaluation of Sixteen Women's Community Justice Services in Scotland

This document presents the findings of an evaluation of sixteen women’s community justice services in Scotland. The evaluation was conducted by the Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS) during 2014-15.

Annex B: Theory of Change and Assumptions

Theory of change

1. A theory of change explains how inputs and activities targeting specific participants should lead to short, medium and long-term outcomes within a specific context and considering a number of assumptions. The theory of change for WCJSs is detailed below. (Note, the 16 projects targeted enhancements at specific inputs and activities).

2. The key inputs or 'investment' in place to enable WCJSs to operate are:

  • WCJS practitioners and partner organisations (multi-disciplinary). Partners include other criminal justice social work teams, public sector agencies (e.g. NHS, SPS), local authority services (e.g. housing, DTTO), third sector organisations (e.g. employability, benefit, and mentoring services), and community providers (e.g. community colleges).
  • Premises (multi-agency as far as possible).
  • Funding. WCJSs received various levels of time-limited funding (12 - 23 months) to develop their services for women. For most projects, this funding supplemented core funding and other sources required to deliver existing services.
  • Governance arrangements and agreements across agencies.

3. From these inputs, the following activities occur:

  • Practitioners engage with women at all stages of the criminal justice system (e.g. early intervention, court services, bail supervision, diversion, throughcare, community sentences).
  • Social workers carry out statutory duties (e.g. supervision of orders, social work reports).
  • Practitioners work with women to identify and prioritise individual support needs.
  • Practitioners build trusting, respectful relationships with women.
  • Practitioners establish effective communication, coordination, and/or links with organisations and stakeholders involved with women who offend.
  • Practitioners provide or coordinate practical and emotional support for women on a one-to-one basis, in groupwork and/or drop-in sessions. Support or activities address areas such as women's mental health (e.g. trauma-based work), physical and sexual health, housing, mentoring, family and social relationships, substance misuse, lifeskills, welfare rights and finances, purposeful and rewarding activities (e.g. employability, interests in the community) and other practical support (e.g. access clothing banks, support to attend appointments, crisis work).
  • WCJS practitioners involve women (service users) in planning, development and reviewing of services.
  • Managers support and value their staff.
  • WCJS practitioners and partners develop their skills, knowledge and experience about what works to promote desistance for women.
  • WCJSs use performance management and evaluation to demonstrate and impact and value of services.

4. The key participants or target groups of WCJS's activities is:

  • Women aged 16 years and older who are involved, or are at risk of being involved, with the criminal justice system.

5. As a result of WCJS's activities with women, practitioners, partners and wider relevant stakeholders, the intended outcomes for service delivery are that:

  • Women have continuity of care across the criminal justice system
  • Women can access a range of support through flexible pathways (i.e. multi-disciplinary teams or centres, community hubs, pro-active outreach). This means that WCJSs bring services to women rather than expecting them to access conventional pathways to support.
  • WCJSs provide sentencers with a viable alternative to custody (as appropriate) for women.
  • WCJSs practitioners, organisations and stakeholders have increased understanding of the needs, barriers and rationale for working in gender-specific ways with women who offend.
  • WCJSs are sustainable and have sufficient and healthy workforce to deliver services for women.

6. As a result of these outcomes at service-level, WCJSs intend for positive (short, medium and long-term) outcomes for women:

  • Women have a readiness to change behaviour, and the skills to do so. This includes that women have views and attitudes that support desistance (e.g. accept that offending is unacceptable and believe they can stop), are willing to work on problems, have the skills to solve everyday problems (e.g. communication skills), and engage with support services.
  • Women have their basic and long-term practical and emotional needs met (some of which are known to be linked to reoffending). These include housing, healthcare (physical, emotional/mental, sexual), substance misuse, finances, family and social relationships, purposeful and rewarding activities, and work, training and/or volunteering.

7. The logic model groups together women's short, medium and long-term outcomes. This reflects that the timeframes and order of intended outcomes will vary across different WCJSs and for individual women. The complexity of women's lives and their engagement with services is unique and changes are unlikely to be linear. For some women a readiness to change an aspect of their behaviour may only result once a basic need has been met. For others, a readiness to change and the skills to do so will precede a behaviour change.

8. The ultimate long-term outcome that WCJSs intend to contribute towards is that women lead better lives, are empowered and integrated into their communities. Women will reduce their (re)offending, and Scottish people and communities will experience low levels of crime.[iii], [103]


9. In order for the theory of change above to occur, it is assumed that:

  • WCJSs practitioners develop activities based on evidence of 'what works' to reduce reoffending among women.
  • Support and interventions are of a sufficient quality and length, and appropriately timed, to make a difference women and reoffending.
  • Practitioners within existing services have sufficient capacity and resource to deliver and sustain holistic services.
  • Services reach areas of need (i.e. where women offenders live).
  • Communities are resilient and have characteristics that will support women in the community as they seek to live crime-free lives.


Email: Tamsyn Wilson

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