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.


For policy

1. Short-term funding presented challenges for staff to develop and deliver a new service, and also gather evidence to justify further funding and future planning before the service has 'bedded in'. Funders of future initiatives may wish to consider these challenges in setting funding and reporting timeframes.

2. Reconfiguring services was not a quick process, particularly for WCJSs operating under local authority structures. Funders may wish to consider building in a set-up time (e.g. three to six months) to the funding period, which may reduce the risk of underspend and also allow time for evaluation tools to be developed and embedded in service delivery.

3. WCJSs were developed to be effective within their local context rather than having a 'one-size-fits all' model. WCJSs can take many different forms, from a single women's worker to a centre with a team of multi-disciplinary professionals. It may therefore be helpful to expand the definition of a WCJS beyond the notion of a women's centre as referred to in the Commission on Women Offenders, and to consider the potential for developing national standards to ensure women receive a consistent quality of service wherever they live in Scotland.

4. Provision of multi-disciplinary support worked best where WCJSs had commitments at an appropriate level of seniority and/or formal arrangements with partner agencies. Identifying opportunities at the national level may strengthen WCJSs' local efforts to develop strategic commitments or formal agreements with national agencies (e.g. SPS, NHS).

5. WCJSs mostly supported and/or supervised women serving community sentences. Some WCJSs indicated limited capacity to work with women not on statutory orders, and the unpredictable and resource-intense nature of delivering services. If WCJSs' role were broadened further across the justice system (e.g. to diversion, throughcare, prevention) consideration should be given to the impact upon capacity to avoid 'diluting' valued features of WCJSs, such as the flexibility of staff with smaller caseloads to provide holistic care and proactive outreach.

6. The evaluation trialled a standardised tool to enable data to be reported at a national (aggregate) level. Future initiatives may wish to consider working with practitioners to further develop the tool, systems and WCJSs' self-evaluation capacity (where there is a local interest in doing this). Additional measures may include those related to trauma: although it is not generally considered to be a criminogenic need, a high proportion of women (where measured) presented with trauma-related needs.

7. LS/CMI (a tool for assessing risk and need) was considered to be of limited applicability in determining eligibility, by one WCJS which specifically targeted women with high and complex needs and risk to engage on a voluntary basis. Future initiatives may consider using tools other than (or alongside) LS/CMI assessments to determine eligibility of highly vulnerable women for voluntary (or preventative) services.

8. The evaluation identified potential gaps in service provision that may be considered in future initiatives. Opportunities for development included building women's social capital outwith WCJSs (e.g. purposeful or rewarding activities (at an earlier stage) that strengthen mental health and social connections), support for mothers in WCJSs (e.g. helping women to cope with the placement of children (into care) and support to regain and maintain custody, where appropriate), and provision for women leaving short-term prison sentences (voluntary throughcare).

For local services

1. Practitioners valued opportunities to learn from other WCJSs, multi-disciplinary partners, and service users to inform local ways of working. Local services should continue to foster networks with other WCJSs to share local best practice and maintain a 'common purpose' in shaping the future of women-specific services. WCJSs may also wish to consider the role of service users and partner agencies in such opportunities in future.

2. Multi-disciplinary professionals co-located in or linked to WCJSs helped women to access practical support. WCJSs should continue to pursue commitments at an appropriate level of seniority and/or formal arrangements with partners to strengthen referral pathways, information sharing, and/or co-location of multi-disciplinary professionals.

3. Women in WCJSs improved their engagement with mainstream services and problem-solving skills (e.g. knowledge of where to access support, confidence and skills in communicating with professionals). Local support and mainstream services may wish to consider the advantages that linking with WCJSs may offer in establishing and/or maintaining engagement with their female clients when these same clients are engaged and supported by WCJSs.

4. Over one third of mothers in WCJSs had access to their children in the care of others, and women often did not have supportive or stable social and family relationships. While family and child relationships proved to be difficult areas in which to achieve (short-term) progress, the impact of improved relationships was significant for women and is known to promote desistance. This highlights the importance in WCJSs to continue to offer activities that strengthen positive relational links, including efforts with Children and Families social work teams to balance needs and safety, and support women (and children).

5. Overall, women on voluntary throughcare typically made up a small proportion of women in WCJSs, despite the potential benefits that holistic support may afford this population. Women leaving prison were affected by more complex circumstances than women in the community. When developing voluntary throughcare provision, WCJSs should plan for the likelihood that initial engagement may need to be more intense.

6. Women responded positively to holistic support delivered in informal environments that enabled them to connect with workers and other women. CJSW practitioners (outwith WCJSs) may consider how this learning could enhance their current practice (e.g. holding supervision appointments in WCJSs' drop-in sessions or centres). It may also inform a broader cultural change in how mainstream services choose to work with women who offend.


Email: Tamsyn Wilson

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