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.

3 Developing Women's Community Justice Services

Key findings

  • The 16 WCJSs adopted a variety of approaches to developing their services, which was determined by existing provision, the amount of funding requested, and their expected ability to sustain any changes beyond March 2015.
  • Different models of WCJS included: women's centres (all in urban areas); women's teams and/or workers; community hubs (in rural areas); and a range of standalone local projects.
  • Reconfiguring or establishing new services was not a quick process. Most projects experienced delays recruiting staff and setting up new premises.
  • Critical elements for successfully developing services included establishing effective partnerships, employing the 'right staff', and creating an environment in which there was flexibility and commitment to trial new ways of working.
  • Securing commitments at an appropriate level of seniority and/or formal agreements across agencies were necessary for multi-agency working.
  • Practitioners agreed that an understanding of women's needs and their barriers to engagement, and reasons for 'working differently' with women was important, but most did not identify gaps in gender-specific training for WCJS practitioners.
  • Practitioners working in newly formed women's teams felt better equipped to respond to women's needs, compared to previously working with women infrequently and/or without multidisciplinary support.
  • Initiatives at a national level or between WCJSs (e.g. strategic commitments, opportunities to collaborate or share learning) strengthened local efforts to develop services.
  • Having women-only caseloads was intense due to the complexity of their needs compared to mixed or male-only caseloads; and the nature of service delivery (e.g. centres, drop-ins) meant workloads were unpredictable.


This section describes the approaches taken to develop community justice services for women across Scotland. It outlines the various models of WCJSs, and presents findings based on practitioners' experiences of establishing new or enhanced services for women.

3.1 Criminal justice partners enhanced or developed services for women in ways they felt would best achieve improved outcomes for women in their localities, given existing ways of working, and at a level that could be sustained (by local funding) in the future.

3.2 Projects adopted a range of large and small-scale changes, which in many cases, built on existing and on-going efforts by Criminal Justice Social Work (CJSW) and other agencies. The amount and timeframes of the development funding varied substantially across the 16 projects, ranging from £23k to £642k for between 12 and 23 months.

3.3 As a result, projects developed a variety of approaches beyond the specific model of a 'one-stop shop' or 'women's centre', as referred to in the Commission's Report (see section 3.5). This report uses 'women's community justice service' to include multiple forms of provision.

3.4 The 16 projects allocated their funding to personnel (e.g. social and support workers, administrators, multi-disciplinary practitioners from health, housing, welfare rights); premises (e.g. rent, refurbishments); and resources (e.g. programme supplies, running costs, training).

Models of services for women

3.5 The 16 WCJSs broadly reflected four approaches to delivering support to women (see Annex E for description of individual WCJSs).

  • Centre: A bespoke, single-purpose facility shared by a multi-disciplinary team and/or agencies involved in the care of women who offend. Support and interventions are predominantly delivered on-site, consistent with the vision of a 'one stop shop' or Glasgow's 218 Project. This approach was taken in Scotland's three largest cities.
  • Women's team or worker: A distinct team (or worker) in CJSW who are allocated women's cases to ensure consistency of service and access to gender-specific support. Multi-disciplinary support is coordinated or delivered predominantly from CJSW premises, but some support is delivered via partner agency's locations.
  • Community hubs: A service created to deliver support for women living in rural or dispersed populations. As above, a distinct team (or worker) offers multi-disciplinary support via regular 'drop-in' sessions from locations in the community, such as leisure or community centres. In some areas, CJSW practitioners still deliver some core interventions or supervision from central premises.
  • Other Projects: Strictly not a 'model' as such, four projects were funded to develop standalone interventions. This included a registered mental health nurse to work with women in existing women's services across three local authorities, a diversion ('early intervention') pilot, a court-based service to inform remand decisions, and a scoping project to establish plans for a women's service.

3.6 Whilst WCJSs fell into one of these four categories, in practice WCJSs shared other aspects that cut across model types (see Table 1).

3.7 WCJSs broadly reflected principles of desistance-based and gender-responsive approaches (e.g. relational, strengths-based, trauma-informed, and holistic) to rehabilitation.[vi] Elements of a Risk-Need-Responsivity (RNR) model approach were also evident (e.g. correctional group work for those most at risk of reoffending).

Table 1: Characteristics of 16 WCJSs

WCJS Model Premises distinct from CJSW Established prior to funding Multi-disciplinary practitioners in teama No. women in the serviceb Urban Drop-in facility
Connections Centre (Aberdeen) Centre Over 100 Urban
Tomorrow's Women Glasgow (TWG) Centre Over 100 Urban
Willow Centre (Edinburgh) Centre Over 100 Urban
Dundee WCJS Team Over 100 Urban
North Lanarkshire WCJS Team Over 100 Urban
Renfrewshire/East Renfrewshire WCJS Team 51 - 100 Urban
Highland WCJS (Inner Moray Firth area) Worker c Under 50 Rural
Inverclyde WCJS Workerd e Under 50 Urban
West Dunbartonshire WCJS Worker Under 50 Urban
Fife WCJS Team (Hubs) Hubs Over 100 Rural
South Lanarkshire WCJS Team (Hubs) Hubs Over 100 Rural
Glen Isla Project (Angus) Team (Hubs) Hubs Under 50 Rural
Aberdeenshire development projectf Project Under 50 Rural
Forth Valley Criminal Justice Link Nurse Project Local CJSW n/a Under 50 Rural n/a
Kilmarnock Court Action Note Project Project Court n/a Over 100 Urban n/a
Ayrshire EEI Project Project Homes n/a Under 50 Urban n/a


a Multi-disciplinary team includes non-social workers employed full or part-time in the women's team, e.g. health, welfare rights, housing or addictions practitioner.
b Based on throughput of women in WCJSs between 1 April - 31 December 2014
c Components of Highland's groupwork programmes are delivered outwith CJSW premises.
d Inverclyde WCJS includes a CJSW coordinator with a drop-in facility delivered in partnership with workers from Action for Children.
e Inverclyde WCJS's drop in facility is run from Action For Children premises.
f Aberdeenshire was funded to develop a plan for establishing a women's service in future. CJSW currently have an APEX Support Worker who works exclusively with women.

Developing new services

3.8 Making changes or introducing new services was not a quick process and the majority of projects experienced delays. Recruiting new staff or arranging internal secondments took between one and six months, which required some staff to work dual roles or backfill positions. This placed additional pressure upon staff in a time of operational change. All seven projects that received funding towards premises initially delivered all or parts of their service from existing premises. This was due to the time it took to identify suitable premises, for existing occupants to vacate, and/or to make facilities fit for purpose (e.g. refurbish spaces, install kitchens or IT systems).

3.9 The delays in implementation meant that seven of the eleven WCJSs funded in 2013/14 returned underspent funds that they had allocated to staffing or premises. Several practitioners highlighted the strain this placed on service delivery in 2014/2015 when they sought to buy resources that should have been up and running the previous year.

3.10 Delivering holistic support required the 'right staff' (e.g. the commitment, skills or attributes important to working with women, see section 6.74). Practitioners with mixed professional backgrounds and networks were particularly valuable in helping teams to link women to support outwith WCJSs (e.g. through their contacts, or a knowledge of referral processes or information systems), which has been previously highlighted as a successful element in providing integrated support.[vii] While most staff were female, the role of male practitioners was also viewed positively overall (see section 6.87).

3.11 Establishing distinct CJSW women's teams had a wider impact on colleagues. Practitioners in five projects highlighted that the change to allocate all women's cases to one team raised concerns from some CJSW colleagues that specialism might detract from the professional skills, interest, or balance gained by a mixed caseload of men and women. Subsequent interviews with practitioners indicated that these initial views had not presented an on-going barrier to services.

3.12 Developing WCJSs required good project governance and leadership at the appropriate levels in CJSW and partner agencies to make operational changes effectively, to support staff through changes, and to create a culture where there was a commitment to 'making it work':

"When you're innovating in such an area, what you need are key individuals who believe in what they're doing. […] - people who have got the right kind of skill set and are in the right places in organisations to make things happen and are prepared to think creatively."
- CJSW Senior Manager, Centre

3.13 Practitioners adapted new ways of working in response to the realities they faced on the ground, and continued to learn as they trialled new practices and activities. While most projects were implemented according to their proposed intentions, some were adapted. For example, the Glen Isla Project revised plans to have two, rather than three community hubs, to focus more resources on individual outreach.

3.14 WCJSs reported that although there was a positive appetite amongst local sentencers for viable alternatives to custody, it would take further time and work to build up the services' reputation, evidence of their effectiveness, and sustainability. These findings are consistent with another study.[9],[vii]

Partnership working

3.15 In Scotland, CJSW work with other providers (public and third sector) to deliver criminal justice-based services in the community. Working with other agencies was inherent to WCJSs' ability to coordinate holistic support and strengthen referral pathways in and out of the service. Therefore, building partnerships was a critical part of developing services.

3.16 The agencies that WCJSs worked with varied by locality and nature of the project, but typically included other CJSW teams, addictions services, third sector agencies (e.g. SHINE mentoring), housing and education agencies (e.g. Community Learning and Development), NHS, Police Scotland, and the Scottish Prison Service (SPS).

3.17 Practitioners described many examples of effective partnerships, which were used to identify enablers (and barriers) to partnership working (Table 2). In particular, they underlined the importance of securing commitments at an appropriate level of seniority and/or formal agreements across agencies (e.g. for referrals, resources, or access to information) to minimise practitioners fear they were acting outside their remit and relying on informal goodwill, as this nurse explained:

"I'm not employed by mental health, so I can't link into mental health. I can phone them up and ask them to see someone, but they just say "No," because I'm not part of their service. There's no linking pathway. We can quite often trade on who we know, but that's only because we know them. There has to be a linking pathway, which needs to be at a strategic level."
- Mental Health Nurse, WCJS Women's Team

3.18 WCJSs were generally still developing partnerships with SPS and Public Social Partnerships (PSP) providers of throughcare (see throughcare section 5.13).

3.19 Some practitioners had a desire to work closer with their local Children and Families social work team, even though the potential for conflicting priorities within their roles posed some challenges. However, the potential benefit for women and children that may arise from working more closely together (where appropriate) was highlighted by one manager, who felt that two of their most successful cases had resulted from their involvement in Children and Families' case management plans. In one case:

"One of the [Children and Family] teams asked us to do additional home visits, late night visits, to pop in and to offer the majority of support to this woman because she was already working with us. She still has her child with her, where that was very questionable not long ago. And she had turned her attitude around towards [Children and Family social work] as well. At the last case conference it was acknowledged that that would never have happened without our input."
-Team Manager, WCJS Community Hubs

Table 2: Enablers and barriers in developing partnerships in WCJSs


  • Have a clear purpose, direction and leadership for the service. Ensure internal (CJSW) support exists before getting others on board.
  • Identify shared strategic drivers that encourage partner participation (e.g. aims and activities that help partners meet their own goals).
  • Engage with partners proactively to raise awareness of the service and needs of women who offend (e.g. open days, multi-agency steering groups, training and staff inductions).
  • Identify practitioners across agencies who are committed to 'making it work'
  • Reach the 'right' person in an organisation who can make (strategic) decisions.
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities. This may require strategic or formalised arrangements to support access to information and clear referral pathways. Requires strategic leadership.
  • Foster relationships where possible by co-location, named key contacts, a shared knowledge of each other's service, and meeting face-to-face.
  • Promote the need for women-specific services. Raising awareness was on-going with partners (frontline staff and management) and with colleagues in other CJSW teams.


  • Time was required to build quality relationships and credibility of the WCJS, which may be interrupted by departures of key contacts or low engagement of partners.
  • Territoriality (within teams or across agencies) for funding or clients stifles collaboration.
  • (In) flexibility of statutory or public organisations presents challenges to setting up new ways of working, particularly compared to the third sector which could operate quicker with minimal procedures and across council boundaries and structures.
  • Partners' capacity, time-limited funding, and eligibility criteria. Changes in these can impact upon partners' ability to commit or continue to work with WCJSs.

Practitioners' learning

3.20 Practitioners widely agreed that working in WCJSs required an understanding of women's barriers to engagement, needs, and reasons for 'working differently' with women in the criminal justice system.

3.21 Practitioners frequently identified that trauma-based training had been valuable to their practice; and some highlighted the need for other training specific to their new roles (e.g. facilitation skills for groupwork, court or criminal justice procedures, and mental health training).

3.22 Predominantly, however, the practitioners interviewed felt their skills and knowledge were most informed through experience gained 'on-the-job', and did not identify any consistent gap in gender-specific training. Their learning, practice, and networks were enhanced by working alongside colleagues from other disciplines or agencies or from previous experience working in other agencies.

3.23 In particular, practitioners who had moved into newly formed CJSW women's teams felt that they were no longer working with women infrequently or in isolation. The concentration of resources and expertise in a single team meant they were not 'chasing about for resources' and were better able to meet women's needs:

"I didn't work with a lot of women [previously]. You were really working in isolation. I didn't really understand the issues and what I should be working on. But now as a team, we're working with women all the time [...] I've just learned so much."
- Social worker, WCJS Women's Team

3.24 Practitioners valued opportunities to exchange learning, resources, and best practice nationally to inform local ways of working. These included the Women's Services Forum (held quarterly in 2014), connections between individual WCJSs,[10] and direct support from a Scottish Government National Advisor and Service Development Officer[11] role (time-limited till early 2015). There was also an indication that initiatives (e.g. events and funding) at a national-level put local efforts 'higher up on the strategic agenda'.

Capacity and demands of working in a women-only service

3.25 Practitioners across WCJSs indicated that working with all-female caseloads was 'intensive' compared to mixed or all-male caseloads, due to the frequency of contact and the complexity of some women's lives, which introduced a wider range of issues, people, and agencies (e.g. Children and Families, Women's Aid):

"[…] over half of them have got their children still. There's usually always a relationship involved, which brings a lot of different issues as well. So you're not just working with an individual. You're working with the whole family or in the relationship, and that's where a lot of the difficulties and challenges come up. Especially when you've got a domestic violence situation."
- Social worker, WCJS Women's Team

3.26 The nature of service delivery (e.g. in drop-in's and centres) also meant that caseloads were often unpredictable depending on the numbers and needs of women in the service at any one time, and those who presented in crises.

3.27 The intensity and unpredictability of casework led some WCJSs to limit or reduce caseloads. However, most WCJSs were concerned about the sustainability of high and/or increasing workloads for staff, and the potential for dilution of services for women as referrals increased.

3.28 Overall, practitioners emphasised the benefits of having supportive management in WCJSs, and a team culture that was a safe place to voice frustrations of the job, ask questions and share knowledge.


Email: Tamsyn Wilson

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