‘If I wasn’t arrested I wouldn’t have realised I was being abused’
‘I would definitely recommend. People were not judgemental, very understanding, patient and helpful’
Prison sentences and criminal justice proceedings can have a devastating and disproportionate impact on female offenders. Many of whom are mothers, are simultaneously victims of crime, or are facing multiple challenges in their lives; such as mental health problems or homelessness.
We believe that many of the solutions to women’s offending lie outside of the criminal justice system and that partnership working is crucial.
Stepping Stones is pleased to be working with Bedfordshire Police this year to pilot a YouTurn funded Women’s Police Custody Diversion Scheme. This aims to divert women who have committed typically one off low level offences out of the criminal justice system and in to support at Stepping Stones. The scheme encourages and empowers offenders to take responsibility for their actions and provides support to improve their lives. Both of which aim to reduce their risk of re-offending.
Here we speak to our Women’s Diversion Scheme lead practitioner Emma about her experiences working on the project:
How do women feel when they first walk through the door? Does the fact that they’ve been referred by the police make a difference?
I know that it can be really hard walking through the doors at Stepping stones for the first time. Women who have been referred as part of the scheme have told me they feel scared and guilty. Many say they are ashamed of what they’ve done.
At the beginning of the programme we did wonder if the partnership with the Police would make a difference to women’s engagement. The women often tell us they didn’t know what to expect when they first come to see us and some even wondered if we could arrest them! But on the first appointment they get to meet us and find out more about the scheme and how we can support them. Generally clients leave the first appointment feeling more at ease.
What kinds of support do you offer a woman that’s been referred in to the programme?
Every women’s needs are different – every women is unique. So that’s quite hard to answer. In the first appointment we discuss where the woman is in her life, the factors that influenced the offence that led to the referral and what changes the woman would like to make. And we work from there.
We provide holistic support across a range of areas including abuse, accommodation, drugs and alcohol, mental health, finance and debt, attitudes thinking and behaviour, education training and employment. We also support and advocate for women in their contact with other organisations or family/friends.
To give you an example, Laura was referred in to us after she was arrested for shoplifting. She told us that her and her son were living in a friend’s garage with no heating, kitchen or bathroom. Laura was very proud, but it was clear she was living in extreme property. Laura had left her old flat because she couldn’t afford the rent and when I met her she couldn’t afford to take her son to school or to eat more than once a day.
The WDS project provided support by:
- Advocating for Laura at the council regarding her accommodation and supporting her to secure a bed-sit
- Arranging a food bank voucher
- Providing donated clothes for Laura and her son
- Covering the costs of getting Laura and her son to school until he was transferred closer to home
- Helping to furnish Laura’s flat thanks to furniture donations made to our charity
Laura quickly secured paid employment. A job she was unlikely to have got if she had received a criminal conviction, rather than than a referral to this project. We helped Laura to make sure she was then able to claim the appropriate welfare benefits to top up her salary and make sure she started work with the correct tax code. Laura is a clever, skilled lady whose life had taken a wrong turn. I don’t think she would have proactively sought our support, but when it was offered she welcomed it with open arms and still pops in to let us know how she is doing.
How do you deal with women who don’t attend their appointments or find it more difficult to engage?
When women don’t attend the appointment made they get 2 more appointments offered. If they still do not attend then Stepping stones will take it back to the police and the women are required to answer their original bail date.
I will say again every women is unique and we will always do what we can to make sure our support best meets the needs of the client. If we feel it would benefit both the client and the community to meet them somewhere else or change how we work, then we will do – as long as it’s risk assessed as safe.
What’s been the best thing about the pilot scheme?
Working with clients that would not necessary walk through our doors but need support in their life. Even if it is only for the three sessions.
I’ve always been aware that one choice/mistake can change you and change the path ahead of you. So knowing we are giving women a chance to seek help and an opportunity to move forward on a more positive path makes me feel we are helping the women and community we live in.