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BY LINDA MCLAUGHLIN, Team Leader, North East Criminal Justice Women’s Team

Glasgow North East Criminal Justice Women’s Team was set up in 2014 in response to findings from the Women’s Commission Report 2012, that Criminal Justice Services in Scotland did not meet the needs of female service users, so Glasgow North East Criminal Justice Team tried to offer a more trauma informed flexible service for our women.

Before the introduction of North East Women’s Team, workers often commented that due to competing demands between male and female cases and report writing, they did not have time to respond to their chaotic women with complex needs. The Team is made up of 4 female Qualified Social Workers who have smaller caseloads that allows for more time to build relationships and respond more sensitively to our women’s needs.

Between Dec 2015 and 2018 we carried out two evaluations of our service and the results were positive:

Improvements in mental health were not as marked as in other areas, which is not surprising given the women’s trauma histories and difficulty in accessing mental health resources.

Up to 80% of respondents noted they had significant problems with their mental health before their order began.  Women who completed their Community Payback Orders with us, gave a variety of reasons for being able to make positive changes to their lives. Respondents said that the relationship with their worker was very important, one that helped build trust and provided a catalyst for positive change.

Women felt that having someone to listen to them, offer one-to one support, help to build self-esteem, someone who helped them gain access to a variety of services including Tomorrow’s Women Glasgow, Turning Point Scotland’s 218 Service, Addiction services and mental health workers was vital. Also respondents noted that they were “getting tired of it” or maturing and that they wanted to improve their relationships with family members. Overall it was felt that being on a CPO gave the women an opportunity they might not have had otherwise, to access supports and resources they might not have had otherwise. 

Karen Baxter, Policy Officer, Community Justice Glasgow commented:

“There is still a way to go, but since the publication of the Angiolini Commission on Women Offenders in 2012, Glasgow has come a long way in its approach to supporting women involved in the Justice System to a more pro-social life style. 

Through a more collaborative and co-ordinated approach through the Glasgow Working Group on Women and Offending, we have a much better understanding of the needs of women in Glasgow and the response we need to support and empower them to reduce or stop offending and have much better lives and outcomes as a result. 

These improved outcomes not only have an immediate benefit to the women and the communities in which they were offending, there is a longer term generational effect, in terms of improved relationships and coping skills around parenting, making these women much better role models for the next generation.

We know that offending can be generational if the cycle is not broken, children who are exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) such as domestic violence, a parent with mental health conditions, being the victim of abuse or neglect, growing up in a household where there are adults experiencing alcohol and drug use problems and a parent being in prison are much more likely to find themselves repeating patterns and ending up in the Criminal Justice System themselves. Taking a Whole Family approach and our closer links with Children & Families Services can help to mitigate some of the damage done.

“You can see from Figure 1 that since the 2012/2013 cohort of women from Glasgow who were convicted of a crime, the overall percentage of those being reconvicted in 2017/2018 (the most recently available statistics) has fallen by 19.4%

Case Study 1 – Ms M

Ms M was 20 years of age and had experienced trauma and abuse since childhood.  She was brought up by her maternal grandparents after her mother was unable to cope due to her drug use and frequent prison sentences. He father died of an overdose. When she was 13 years of age her grandmother, whom she had a close relationship with died. Thereafter she was placed with a variety of family members often with the placement breaking down due to her behavioural problems. She also had developed an alcohol problem.

Ms M was placed on a 12 month Community Payback Order for assaulting a neighbour. Her Level of Service / Case Management Inventory (LSCMI) assessment identified that she had very high levels of need.

When she began her order she was pregnant, and had another child who was 4 years of age. She was in a relationship with the father of her children but this was marred by domestic abuse with both parties being charged at times with domestic offending. Ms M was suffering from post- natal depression and Children and Families were involved with the view to putting both children on the Child Protection Register.

When Ms M began working with Lorna – her worker from the Women’s Team it became apparent that Ms M was very mistrustful of social services. She suffered from anxiety, was unable to identify emotions and feelings and when she felt challenged, she was quick to anger. Ms M also appeared to be ambivalent towards her pregnancy. Although Ms M had support from her sister and her partner’s mother in relation to looking after her son, relations were strained between them due to Ms M’s temper and outbursts.

Lorna took time to meet with her weekly to listen to her anxieties and gently build the relationship. She began supporting her emotional health by teaching her how to use mindfulness techniques in order to calm herself enough so that she could engage with Children and Families workers and other supports around her.

Lorna also worked towards encouraging her to identify and express her emotions. Lorna often visited her with the childcare worker and this helped improve relationships between them.  Although the children were placed on the child protection (CP) register both Ms M and her partner were willing to work with the care plan that ensured that CP arrangements were removed several months after the baby was born. Ms M stopped drinking during her pregnancy and did not return to this afterwards.

In summary the improvements for Ms M were:

  • reduced alcohol intake;
  • improved ability to recognise and mange emotions;
  • less anxiety; and
  • more ability to cope with the demands of parenting.

This all facilitated the removal of CP status on the children and improved relationships with Ms M’s family.  

Case 2 – Ms C

Ms C’s parent’s separated when she was three years old due to her father’s alcoholism. Ms C’s mother became involved in another relationship some years later and when her younger brother was born when she was fourteen years old, she felt pushed aside and began to experience difficulties during her teenage years, drinking alcohol and being at risk within the community.

Ms C was subsequently looked after and accommodated at the age of fifteen. She left care at the age of sixteen. Ms C’s mother and partner eventually separated and Ms C blames her behaviour for the separation.

Ms C became involved in a relationship at a very young age, which was abusive both emotionally and physically. Ms C was using alcohol on a regular basis which often led to the couple coming to the attention of the Police and at this point Ms C’s offending became official in terms of her being convicted of offences of Breach of The Peace.

Ms C gave birth to a son who was placed on the child protection register due to Ms C’s alcohol problem, drug misuse and domestic violence concerns. Ms C’s son was placed in the care of his maternal grandmother at the age of six months and Ms C had contact with him under the supervision of her mother.

Ms C became involved in other relationships all of which involved alcohol misuse and domestic violence. Ms C also began to self-harm by cutting her arms at this point in her life. Due to Ms C’s lifestyle and various relationships she was transient in terms of her accommodation therefore never settled in anyone place for any length of time.

Ms C was made subject of a Community Payback Order (CPO) with Supervision and at this point in her life she was homeless, she had however stopped drinking and was at a point in her life where she wanted support to address the underlying issues related to her offending behaviour.

Over the first few weeks of the order I focused on building a relationship with Ms C and both of us developed a case management plan that was realistic and achievable taking small steps to aid recovery. We agreed the first step was to get her settled and feeling secure in her own accommodation.

I then referred Ms C to the casework team who secured her temporary accommodation and this was the beginning of Ms C’s recovery. 

When Ms C felt settled in her own flat I then referred to her to The 218 Women’s Service in Glasgow where they take a holistic and therapeutic approach and she began the day programme.

Ms C was interested in returning to education and I encouraged her to apply for her chosen course. Ms C was accepted and then began a college course. During her time at college I continued to support Ms C building her confidence and focusing on her positive changes and not her past. The 218 service continued with their support and often met with her at lunch time during her college day, which had an enormous positive impact on Ms C, which resulted in Ms C completing her course successfully.

Ms C continued to engage very well within supervision and completed a great deal of offence focused work as well as working on her own self esteem.

During the CPO Ms C:

  • went on to secure permanent accommodation;
  • she has not abused alcohol in two years;
  • she has unsupervised contact with her son; and
  • although she has some health issues at present, she hopes to return to education in the near future.

This CPO had a very successful outcome for Ms C, for her child and other family members, she is very positive about her future. In terms of the wider community – There has been no further offending.

These are just some of the things that women have said about working with the Women’s Team at the end of their order.

“I was able to tell my worker things I had never told anyone before as I could trust her.”

“I was put in touch with services that helped me.”

“It was good to have structure as before my life was chaotic.”

“My worker boosted my confidence, now I have a part-time job.”

“I have learned a lot about myself”.

“I now think before I react”.

“I have cut down on my drinking”.

“…made me think. I realised offending was not fun”.

“Having a female worker made me feel comfortable”.

“I am less anxious and can get on a bus by myself now”.

“I am more mindful. I realised the impact alcohol had on my family”

“I realise what I have done and am appalled by my criminal record. I want to see my 8 year old grow up.”

Workers in the Women’s Team have said that working there has increased their knowledge and skills about Trauma Informed Practice. They are more able to identify women’s services and make appropriate referrals to them.  They are more confident working with women who have borderline personality disorders and mental health problems. 

We have completed joint training with Tomorrow’s Women Glasgow and 218 and had input from Consultant Forensic Psychologists from the Anchor to help with more complex cases. Workers have also recognised that working jointly with partner agencies has helped share workloads and avoid duplication of work.

These results are very encouraging and is a testament to the commitment and hard work of the Women’s Team in North East Glasgow.

The biggest improvement has been in desistance which is impressive.  Our approach clearly helps women and proves that smaller caseloads and more time to really build relationships ensures better outcomes for women than previously experienced by the team.

This trauma informed approach to working has implications not only for the Women’s Team but for all social work.

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