A project delivered by St Giles which prevents crime and reduces the number of vulnerable women entering the criminal justice system has had its funding extended for a further year.
Originally launched by Norfolk's Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) in 2017 as a one-year pilot, the WONDER project offered help and support to women being released from police custody facilities in two areas of Norfolk.
In 2018 the project became WONDER+, extending across the county and beyond custody facilities. Three years on, more than 700 women aged between 18 and 68 have been referred to the project through community policing, police custody, multi-agency early help hubs, health services, victim services and other help and support networks.
Amongst the women who have been helped are 90 who have self referred after hearing about the project through housing providers, job centres or foodbanks.
Thanks to funding from Norfolk PCC Lorne Green, Norfolk County Council Public Health and St Giles, WONDER+ is now set to be extended until 31 March 2022. Over the coming year, there will be a particular focus on the impact of drugs.
Announcing the project extension on International Women's Day, Norfolk Police and Crime Commissioner Lorne Green said: "Female offenders coming into contact with the criminal justice system often have complex needs and can be some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in society.
"WONDER+ is helping female offenders access the support they need to address the root causes of their offending behaviour. Unemployment, money worries, mental health issues, drug or alcohol dependency – any one or combination of these can be a contributory factor.
"Many of the women have also been victims of crime, such as domestic or sexual abuse, so the project is also helping to prevent further harm and victimisation."
Clare Bradley, Manager for St Giles Eastern England, said: "We're delighted that the Norfolk PCC has continued to support this much-needed work.
"The women helped through WONDER+ are often isolated and traumatised. The St Giles Link Workers build up trusted relationships with the women and offer a mix of practical and emotional support. They help them access other sources of help to address any problems they are facing – typically around housing, debt, domestic abuse and childcare. They also work with them at their own pace to build their levels of confidence and resilience.
Ultimately, the aim of our Link Workers is to help the women stabilise their situations so they can become independent."
Speaking about how WONDER+ had made a difference to her life, one woman said: "I started meeting with my Link Worker after I offended and was in court. I was all over the place with feelings on my life, after having a baby as well, and what I'd done.
"My Link Worker helped me loads with housing, family life and help understanding my money situation and where I could get help. I'm at the end of my meetings with my link worker knowing I'm in a better place now than I was ever before."
Another WONDER+ client said: "Since working with my Link Worker, I've been dealing with my life in such a more positive way. When I first got arrested, I was scared and ashamed of what I did. My Link Worker has never made me feel stupid for what I did and has supported me always.
"I can deal with my life more independently now than ever before and I'm a lot more confident going forward. I would recommend the service to anyone who has hit rock bottom or is struggling."
Sergeant Tim Chapman of the Broadland and South Norfolk Operational Partnership Team said: "There really isn't anything else quite like WONDER+. The Link Workers are fantastic at building rapport and developing trust with vulnerable clients enabling them to get people's lives properly back on track. The root causes of offending are always complex but they are genuinely innovative in their problem-solving approach."
Since 2016, there has been a yearly increase in the proportion of female clients supported by St Giles. In the last financial year (April 19-March 20) women made up nearly a quarter of all St Giles clients.