Signature Grant 2015

Women mentoring women – Empowering change for a better life

Mary Latham
Executive Officer
Women and Mentoring

Women and Mentoring (WAM) has demonstrated that early intervention to support women when they first encounter the criminal justice system is effective in preventing incarceration and reoffending, as well as empowering women to have a better life.

A community-driven initiative originating in the City of Yarra, WAM selects and trains volunteer mentors to support local women who are in contact with the police or court. Women referred to WAM for support are matched with trained WAM mentors, who provide support at court, personal and practical assistance, and help to access other community resources.

An independent evaluation in 2012 confirmed WAM’s success, with over 90% of their clients avoiding prison and 80-90% not reoffending.

MWF kick-started WAM’s expansion

“Our philanthropic funding was due to end in 2015 and we also wanted to expand the program beyond the City of Yarra to support women at the very busy Sunshine Court.
“Receiving the MWF 2015 signature grant made this possible. The grant gave us credibility and with the help from MWF members we succeeded in getting the matching funds we needed,” said Mary Latham, WAM’s Executive Officer.

“This is the strength of MWF – it’s not just about financial support but MWF members have helped us in other ways as well. It really is a gift that keeps on giving,” said Mary.

WAM’s expansion in 2015-16 to support women attending the Sunshine Court has been very successful and proved that its service model can be adapted to other locations very effectively. In 2017 it extended its program to support women at the Heidelberg Court.

Collaboration aims to empower women

WAM is set to expand its support to empower many more women who are caught up in the criminal justice system.

The Victorian Government has recently approved three-year funding for WAM commencing December 2017. This will include WAM’s expansion to cover the Melbourne Court in 2018 and the Broadmeadows Court in 2018.

“It is very exciting and we will be collaborating with the Darebin Legal Centre, Flat Out and the Law and Advocacy Centre for Women. We want to establish a women’s list at the Melbourne Court and to have a dedicated Magistrate to provide continuity, as this contributes to better outcomes for women,” said Mary.

WAM is also collaborating with Frankston-based Stepping Up, which supports females aged 12 to 25 years who are offenders or victims, often in relation to drug and alcohol issues.

“Our project, ‘The Women’s Voices’, aims to harness the experiences of these women and to build an evidence base for increased investment in early intervention programs, such as WAM, which reduce incarceration and offending and improve women’s lives,” said Mary.

“Our goal is for WAM to support women at every Magistrates’ Court in Victoria and we can thank Melbourne Women’s Fund for having faith that this goal is achievable, and its continuing interest and support,” said Mary.

Success story – a future without family violence

In 2016-2017 all the women supported by WAM at the Sunshine Magistrates’ Court had experienced family violence.

‘Annie’ was referred to WAM for support with her legal process on an assault charge. In her early thirties, she had experienced family violence by her father, her husband, and more recently her son. Withdrawn and unable to make eye contact, ‘Annie’ had no confidence or self-esteem. Thanks to support from her WAM volunteer mentor, ‘Annie’ attended court and avoided a custodial sentence. ‘Annie’s’ WAM mentor helped her to gain confidence and self esteem and to receive the support she needed to deal with her trauma. Two years later, ‘Annie’ moved to private rental accommodation outside Melbourne to build a new life free from family violence.

Recruiting Volunteers

WAM is recruiting women interested in becoming volunteer mentors. WAM mentors are carefully selected, screened and an information session is provided for prospective volunteers. For further information, contact Mary Latham, Executive Officer, Women and Mentoring: E mary@womenandmentoring.org.au and M 0411 156 821.

For more information about Women and Mentoring, please visit their website at http://womenandmentoring.org.au/

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