Introducing practice tools for working distinctively with women

Clare Ingram
Practice Leader, Community Corrections, Department of Corrections

Author biography:
Clare is a probation practice leader in Taranaki. She has a long history of employment with the Department of Corrections and has worked in several roles in Community Corrections.

In August 2017 the Department of Corrections launched a four year (2017-2021) Strategy for Women: Wahine – E rere ana ki te Pae Hou (Women rising above a new horizon). There is current evidence that women have different pathways into offending than men and that to address their offending, women require a different response. There has also been an increase of women in New Zealand prisons (over 65% increase between 2005 and 2016) as well as an increase in new starts of women on community based sentences (120% increase since 2005/2006).

There are three key focus areas in the strategy:

  1. providing women with interventions and services that meet their unique risks and needs
  2. managing women in ways that are trauma informed and empowering
  3. managing women in a way that reflects the importance of relationships to women.

(Women’s Strategy, Department of Corrections, August 2017)

This article describes the development of practice tools for Community Corrections practitioners to help them engage with women serving community sentences or orders.


The strategy for Community Corrections includes running a pilot to make service centres more whānau-friendly by creating child-friendly spaces, supporting each region to develop and run programmes specifically for women, and designing a number of brief interventions that probation officers can use in their one-to-one work with women. These interventions can also be used by case managers in the prison setting.

Practice tools are not new in Community Corrections. They were initially introduced around the time the probation Integrated Practice Framework was implemented in 2009 to help staff focus on specific risks or needs related to offending in their casework. A number of tools have been introduced since then that aim to reduce risk areas for individuals, as well as assist in increasing protective factors during probation officer sessions with people on their caseload. One of the actions under the Women’s Strategy was to develop gender responsive brief intervention options to enable probation officers to engage and work with women on their caseload.

Method and themes

The development of the new practice tools was based on literature from New Zealand and overseas. This research, and feedback from practitioners, indicates that women have different factors driving their offending pathways and it was important to have a clear understanding of these to ensure the tools met their specific needs. (Salisbury & Van Voorhis, 2009)

It was important to involve frontline staff in the development of these tools and confirm the broad topics highlighted in the literature. To achieve this, a simple questionnaire was developed for practitioners, asking what resources they currently used that worked well with women, and their view of what was required to meet any gaps. The feedback largely matched the research information, indicating the following areas where additional interventions could be delivered by practitioners to support women:

  • relationships going wrong
  • use of alcohol, drugs and gambling
  • mental health issues – linked to trauma and/or victimisation
  • economic pressure – limited education, lack of job opportunities
  • lack of support networks and services (McGlue 2017).

Themes that emerged about the needs of women reinforced the importance of being strength-based, consultative, respecting autonomy, giving information about options and being empowering; ways of working we would expect staff to practice with all people (Bevan, 2017). For long-term desistance the following factors were identified as supporting women to change:

  • need to form good social/family bonds
  • the importance of children (especially those in the care of women)
  • supportive relationships
  • being alert to the nature and dynamics of relationships and knowing how to keep safe
  • positive self-identification and emotional resilience (Bevan, 2016).

It is also considered important for staff working with women to understand and practice respectful engagement, understand the effects of trauma, have good communication skills, and be positive role-models (Bevan, 2016).

With these themes in mind, the task was to formulate simple tools that probation officers and case managers could use with women, which would meet some of these factors without moving into a therapeutic space which is not part of their role. It is acknowledged that many staff are already aware of the pathways to offending for women, and work in a way that is strength-based and motivational. Awareness of this practice was valuable in developing the tools.

The tools were also developed to complement the trauma-informed practice training that was being rolled out to staff.

The need to ensure the tools were culturally informed and responsive to the diverse cultural backgrounds of women was critical. The Department’s five Kaupapa Māori values, Te Tokorima a Māori have been incorporated into the tools. The values are kaitiaki (guardianship), manaaki (respect), rangatira (leadership), wairua (spirituality) and whānau (relationships).

Developing the tools

After extensive consultation across the Department, a final list of six (out of an initial 21 proposed tools) was agreed on. These tools linked to the research by being strength-based, focusing on relationships and assisting with self-regulation and coping skills. It should be noted that there are cross-over tools that have similarities with other practice tools currently used by probation officers and case managers.

In developing the six tools, it was paramount that practitioners use motivational interviewing techniques and a collaborative approach, and are aware of the principles of risk, needs and responsivity. It became evident that using the tools without a good understanding of the current risk and responsivity issues could be unsafe for both the woman and the probation officer/case manager. Likewise, using a directive approach, or one that was not led by the woman, could have negative outcomes.

Practice leaders introduced the tools to probation officers. A practice development session was designed to provide background information on the Women’s Strategy. Practice leaders presented this and then facilitated conversations with staff about how they could use the tools and who on their caseload would benefit from which tools. This was an opportunity to reinforce the need to use the right tool with the right person at the right time. This was particularly pertinent for the tools that help to address healthy relationships, communication and conflict resolution skills – ensuring care is taken when working with women who have histories of abuse and/or trauma.

Practice tools for use with women

The six tools that have been developed for use primarily with women are:

Starting from strength (Timata mai i te kaha)

This is designed to promote self-efficacy and self-regulation. The tool consists of a worksheet that a person uses to identify their strengths and the way those particular strengths help them, as well as considering how they could then use those strengths in the future.

Who am I? Different roles I play (Ko wai au he aha oku turanga)

This is designed to help women identify the many roles they have in life and helps them understand which roles assist them and their whānau and which roles they want to develop more or reduce.

Self esteem (Kiritau)

This tool incorporates worksheets encouraging reflection about self-belief and self-esteem and a journal to recognise and record positive events.

Assertive communication (Korero tuturu)

This tool aims to assist people to identify their usual communication style and to encourage assertive communication when appropriate. Worksheets include scenarios to work through and general tips.

Healthy relationships (Hononga hauora)

This tool aims to create a greater understanding about healthy versus unhealthy relationships. It asks women to consider their relationships using Te Whare Tapa Wha (a holistic wellbeing model) and provides an opportunity to review their relationships using a simple action plan.

Conflict resolution (Te taupatupatu me te tautohehe)

The final tool helps recognise conflict in relationships and looks at healthy ways to resolve them. It includes simple exercises to try and handouts with further information.

The tools were developed to be used as and when needed, with a motivational interviewing approach. They were not designed to be used in the family violence area, and there are links to the Department’s Practice Centre to ensure safety issues are considered.

Probation officers and case managers are encouraged to work through the tools with the women, providing support and encouragement for “homework” to be completed on occasion.

Responses to date

The new practice tools have been in the Practice Centre since early May 2018 and most staff within Community Corrections and case managers are now aware of them. There has been positive initial feedback from staff using the tools.

Taranaki Practice Leader Greta Cleary noted how positive it has been to see and hear the response from probation officers during the Practice Development Sessions. She noted that there have been a few “light-bulb moments” about pathways to offending for the women we work with and what works in terms of engagement. She also noted that a lot of probation officers have been excited about the strength-based approach.

Feedback from a probation officer who has used the Starting from strength tool with a woman suggests the tool is having a positive effect.

“I chose to use a tool that would help her focus on her self-esteem and self-worth because she’s experienced a lot of trauma in her life and it helps to identify resilience and coping strategies she already has in place. The response was emotional, because the woman had the opportunity to speak about her achievements and things she was proud of. It’s been good timing because she’s currently going through a Family Court process and as a result she’s having to re-live a lot of her past, including past traumas. It’s like we’re working through the old and focusing on the new, like we’re building a new identity.”

- New Plymouth Probation Officer Krystle Fabish

Further work will be conducted with probation officers in 2019 to see how helpful these tools have been and examine if additional training, practice guidance or tools could be implemented.


Bevan, M. (2016) Women’s Experience of Re-offending and Rehabilitation

Bevan, M. (2017) Collaborative, relational and responsive: Principles for the case management of women in prison. The New Zealand Corrections Journal Volume 5, Issue 2.

McGlue, H. (2017) Addressing the imbalance: Enhancing women’s opportunities to build offence free lives through gender responsivity. The New Zealand Corrections Journal Volume 5, Issue 2.

Salisbury, J., Van Voorhis, P. (2009) Gendered pathways – A Quantitative Investigation of Women Probationers’ Paths to Incarceration. Criminal Justice and Behaviour, Volume 36, No. 6.