VWW’s Re-entry Support for Justice-Involved Women
By Heather Newcomb, VWW Program Manager
It’s not a surprise that COVID-19 has caused the majority of us to adjust how we accomplish our work. Vermont Works for Women (VWW) is no different, and some of our changes due to COVID-19 have been in how we serve our justice-involved women (currently or formerly incarcerated) in Vermont.
COVID-19 restrictions have prevented our staff from working in-person with these women since March 13th, which means that a lot of the pre-release planning to gain employment was delayed until their release. In the past, we would assist women creating strength-based resumes, developing job search plans, and strategizing how to build networks of support.
However, the delay meant only women released to Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties received that transitional support from VWW due to staff capacity. This quickly highlighted the need for VWW to expand our staff and provide these transitional supports to those released to other regions.
In regions we currently serve, this re-entry support has helped women successfully obtain steady employment, engage with positive social events, and develop community networks of support. Our staff meet with clients regularly to assist them with developing goals, determining action steps to attain those goals, and problem-solving any potential barriers that arise during that process, while also providing our clients with the coaching to practice and master these required skills to gain independence. In addition, VWW staff are heavily connected with other social service providers to be able to refer clients when additional services are needed for wrap-around support. We meet regularly to coordinate client services, provide mutual aid resources, and support a holistic approach with our clients.
Since COVID-19 highlighted the limitations of our geographic reach, we joined with other service providers of justice-involved women to pursue CARES Act funding together to expand our service region into southern Vermont. In addition to VWW, this alliance consists of the Vermont Network Against Domestic & Sexual Violence, STEPS to End Domestic Violence DIVAS program, Mercy Connections, and Women’s Justice and Freedom Initiative.
This alliance agreed to share this funding to improve current re-entry efforts, increasing coverage to statewide, while efficiently serving clients without duplication. VWW is utilizing our portion of these funds to hire two new staff to provide direct re-entry support to women released in Rutland and Brattleboro, since many women are released to the transitional housing available in both regions.
We are excited to announce that Susan Lyons is our new Re-Entry Support Specialist in Rutland, and Lacey Beetham is our new Specialist in Brattleboro. Both these women are heavily engaged with these communities, and have prior experience working with the local agencies in each region. Susan is trained as a recovery coach and will easily transition to the VWW coaching framework, and she’s also very familiar with the local sober houses where many women reside upon release. Lacey has experience working with people affected with mental health issues, and she also has relevant lived experience of overcoming significant barriers as an at-risk youth. Both new team members are very passionate about this work, and excited to represent VWW to establish our presence in these new regions. They both are eager to jump right into this work, and will begin their duties immediately.