Applying for a criminal record check can be a taxing process for those who have been somehow impacted by the justice system. People often fail to recognize that justice involvement does not only mean having a criminal record, and therefore overlook the barriers that exist for women that have been impacted by our legal system. The stigma of having any association to crime, family court, immigration law, major and minor disputes, and the legalities that can come with substance abuse can be overwhelming and debilitating for some.
The YWCA Restart program acknowledges that for women with justice involvement, searching for employment can be profoundly complicated and discouraging. Our participants often carry multiple burdens at the same time, and for those who are caregivers, the barriers to sustainable employment continue to grow. These barriers include, but are not limited to finding affordable housing, ensuring food security, finding professional counselling services and mental health supports, access to transportation, locating and paying for child care, financial security and so much more.
For those who do not identify with being impacted by the justice system, these barriers might be considered normal aspects of building a healthy life. Obtaining a criminal record for employment purposes does not cause fear or shame to surface as it does for women who have had to endure this kind of trauma. With or without a criminal record, sharing their story effectively can be one of the biggest challenges for the women we work with.
Our program strives to convert the emotions of fear, guilt and shame to that of empowerment, ambition and hope.
The Restart program was created using a strength-based approach that focuses on growing self-awareness and building upon the set of values, skills and qualities participants already possess, regardless of their history with the justice system. Our goal is to empower the women we work with by providing them guidance on self-exploration, effective communication, job search skills, healthy coping strategies and identifying their transferable skills. Once we understand our participant’s aspirations, our team works to determine attainable short- and long-term goals unique to that individual and connect them to an employer, unpaid work experience or an education/training institute that aligns with achieving those goals.
Our team believes that in order to obtain and sustain employment in a progressive career, it takes more than just building a resume and writing a good cover letter.
Supporting women who have been impacted by the justice system in finding and maintaining employment means understanding the complex barriers they face as well as recognizing the significant value they bring to workplaces, educational institutions and their communities.
By honouring the lived experiences of our participants, we are able to address and work through barriers and obstacles that are not captured through standard interview questions. It is our hope that through the YWCA Restart program, we can work towards closing the gap in resources and support available to women who are at risk of falling through the cracks of the justice system.
Alaine Anicete is the YWCA Restart program manager, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Banner photo: YWCA Restart team