Support for Life

Vanessa-Marie Gwerder

UnitingCare West
Specialist Re-entry Services Team Leader

With approximately 15 years working within the criminal justice system in New Zealand and Western Australia with high risk offender populations, including those who have been sentenced to life, indeterminate sentences, and those who are placed on either the Dangerous Sex Offender legislation (WA) or Extended Supervision orders (NZ), Vanessa is currently a Team Leader for a small team of professionals who work intensively with those serving long custodial sentences to re-enter and re-integrate back into the community.

Vanessa has a Bachelor of Social Sciences degree with Honours from the University of Waikato, a Specialist Certificate of Criminology from Melbourne University, and a Graduate Diploma of Strategic Management from the Open Polytechnic of New Zealand.

Lance Henderson

UnitingCare West
Senior Case Worker

Lance Henderson has a degree in psychology and a Masters Degree in Social Work, and has been employed with UnitingCare West's Specialist Re-entry Services team since April 2018, shortly after graduation.

The benefits of formal and informal peer support have been well demonstrated in wide range of social service fields, particularly, the fields of mental health and AOD treatment. The utilisation of peer support within these fields have become well entrenched within treatment services over the last 50 years and services utilise peer support in three main forms; mutual support groups, consumer advocating services and the employment of recovering consumers as helping professionals. Specialist Re-entry Services (SRS) support men who have been sentenced to life, indeterminate sentences and sexual offences, identified an element of social isolation for those men with a long custodial history. Given non-consorting laws for sexual offenders, SRS implementation of Support for Life for those men who have life or indeterminate sentences without sexual offending histories. Currently the SRS program has eight participants in this support group, which encourages mutual support, the sharing of personal experience, and encouragement of the members to help to identify solutions to one another’s challenges. These men have identified a unique set of challenges of having to “catch up” after spending up to 30 years away from society. Although initially implemented by SRS, the end goal is to have the Support for Life group to become self-organising support group with members to take the lead (with support when needed). To date there has been some positive outcomes including members supporting others into employment opportunities, prosocial social outings, and after hours peer support.