Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A Risky Strategy

Whilst officially the Probation Chiefs Association remain silent, I notice that the Probation Association have recently been making pleas for help from both the government and the 'third sector.' In what I think might be a bit of a high risk strategy they have appealed to the government to consider reducing the vast burden of regulation, monitoring and bureaucracy that has been imposed on Probation Trusts in recent years.

Their report 'Hitting the Target, Missing the Point' serves to graphically illustrate a common problem throughout public sector organisations, namely the shear weight of time-consuming micro control nonsense that was so dear to the heart of the last Labour governments control freak philosophy. In doing this I guess they think they are pushing at an open door in view of the much vaunted intention of the new government in wishing to lift the bureaucratic burden from public sector organisations. 

This initiative would seem to go hand in hand with the Offender Engagement Programme currently being rolled out to some Trusts by NOMS. "Moving from a high level of prescription and input-driven mandatory standards, towards a more flexible and outcome focused framework."  It sounds absolutely great and exactly what probation officers have wanted, namely a return to having some discretion in how they deal with clients. However, as has been pointed out recently on the NAPO discussion pages, this sort of relaxation in regulatory regime is exactly what commercial bidders for probation contracts have been looking and lobbying the government for. Now we have the Trusts making a similar plea for lighter regulatory control, an absolute gift for the private sector I'd say.

In another possibly more considered move, the Probation Association obviously feel it's time to start making overtures towards the third sector in the hope they can strengthen the case for hanging on to work in readiness for the impending bidding war. Their Chief Executive recently addressed a Social Enterprise conference specifically in order to make a pitch at not-for-profit organisations as being an excellent fit with Probation Trusts in terms of ethos. She suggested it might be mutually beneficial to be in partnership rather than competition in a big bad world of circling commercial predators. Unfortunately it seems that it's already too late in terms of Unpaid Work as the government have reportedly decided that only commercial firms are left in the running for these contracts.    

9 comments:

  1. Why did the last govt change the discretion levels of the probation officer. Was there evidence before this change that reoffending rates were going up?

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  2. Thats Just Me2 March 2011 20:56

    I think the point raised at the time was that there was not really very much evidence either way and we needed to be more accountable given the amount of money invested.

    What they fail to realise is that oasys targets and rigid national standards often overshadow the real point and dont necessarily measure the right thing. I wouldnt like to count the amount of times in a week that I find myself frustrated that a client has rang or turned up at the office because in my head I am thinking that I need the time to complete their oasys! When the truth of it is, if someone is popping up on the radar, they are most likely in some kind of need and your time is almost certainly better spent with them! But if that means you miss an oasys deadline then that is what is measured, rather than the valuable work you may have done that day.

    We do need to be accountable, but I also think there needs to be a better balance. It would also be nice to think that our professional judgement as to how often someone needs to be seen, risk assessment reviewed etc, was sufficient without this being dictated from afar. Plus I have noticed that national standards can encourage a tendancy to reduce the frequency of reporting at the earliest possible opportunity when that case, although it may be a tier 2/3, may need a great deal more intervention/support/monitoring than another of the same tier.

    I'm not sure what the answer is, but the current situation causes a great deal of stress and anxiety and diverts time away from what should be the real focus, which is the clients themselves.

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  3. As a "client", I find probation mechanistic and focused on enforcement and getting people through programmes. Luckily I am an intelligent person and have plenty of family support so I can sort out my underlying problems and rehabilitate myself to a large extent, others aren't so fortunate and aren't really getting the support they need.

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  4. Anonymous client - I sympathise completely with what you say - sadly it has become mechanistic with just some, mostly old-timers, trying to stick to the personalised approach of old. I always try to apply the "how would I feel if I was on the receiving end" test. Thanks for commenting and I hope all goes well for you.

    Jim

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  5. Anonymous - a good question - why did the government remove much discretion? I suspect it was just a suspicion about professionals generally and a naive belief in being able to 'standardise' service delivery. Also the rise in dreaded 'managerialism' - we have far too many managers who look for stuff to change all the time.

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  6. Thats Just Me - I know what you mean - if only the damned clients didn't keep coming in we could get the OASys done. Thanks for commenting and it's nice to hear thoughts from the front line.

    Cheers,

    Jim

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  7. All the things on your blog that you are pointing out are exactly my problems and observations with being on the receiving end of it. but i'm in an even weaker position than you to raise my head above the parapet. It's currently a crazy system which is not fit for purpose.

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  8. As someone who was for many years in conflict with the CJ system and spent many years in prison, I have of course been aware of the shift from the social work ethos of probation work to one of policing and I call it policing because of the nature of its enforcement and control.
    I have repeatedly advised fellow offenders not to trust probation officers and not to reveal problems to them for POs are not there to assist and help and will divert offenders/clients to other agencies. The fear of revealing problems is that because of the risk culture in which we live those problems can and are interpreted as possible risks.
    Best to avoid telling probation officers anything, just turn up on time, avoid drugs and alcohol prior to appointments and simply nod one's head and give the appearance that everything is fine even if they are not.
    For those on licence from prison, the worst possible outcome to losing one's job, accommodation etc. is by telling one's probation officer of those problems that they might be seen as a risk of reoffending and thus a recall to prison.

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  9. A very interesting contribution indeed as of course you are seeing things from the 'other' side. Of course Probation Officers have always had the dual role of helping clients and protecting the public - are you saying that in days goneby you understood this and co-operated? Or were you always suspicious of PO's? Did the personality of the PO and the way you were treated make a difference? Do you recognise a difference between 'old style' officers and new ones - or are we all the same in your eyes?

    Thanks for commenting - very interesting!

    Cheers,

    Jim

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