Friday, 25 January 2013

'Failure Demand'

I've been taken down another fascinating avenue, this time courtesy of police blogger Nathan Constable and again featured on the 'Guerilla Policy' website. In the post 'Reform or Perform' he talks about his interest in system theory and particularly the concept of 'failure demand'.

According to wikipedia, the term as coined by Professor John Seddon, primarily in service organisations, is 'demand caused by a failure to do something, or do something right for the customer'. Somewhat understandably Nathan comes to the conclusion that most police work is due to 'failure demand':- 

"Just about everything the police deal with externally is a result of failure demand. Whether it be the failures of another agency to treat successfully a mental health patient; failure of the probation or prison service to rehabilitate an offender who then has to be caught again; failure of the judicial system to impose sufficient sanction on a recidivist; failure of an individual to regulate their intake of alcohol or drugs; failure of an individual to drive properly or safely."

Well if it's true for the police, it's certainly true for probation. We see 'customers' every day who have been failed in some way, mostly by the State, and since 1907 we've been expected to do something about it. To put it bluntly, if the State had done it's job better, the services of a probation officer might not have been required. I've touched on this theme before, as here in 2010:- 

"The thing that's always struck me about being a probation officer is that as a profession we have an absolutely unique window on our society. We are in an unrivalled position to be able to identify when things are going wrong in social policy terms, assess possible remedies and in the days when we had autonomy and freedom to innovate, develop and implement solutions. I've always felt that as an agency we were there to apply 'sticking plaster' and help patch people up who'd either fallen through the net or been harmed in some way by society; be an agent of the state providing a humane way of dealing with society's deviant citizens.  There was a time when I felt that a wise government would pay regard to such an agency that was so well informed and experienced and use that knowledge to both inform and improve social and penal policy. I guess it shows just how naive I've been when the opposite proved to be the case and the tables were turned against us - it was us that got changed.

One of the sadness's of the present situation is the difficulty we have in being able to adequately convey to new recruits the shear breadth and scope of innovations pioneered by the probation service in the past and during my career span. Supported housing, day centres, sheltered employment, youth projects, clothing stores, groups for drug users, problem drinkers, prisoners wives, family therapy, motor bike projects, intermediate treatment etc etc. etc. All this and much, much more has been stripped away from the probation service at a time when we have witnessed an unprecedented decline in the quality of some of our communities. A recent post by Inspector Gadget all too graphically illustrates the sort of world that will be familiar to many probation officers."

When we were social work trained and 'advised, assisted and befriended', if the tools to fix things for people were absent, we either developed them or pestered other organisations to provide them. But then the government decided that it wasn't appropriate for us to be helping, we should be punishing instead. Somewhat bizarrely though, we were still expected to magic rehabilitation out of thin air, but now restricted in what we could do. 

Yes we can run groups, programmes and other offence-focused work, but the same basic needs for education, employment, housing, health etc remain and many would say that the situation has become much worse in recent time. It's not probation's fault if it's felt we are failing to deliver rehabilitation. I think common sense says it's primarily the failure of the state to provide for the basics. 

Of course it's ridiculous to just release prisoners with £46 in their pocket and no support. But for those sentenced to 12 months or less, we have never been funded to assist this group, but we used to do it voluntarily. The introduction of National Standards put paid to that though. I don't think any of this is rocket science. Following on from the riots in the summer of 2010, just look what the government-appointed panel came up with in terms of recommendations - basically a plan to fix things:-

"Every child should be able to read and write to an age appropriate standard by the time they leave primary and then secondary school. If they cannot, the school should face a financial penalty equivalent to the cost of funding remedial support to take the child to the appropriate standard.

No child should be transferred into an unsatisfactory Pupil Referral Unit or alternative provision until standards are improved (unless there is a risk of immediate danger). 

Every child should have the skills and character attributes to prepare them for work, when they leave education.  

No offender should be placed back into a community on leaving prison without wraparound support, otherwise the community is put at risk.

No young person should be left on the work programme without sufficient support to realistically hope to find work. Government and local public services should together fund a 'Youth Job Promise' scheme to get young people a job, where they have been unemployed for one year or more.

All families facing multiple difficulties should be supported by public services working together, not in isolation. This will require joining up help for the 500,000 forgotten families."

To be honest I think I could add quite a few more things to the list that the State could fix. But I guess it's a start.

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