Monday, 11 March 2013

The Human Cost

I've often bemoaned that the world of probation is largely a mystery to most people. Trying to shed some light on this most mysterious of occupations was one of the main aims in starting the blog in the first place. To be frank, widespread ignorance of our role, significance and remit is one of the main reasons why both main political parties have been able to mess around with us over recent years, and finally privatise us.

As a profession we've probably not helped. We've done rather too good a job of respecting client confidentiality and our natural reticence has often meant that important stories have gone untold. However, as all probation officers know, every single client's journey through life and to the doors of a court is different, sometimes tragic and often amazing.

It's not an overstatement to say that sometimes we literally put highly-damaged people back together and help enable them to lead happier and fulfilled lives free of offending. That process, generally referred to as rehabilitation, sounds simple and straightforward in the current debate about a 'revolution' being required The answer according to the government is to privatise most of the probation service and bring in contractors remunerated on a Payment by Result basis.

But even government can see that handing over all the 'risky' cases to the likes of G4S might be just a tad, well risky, so the plan is that they will in all probability stay with a rump public service. The only trouble is how 'risk' is defined and how it can be measured? It's not just risk in relation to serious public harm. What about the risk to an individual of their early life experiences? Or a person's innate character, or state of mind or current circumstances? Is it not a valuable, socially-useful thing to be concerned about a person's risk to themselves?

In the brave new world of probation marketisation, what will happen to the difficult cases like the not untypical story of 'J' highlighted by a probation officer guest-posting on the Ladies' Room blog? The author argues that:-  

"The intervention worked with J because of a consistent approach which was costly to me on a time management and emotional level. J would never cross the threshold of the Probation Service in a newly privatised regime."

The story begins here and I hope the author does not mind me quoting:- 

"Being a Probation Officer for nearly 12 years has exposed me to the grittiness of humanity in all its gruesome glory, yet I still possess a belief in the capacity for change as I have witnessed the small miracles of success as a person is enabled to believe in themselves perhaps for the first time.
For those of us who have had reasonably ordinary life it is hard to understand the physical, emotional and psychological damage that is done to others in their most vulnerable childhood years. This damage shows up on brain scans as the brain fails to develop fully, stifling the future potential of that person from the very beginning. The damage manifests itself in many ways such as violence, aggression, mistrust and poor self image.
These are often the people who fall between the cracks of services and end up banned from their local GP practice and are criminalised rather than helped. I daily witness such persons in my work, the persons that even Probation Officers don’t want to work with. After some years I recognised that often the most disruptive were acting out their emotional age at which such damage occurs. It is like they get caught in a time loop of ‘fight or flight’ and can be incredibly difficult to work with, but with a lot of patience – and an understanding that they are a traumatised individual – you can help them move forward.
J was a lady who came to me with severe emotional disturbance and was diagnosed with an emotional/histrionic personality disorder. This was in the days when the psychiatric community did not believe such was treatable. J was fortunate to access treatment from the one psychiatrist in the city who did not subscribe to such a belief. I had the privilege of working with them both for over 3 years."
The whole post is well worth reading in full and I'm grateful to the person who pointed me in the  direction of it.
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