"What has happened to this blog? It used to be worthwhile."
It's an interesting point because the blog is constantly changing and we all know you can't please all of the people, all of the time. The readership has changed considerably, having probably lost the magistrates and police from the early days, but we've gained some clients and senior management in more recent times. It may have begun as one disgruntled Probation Officers' ramblings, but it's now much more a collaborative exercise.
The campaigning phase has past and practitioners of all ages and experience are now having to wrestle with the daily reality that TR has created and how best to respond to it. I have no idea where the blog will go next, but that in itself perfectly reflects the situation we find ourselves in.
What's truly remarkable is that none of us have a bloody clue what's going to happen and that includes the MoJ and the new CRC owners, who are busily 'getting to know' what we do and how we do it. Scary isn't it? Some would say no way to run a country, but in theory we can change that on May 7th. In the meantime, I wanted to highlight a few recent contributions that grabbed my attention and I think are worthy of highlighting:-
"I joined the service through an interest in people who committed offences. Always there has been the question, what brought this person to this place? I too am surprised the guest blogger 5/2 had not been asked this question. I never expected I would stay in probation so long, especially when everything was becoming more punitive. I was aware of some officers who misused the power they had. I somewhat arrogantly thought, well if they (the clients) get me at least they wont have to deal with them! I saw my role as helping to ‘even’ up the scales which seemed to weigh heavily against most of the people (clients) I worked with.
Well, I’m still around some 30 years later. I’ve learned a lot and am still learning but haven’t had to compromise my style as much as I thought. Despite all of the changes I still work in largely the same way. I still enjoy getting to know the people I work with, I consider it an absolute privilege that they are ready to share personal aspects of their life with me. I don’t worry too much that I’m not ‘protecting the public and victims’ because I feel I am by doing what I do.
My point is that if you are a probation officer interested in people and work in this way and have a bit of political nous, you can't just switch off and stop doing it, even when faced with negative changes and pressures. People adapt and work surreptitiously if need be in their own way. We can make even a quick meeting a respectful and human interaction to ensure the recipient doesn’t have to feel worse than they do already.
I’m not saying abuses don’t exist, and I know that the ‘standardised‘ job application process doesn’t weed out the dodgy ones as long as they can ‘talk the talk’. Often such people ‘talk’ their way into management roles also (as they don’t really like working with the client group) and we end up with managers who worry mostly about their own career development rather than sticking their necks out. (I think you have to take a few risks to manage risk in my view). I think also there has been a gradual decrease in aiming to appoint people with experience and the ability to question and think which might have enabled even more poorly equipped ones to slip through.
I do not agree that the processes are intrinsically abusive but we do need people to think about the potential for abuses of power and I think it is still within our gift to choose not to make them so. If you believe that engaging with and forming a relationship with people trumps robotically trotting out the latest ‘worksheet’, then who is to say you cant ditch the sheet for today? (Who would know?).
I currently work alongside other officers of different ages who have trained at different times all with different backgrounds and lengths of service. I’ve also worked with trainees. Most of these would say they came into the job through an interest in people just as I did. When I listen to my current colleagues conversations it is clear that they are interested and engaged with the people they work with. I see them applying for charity grants, thrilled when they come through on behalf of their clients. I see them carefully weighing up the issues when writing parole reports or considering recall, I see them genuinely pleased when things go right in their clients lives. I hear them patiently dealing with abusive stressed clients on telephones. I see them going to clients funerals or visiting them in hospital. In turn they learn things about them that no one else would know.
This work may not be valued by NOMs - most of it is well below the radar - but it takes great skill, sensitivity and commitment to work with some of the most damaged people in society. It has always been hard and has never been perfect, but the TR and privatisation agenda has made every single part of the job harder and will in my view make it easier for the abuses to slip by."
"This is a good blog, with some insightful comments. However, I'd ask those that blame the new CRC owners for the situation to consider this; whilst the Sodexos of this world are bound to make staff reductions, this is by design, and the design is that of the MoJ. They have been asked to find a way to deliver more for less. They have responded, and their staff models, their approach to reducing reoffending, and the way they will deliver against the Target Operating Model have been assessed by MoJ procurement staff. The results have been signed off by Ministers of the Crown. The private companies are doing exactly what they are expected to do.
And as for making a profit, there is risk in these contracts. This has never been done before. Stories abound of IT failures. No private company is going to approach risk without a hope of reward. You may question whether the MoJ was right to proceed with TR but that was not the private companies' doing. I hope the outcome (and that's not a dirty word) for offenders and the wider community is a positive one, it's not certain right now but I know for sure it's not even likely if people don't put the things they can't change behind them and get on with the job. I'm sure this comment won't be met with a great deal of joy, but I hope that people at least consider the situation with a bit of perspective."
"This is the point when all we have warned about on this blog will come to pass in tangible, demonstrable ways. Probation staff and managers face excessive challenges to try to deliver probation services including:
a) interface across the divide eg case allocation, risk escalation and appropriate information sharing
b) implementing differential supervision to service users due to the changes in ORA, in effect having two streams of supervision
c) keeping the service users informed so that they understand the requirement of their individual sentence and ensuring they are supervised accordingly
d) data protection issues - protecting the confidentiality of the service user balancing the need to know and rights under data protection legislation
e) victim liaison - the province of NPS but with obligations to CRC cases and the data protection issues that could arise
f) the capacity for disputes to arise between NPS and CRC as it is evident the CRCs now gaining autonomy will rightly challenge what is seen at times to be imperious decision making by NPS
g) performance against targets and income deriving from this, the pressure officers will be under to demonstrate performance rather than individual attainment for each service user
h) the change process gathering speed without allowing "bedding in time" so instead of building on a firm base consolidating learning, practitioners are disorientated by piecemeal processes
i) changes to working practice and job descriptions with unions and management losing sight of rights and responsibilities. For example, NPS being very confused about HR processes and which policies apply. We are seeing examples where civil service HR partners do not understand the terms and conditions of probation that carried forward and have given incorrect guidance.There is a very real risk that by operating in the vacuum caused by insufficient/non existing training, practice will develop differentially based on "best guess" rather than knowledge. I do not refer to the different organisations that now exist, although that is a known TR issue, rather taking the Case Allocation tool as an example it was evident that areas within NPS, one national body now remember, implemented this differentially. A hastily arranged audit had to be undertaken to try to resolve this but it amply demonstrates my point about practice developing in a vacuum. There were many cases allocated incorrectly as a result.
Sorry if my post looks like a guest blog, but these are utterly confusing times and I would urge all staff to keep a personal diary alongside your work diary and makes notes to keep yourself safe in the blame climate that will start to emerge in response. Naturally NOMS will refer to this as accountability, but we know they mean blame."
(Guest blogs always welcome - Ed)