Thursday, 12 March 2015

Guest Blog 30

From Probation to Fostering?

I sat down with my friend google the other day and searched for magazine publications on probation. I have seen enough written over the last few years to know that working in probation is an incredibly hard area amidst radical structural change which, as an outsider, seems to be causing a lot of resentment.

It seems that wherever you look these days, any government funded system is creaking and without doubt at times failing. Children’s services is no different. The core service struggles, attitudes are changing, no longer do financial considerations get spoken about in hushed tones, these days making decisions based on finance and not children is an open discussion, although central government might have you think they have made things better for everyone.

Irrespective of the challenges, positive outcomes for children continue to be made, and in the main this is down to the skills and dedication of foster carers, many of whom feel at times they do so alone, or, as is the case at UK Fostering, they do it alongside us when at times more local government support is desired. It’s not all broken and I don’t mean to negate that some elements of local government continue to achieve great things, what I do mean to emphasize is that foster carers are doing amazing things in difficult times and without them, our society would be heading to an even more rocky path.

I ponder that some people working in probation may have a perhaps skewed perception of the success or otherwise of the care system, being as so many adults within probation or prison services have had some contact with the system. But of course there will always be thousands who do not enter the criminal justice system as adults because they have received the care and opportunity they needed.

One of my best ever foster carers was a probation officer. She worked full time and her husband was the main foster carer. She was however, fully involved. They specialised in caring for young offenders. You know the type that have got into low level crime, followed the crowd, fought to survive from a young age in inappropriate ways. The type that society judges the moment the word ‘offender’ is added to their profile.

No one was too difficult for them because they had heard it all before and the probation officer carer said explicitly that whatever profile of child I was to send to her would unlikely compare to the adults she was dealing with every day. It turned out her experience gave her the confidence and skills to make a real difference to approximately 40 children over a 10 year period, one of whom I now employ as a mentor and is a great example.

Having been closely involved in a pan European study funded by the EU and managed by BAAF on alternatives to custody for children remanded, it is clear that we are more advanced than some other countries in our thinking. This is great news. We are geared up to support more children from offending backgrounds into suitable fostering arrangements. The difficult reality is actually finding these carers in the first place.

Of course there are many foster carers that care for young people involved in offending behaviour. Many of them understand a child is not defined by their past actions. Unfortunately not enough of them exist who either have the capacity, confidence, will or desire to work with these young people. 

I sincerely believe that probation officers, those working in the probation service, and certainly those that may be wanting to find new ways to make a difference to society, could well make a significant impact to the adults of tomorrow who at this stage are a much younger proposition.

Thank you to Jim Brown who has agreed to post our blog when I introduced myself as someone desperately trying to find new people to support our young people who otherwise end up in a last resort form of residential care when they could in theory thrive in a family environment.

If you think you might be interested in finding out more about youth offending fostering please do not hesitate to contact me at tel 01322 473243,

Tim McArdle


  1. Very best of luck. At this time I'm not a suitable person for a number of reasons but if things change I'll maybe get in touch. I've seen the benefits for some young people first-hand.


    1. What qualifications do you need?

      To become a prison governor I joined the prison service assistant governor programme as a graduate. Today you would either work your way up from a prison officer job or complete the Noms graduate programme. This programme puts you through the six-week basic officer training before you undertake operational and management placements. When you have completed the programme, usually within three years, you can apply for a managerial post and eventually govern your own prison, or transfer into a senior management role within Noms.

      Very telling that a piece talking about coming a probation talks mostly about the prison. Thanks for the non advice

    2. Agreed, anon@10:03 - not an answer, just more b-s flavoured fudge. Still, nice to know the civil service is so amazing for some.

      And hats off to Tim for his blog piece today.

    3. Tell us a bit about your job
      In January 2014, I was appointed as the director for the National Offender Management Service (Noms) in Wales. I am directly responsible for public sector prisons and the National Probation Service (NPS) in Wales, while also managing the new Wales Community Rehabilitation Company and the privately operated HM Prison Parc in Bridgend.

      The arrangements in Wales are different to those of the NPS in England: they allow me to align non-devolved criminal justice services with those that are devolved in Wales. The Welsh government is responsible for delivering a wide range of public services that underpin crime reduction and reducing reoffending, such as health and social care. There is also a legal requirement for all public services to be delivered bilingually in Welsh and English. It is therefore vital that my team works closely with devolved services in Wales, the Welsh government and other partners.

      What qualifications do you need?
      To become a prison governor I joined the prison service assistant governor programme as a graduate. Today you would either work your way up from a prison officer job or complete the Noms graduate programme. This programme puts you through the six-week basic officer training before you undertake operational and management placements. When you have completed the programme, usually within three years, you can apply for a managerial post and eventually govern your own prison, or transfer into a senior management role within Noms.

      I have undertaken various leadership development and management training courses along the way. Some have been required by the job or as a senior civil servant, and some I have undertaken because I want to develop in a particular area. There is a fantastic culture of continuous professional development within the civil service, regardless of grade or role.

      Three aspects of my experience and skills are important to me. First is my experience working on the front line in demanding operational roles – as a prison officer, a prison governor, chief executive of Wales Probation and chief executive of a UK charity working with vulnerable and difficult people. These experiences inform my values and moral leadership, ensuring that we do what’s right, however challenging.

      Second, I bring my experiences as a senior leader working with ministers and colleagues across a range of public, voluntary and private sector organisations. This has involved successfully managing large-scale change, being visible to my staff and being publicly accountable.

      Third, I have always been explicit about my values and my expectations of others. I place great importance on being open, fair, consistent and understanding, and I am prepared to tackle difficult issues not duck them. I try always to make time for people and I never underestimate the impact of seemingly insignificant acts of kindness.

    4. If you were looking for your replacement, how could someone stand out in the interview?
      Why would I need to look for a replacement when this is my dream job? More seriously, I wouldn’t select someone on interview alone; and second, in the same way I select the teams who work with me, I don’t recruit in my own image – you need complementary skills in a team not a collection of look-alikes.

      What do you wish you’d known when you started your career?
      That I didn’t need to feel unconfident! I used to be nervous about giving presentations but I remember having to do just that to a room of very senior officials with little notice. It was an important lesson not to spend too much time preparing as I actually work much better with a little bit of pressure. It’s also important for me to be myself, stay true to what I believe in and trust my judgment.

      What is the worst advice you’ve ever received?
      My parents told me not to join the prison service. At university I studied modern languages and I think they had hopes of me joining the UN or some other equally glamorous organisation. I am glad I ignored that advice. That said, once I had actually started in the prison service they were very supportive and, while he was alive, my father always wanted to look around whichever prison I was working in.

  3. Thanks anonymous 12 March 2015 at 8:20 (That's the closest I can get to a name :o) ) . You would always be welcome to ask questions at any time.


  4. Serco kicks off rights issue after profits collapse

  5. There is a steady stream of positive Tweets coming from the Greater Manchester & Cheshire CRC - they must have PR staff working well!

    1. Well I am glad the CRCs can access a computer. North East computers and phones have been down all day in my office. No communication with the outside world. Of course if they had have been on I could have sent off my application for the Prison Governor NOMs graduate fast track, hasty rushed into senior leadership post. Because it's so much more gratifying not dealing with all the violence and bullying on the inside rather than scratching my arse all day in the office with little to do given we are encouraged to rely on ndelius. In future I shall take a book to pass the time.

    2. I don't know how you dare moan!!
      Just read this, and be grateful for all the wonderful (fully functional and under budget), IT systems thats been developed to make your job sooooooo easy!
      What a load of shite.

    3. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is the biggest agency of the UK Ministry of Justice (MoJ), with 60,000 staff. It has just concluded a year of deep IT-led transformation and is now shifting to a much sharper focus on digital.

      Last month, interim director of change and IT Ben Booth ended his year-long contract at the agency, having overseen the technology changes to support Transforming Rehabilitation (TR), one of the government’s top five change programmes.

      Booth was hired in February 2014 as a temporary leader to cover for previous incumbent Martin Bellamy, who left to become the first chief information officer at Cambridge University.

      “My main role over the past year has been to make sure the technological changes to support the initiative were fully completed on time,” says Booth. “In terms of the technology and the business change, it’s been completely successful, to the extent that everything was ready and about 10% under budget.

      “We delivered a significant programme, which is in very good shape. The system supporting Transforming Rehabilitation is solid and is being used. At the same time, we have been working on an upgrade to the technology infrastructure for prisons and NOMS HQ.”

      TR is all about reforming probation and how offenders are managed and rehabilitated in the community. At present, people who have committed the most serious offences or present the highest risk of reoffending are managed by the National Probation Service (NPS) within NOMS, and the rest are the responsibility of 21 community rehabilitation companies (CRCs).

      A key part of the programme was to encourage bids for CRCs from the private sector and social enterprises. Since most reoffenders are those who have served short sentences, TR aims to dramatically reduce the social and financial costs of crime.

      The technology underpinning these processes – which had to be up and running on 1 February 2015 – involved taking data and access protocols designed around 35 probation trusts, which had to be restructured to support the new NPS and the various CRCs, as well as work to support integration with systems in prisons and courts.

      “To use private-sector terminology, we have integrated 35 separate acquisitions and divested 21 independent companies, together with setting up a separate business unit of 9,000 staff,” says Booth. “In all, 20,000 staff were affected.

      “To achieve this, we involved our two large suppliers, Steria and HP, together with smaller software houses and a team composed of civil servants, contractors and specialist service providers.”

      By 2013, NOMS had replaced 43 separate case management systems with a single system, National Delius, from Beaumont Colson (BCL). According to Booth, the data in this system had to be restructured to support the new organisation and some functionality was added.

      The changes were carried out by Steria, which looks after the infrastructure and environment for probation, with BCL responsible for changes to the software code. HP provides the prison management software, which is a variant of a product from Syscon.

      “It’s early days, but it’s fair to say the new systems are all being used as planned, with the first few offenders coming into the new regime and the new organisational structure of NPS and CRCs in place,” says Booth.

    4. Now that the technology foundations for NOMS are in place, the agency is better placed to pursue digital opportunities, in step with the government’s digital agenda. This was reinforced by the appointment of Booth’s permanent successor, Bryan Clark, who started work last week. Unlike Booth’s title of director of change and IT, Clark’s role is director of digital and change.

      To date, the main digital project at NOMS has been Prison Visits Booking, a system that enables online booking of social visits to prisoners. For this project, the agency’s IT team worked closely with MoJ Digital Services.

      “In contrast to many of our previous projects, this has followed agile methodology, which has seen much quicker delivery of the finished system,” says Booth. “Interestingly, the majority of visits are being booked via smartphones and this gives us some foresight into how consumer use of technology is evolving.”

      NOMS is looking at other digital initiatives, both for public interactions and to make systems easier to use by staff. One example is video technology, which is playing a key role in how prisons work with courts. Booth says “big progress” has been made in initiatives such as enabling appearances in court from prison via video, where appropriate.

      “Video is also being looked at both to enable social visits and professional visits by an offender's legal team,” he says. “In the future, NOMS will also be looking at opportunities for probation to make use of video for routine communication with offenders.”

      In prisons, NOMS is also looking at mobile technologies for prison officers and what can be provided in prisoners’ cells, to add to the landing-based kiosks that are already deployed.

      Upgrading ways of working is also on the agency’s digital radar and the plan is to move from a “pretty much desk-based model with desktops and PCs and so on” to doing much more with mobile technology and supporting more flexible working, says Booth.

      Another key task he had was to “cement the relationship” between the agency and its two main IT suppliers, HP and Steria. HP provides services to more than 100 prisons around the UK, as well as to the NOMS HQ. Steria is the main supplier for probation.

      The model for technology provision across the MoJ is also changing under the Future IT Strategy (FITS), an approach based on ITIL methodologies and following government best practice to move away from a single supplier.

      “This is a big change, as instead of one supplier across the whole of a particular area of business, we will have several, but covering the whole ministry,” says Booth. “FITS is projected to yield significant savings and we lose the dependence on single suppliers.

      “However, the transition to the new model and subsequent service will need to be closely managed and the IT team is working with [MoJ CTO] Ian Sayer and his team in MoJ technology to make sure this all goes smoothly.”

      Although FITS is the future, HP and Steria are still the two big technology suppliers for NOMS and are instrumental in the TR initiative.

      “We have been working very closely with them, and one of my tasks when I started in February last year was to make our relationship a much stronger partnership, as we had a very aggressive timescale to achieve delivery,” says Booth.

      Achieving the required working relationship involved “a multi-faceted approach”, he says.

      “To start with, we sat everyone down – civil servants, contractors and suppliers – and explained the importance of what we were doing and that we had to work together as a team. There would be no point in pointing the finger of blame because if we failed, we would all be responsible.”

      Booth also put in place a stronger programme management office, which, following a competition, was provided by EY. He also strengthened governance and engagement with the business units that would ultimately use the systems.

    5. To ensure that everyone understood the gravity of the programme, Booth also set up a communication channel between directors-general and ministers and the suppliers’ top management.

      “That we delivered on time and under budget is, in my view, entirely due to this teamwork approach,” he says.

      However, with the introduction of FITS, the model for technology provision will change again, so at the same time as they have been implementing TR, both Steria and HP have been involved in planning the transition to the new strategy.

      According to Booth, the biggest challenge of leading the technology changes to support TR was the fixed-term timetable, which had no flexibility. However, backing from senior government figures was a major help during the process, he says.

      “I suppose the key to success there was having the support of, and close interest from, top management, including the secretary of state, Chris Grayling, and NOMS chief executive Michael Spurr,” he adds.

      “Both took a close interest in the technology strand and met us in various forums almost on a weekly basis to look at progress. So we had an extremely tough timetable, but with very good support from the top.”

      Booth, who has been pursuing an interim CIO career after he left market research firm Ipsos in 2012, says his only regret from his year at NOMS is that he was not able to spend much time on other initiatives, or on developing the team.

      “That is because I had a specific, a big programme to focus on,” he says. “And that’s a regret, but I think that was also something that couldn’t have been changed.”

      Booth thinks he would have been a strong candidate for the permanent role, but says that was not something he even considered.

      “I think the interim role is often one where you need to make a particular change or turn something around, or to complete a particular programme,” he says. “Overall, it’s a slightly different set of skills and deliverables to what would be expected in a permanent role.”

      Given that the foundations of TR are now in place, it would be easy to suggest that his successor’s role will be more “business as usual” – but there is still a lot to be done.

      “I think the reality will be much more demanding – completing the changes in probation, working with FITS and developing a range of digital opportunities,” says Booth. “Also, there is much to be done to build on the existing capabilities of the team and there is the whole change agenda to be addressed.

      “I’d say that Transforming Rehabilitation has got a good foundation, and my successor has got a good team, as well as the basis of a strong infrastructure. But there are still plenty of challenges for him to apply his initiative, skills and feelings to. It’s a very exciting role going forward.”


    1. Justice Minister Chris Grayling was once again left humiliated today after a group of MPs published a report on the failure of legal aid cuts to save taxpayers’ money.
      Less than a day after High Court judge Mr Justice Mostyn blamed the government for creating “unjust decisions” in British courts, the justice committee has also come out to denounce the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
      Mr Justice Mostyn made the damning remarks during the ruling of a case at the family division of the High Court.
      He said the “blithe assumption” in the government’s consultation paper that most individuals could represent themselves in court was “unfounded.”
      Justice Mostyn went on to say that “the phenomenon of the massive increase in self-representation will give rise to the serious risk of the court reaching incorrect, and therefore unjust, decisions.”
      According to the justice committee, since the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Laspo) additional funds have been allocated only after a crisis has developed.

      Committee chair Alan Beith said the reform had “limited access to justice for some of those who need legal aid the most and in some instances has failed to prevent cases becoming more serious and creating further claims on the legal aid budget.”
      The Lib Dem former deputy leader added: “Many of the problems which we have identified could have been avoided with better research, a better evidence base to work from, and better public information about the reforms.”
      The committee also ruled that insufficient attention had been given to access to justice in the new legal aid award process.
      Commenting on the committee’s report, Garden Court Chambers barrister Sam Parham said it showed that “the government’s hatchet job on legal aid has been a disaster in every respect.”
      “Failing to secure value for money for the taxpayer shows that this government has not even achieved what it purportedly set out to do,” added Mr Parham.
      “The Tories have used austerity as a convenient cloak to cover up their ideological attacks on the welfare state, of which legal aid is a central pillar.
      “Access to justice should be seen as a basic human right such as the right to education, healthcare and housing rather than being removed at the whim of the current Minister for Justice, Chris Grayling.”

  7. Rumours abound that NOMS senior leaders have identified a more efficient way of wasting tax payers money. Future IT projects will be shelved and sacks of £50 notes will be burned in the back garden at Petty France. A NOMS spokesperson said: NOMS is committed to wasting public money on an industrial scale. We are confident that this initiative will enable us to show greater efficiency in meeting this objective.

  8. As a grumpy CQSW holding very similar viewsi I've been meaning to say great to read such sense about a profession I've cared about. Keep posting. Enjoy reading it.

  9. Andrew S Hatton12 March 2015 at 11:21 - Manchester CRC - are trying to impress their new pay masters. At the end of the day WE all know that they don't give a shit. It's all about penny & pounds now. When they begin to refine their design model and start cutting back that's when things will start to change.

  10. Probation slammed for failing to stop solar eclipse.
    Chris Grayling launched a scathing attack on the probation service earlier today. At a conference to be held on Friday he will say: " All too often the probation service has let the public down by failing to supervise the moon correctly. These mistakes could have been avoided but previous lessons have not been learned." This criticism comes on the back of recent Serious Further Offence Review which suggested that the probation service had failed to predict an offence that was yet to happen. A Ministry of Justice spokesman stated " Failing to stop the solar eclipse is simply unacceptable. We are looking at bringing in private and third sector providers who have a proven track record in managing inter stella events"

    1. brilliant read. well done

    2. After the catastrophic failure of the probation service to effectively supervise and rehabilitate the moon, the Ministry of Justice have announced that Chris Grayling is off to Beijing to sell his new IT system related to predicting lunar behaviour. In a statement this afternoon they said:

      "Observing total solar eclipses was a major element of forecasting the future health and successes of the Emperor, and astrologers were left with the onerous task of trying to anticipate when these events might occur."

      Making a shrouded reference to the probation service failure earlier today they continued: "Failure to get the prediction right, in at least one recorded instance in 2300 BC resulted in the beheading of two astrologers."

      A very relieved interim director of IT change at NOMS added: "Since the pattern of total solar eclipses is a very erratic one in time at a specific geographic location, many astrologers no doubt lost their heads. By about 20 BC, surviving documents show that Chinese astrologers understood what caused eclipses, and by 8 BC some predictions of total solar eclipse were made using the 135-month reoccurrence period. By 206 AD they could predict solar eclipses by analyzing the motion of the moon itself. I have personally overseen the introduction of an infallible system and, having confirmed my year's salary is safely in my Swiss bank account, I'm out of here."

      (with acknowledgement & thanks to the NASA Imagery/Poetry Project for their advice).

    3. Check it out on Google:

      Charles L Harness
      Lunar Justice
      Google ebooks 2013

      "The powerful Peace Eternal corporation has a solution to Earth's staggering overpopulation problem: a government-supported program of clean, efficient mass murder... Unfortunately, the Moon's corrupt Lord Chancellor and his bought jury have already sentenced the accused and his attorney to death - unless Jupiter catches fire...within twenty-four hours."

  11. “It’s early days, but it’s fair to say the new systems are all being used as planned"
    So, you planned it this way did you? Practitioners jobs TRansformed into utter bloody misery by systems that are not fit for purpose. Pillock....

    1. "Pillock...." plonker (more like)

    2. no, really, a chuffin great pillock

  12. I have very recently had contact with someone who works for Ernst & Young. Our friendship has been developing positively.
    Who are they and what do they do. Well set your mind back a little. For those who are not aware Ernst Young is one of the largest auditing firms for Gov departments.
    I'm slowly working to get some interesting information out soon.

  13. From what I know Ernst and Young are at the heart of the the corruption at the centre of our polity. It will be interesting to read your comments.


  14. It my take sometime Papa, but determined to get info which exposes corruption.

  15. NOMs in electricity fiasco

    Reality proves more demanding as Ministers deny speculation that the recent melt down of the National Probation Service IT system was caused by a failure to top up the prepayment electricity meter installed at NOMS HQ. A spokesman stated " This had nothing to do with a failure in our operational systems". A fire that had been started in a confined garden area at Petty France, which at one point burned out of control and threatened to bring air traffic around the Capital to a standstill, is thought to have caused a delay in securing payment. A local shopkeeper said " Normally Mr Grayling pops in for a top every Thursday, he's as regular as clock work. Mobile top up, electricity, a packet of cigarettes and his usual magazine. We got evacuated around lunch time and I never saw him. Not today anyway"

  16. Speak confidently and people will believe. You really couldn't make this bullshit up. God help all who in drowning in Moj N disastrous

  17. Just lol, my post at 22.32 above required GIZA password to prove I'm not a robot. Well working for Probation I am a robot, programming a machine that does nothing to rehabilitate the human being, so when I use GIZA, I mean GIZA job, coz this bunch of wotsits can manage rehabilitation digitally without us plebs.

  18. Love it. Please keep posting everyone, this blog saves me every day.

  19. A piece of work from yesterday could not be completed due to no nps admin. This morning I have to wait to be informed when nps admin have done their thing before I am able to piss about with the IT bureaucracy myself . Then I need to inform nps admin that I've done my thing so they can do yet another bit before crc even get the case. Meanwhile in the good days I wouldn't have been pissing about like this. I would be somewhere else, doing something useful.

  20. Really feeling amused by Anon 10.32 and 10.37 post - but actually share the serious sentiment I feel the posts portray. Thanks to the original blog contributor too - wish I was in a position to consider Fostering