Is anyone out there listening?
When training as a probation officer there were two elements, amongst other things, that I considered to be very important to performing successful probation work. The first was teamwork and the second was feeling able (and being able) to ask for help. Walking around the probation office over the past few months (and probably since TR) I feel these two important aspects of our daily probation work lives have been seriously eroded.
Take the model of team development I was taught when learning about the theory of teamwork; Forming - Storming - Norming - Performing. As a probation officer I really don't know how this type of teamwork model still applies to us. I now work in an NPS office where we were Formed via a possibly unjust process that sifted us all into being based on what we were doing on a particular day (allegedly). We never Stormed as we were told what to do from the get-go and are continuously told what to do via NOMS circulars seemingly created by persons that have no idea what probation work actually is. We cannot Norm because we are now bound by policies and legislation (TRash, ORA and PiSS) that do not work. We are supported by services and systems (NDelius, OASys and MoJ Shared Services) that never worked. We are reliant on resources (adequate staffing, manageable workloads and partnership agencies) that do not (or no longer) exist. Regardless of the above struggles we have been given a list of targets we must meet (or else) and we're all required to Perform (whether the above enables us to perform or not).
I think it is more than reasonable to believe that because of the unnatural evolution of the NPS it is near impossible to achieve an adequate state of team working. If it is also believed that the aforementioned phases of team work are all necessary in order for the NPS to grow, to face up to challenges, to tackle problems, to find solutions, to plan work, and to deliver results, then we are all well and truly stuffed.
This brings me to my second point about the important elements of daily probation working life, which is about feeling able (and knowing when) to ask for help. It is very difficult to seek assistance when our job roles and working practices are changing so fast that none of us are able to keep up. I have long stopped reading instructions emailed to me from 'NPS Communications', including that contained in Probation Instructions, management emails and even Napo circulars, as I do not have the time or energy to read them. In this day and age when we are all pushed for time and resources I find it very stupid that anybody would want to send me multiple emails and documents as long as my arm. Thankfully I do have a manager that will occasionally summarise the important bits, and for the rest we muddle through together as best we can.
Luckily I've worked in probation long enough to know how to do the job and myself and those I sit with have been so far able to coast along under the management radar. The problem is that this is not the same for everyone and while I do my best to (re)interpret new "practices" and cover the tracks of my shortcomings, I have lately witnessed too many probation colleagues reduced to tears and suffering because they do not know what they're meant to be doing, or just don't have the time to complete the tasks they're required to do. There's nobody to really seek help from as the rest of us are too busy coasting or winging-it too much of the time, or just too busy. The less capable colleagues that have to go to managers for support are scrutinised for competency while the more capable receive instructions amounting to JFDI. On top of all of this our IT systems that seem to have been built before the birth of Bill Gates are crashing on a regular basis, our partnership agencies providing support for housing, employment services and the like are disappearing before our eyes, and our colleagues (practitioners and managers alike) are beginning to drop like flies.
This week the morale in our office hit a new low when we learned that CRC colleagues are to be relocated elsewhere and this will tie in with expected reductions in CRC admin staff. Word on the CRC grapevine is that those admin left will be forced to reapply for their jobs, a customer service centre will be created a few hundred miles to the North and the CRC caseload is to be split into cohorts based on age, need, community and resettlement, with probation staff allocated to a specific cohort. While we worry about the immediate future for our CRC colleagues our anxiety levels are skyrocketing in anticipation of what Michael Gove has in store for the NPS.
So yes, thanks to the above it's been a long week for me, as is every working week in the NPS. As I'm a glutton for punishment I usually spend a few minutes of my weekend reading about probation on this blog, or in the Probation Journal and elsewhere to see what's been happening in the world of probation. To my shock and horror I've just read that the Probation Institute (PI) has launched its so-called "professional register" for probation. Reading through the registration criteria I think I'd probably be an Advanced Member or even a Fellow (lucky me). For this privilege of writing MPInst or FPInst after my name (I seriously doubt there's any real benefit of this) I'd have to sign up to the PI and pay £80-100 per year.
Personally I think it's a bloody cheek that this so-called Probation Institute, which has done SFA for probation, has set itself up as the epicentre of the probation world (funded by the MoJ that destroyed probation with a TR earthquake) and wants us to pay to validate it's deluded self-importance and help it overturn it's largely unrecognised existence amongst probation practitioners.
I've never been a supporter of the PI and never will be while it presents as a Trojan Horse for both MoJ and Tory ideology to privatise probation and banish us and the rest of the public sector into non-existence. In my humble opinion the PI is no friend of probation while it is headed by ex-probation chief officers that did not oppose TR; while it has a committee base and working groups dominated by ex-probation chief officers that did not oppose TR, the same groups that include reps from private companies that view probation as a profit-making adventure; until it ends it's relationship with the MoJ, publicly denounces TR and the privatisation of probation and calls for probation to be fully returned to the public sector and its social work roots and values primarily focused on rehabilitation.
If anybody out there is listening and does want to help probation then all I ask is the following. Get rid of the red tape, stop bombarding us with the wave of dysfunctional polices and procedures, help us to do our jobs as part of fully functioning teams, which for me is to advise, assist, befriend (and control/enforce), and don't ask me to pay a fee or join a pointless institution to do my job.
With all of that off my chest I'll get back to my weekend and try to stop racking my brain about who I could get to nominate me for a Butler Trust award.
15 years to retirement