Sunday, 3 July 2016

Food For Thought

This piece in the Guardian caught my eye:-

My grandiose ideas of being a maverick probation officer were short-lived

When I was given a caseload of 50 strangers to manage on day one as a probation service officer, I must admit I was sweating it a bit. Like many other services – including healthcare, social work and teaching – high workloads, tight deadlines and insurmountable paperwork have put stress on service delivery while simultaneously battering staff morale.

I joined the organisation in the middle of a period of massive structural change, when many of my colleagues faced redundancy, demotion or reassignment. The probation service was split in two: one part has now been privatised, while the other remains in the public sector. The privatised service – the payment-by-results side that I work for – supports people who have been deemed low to medium risk. Thankfully for my vulnerable emotional stability, this means we don’t support people who have been assessed as a high risk of causing serious harm.

Landing the role of probation officer was a major achievement for me, considering I’d often found myself on the other side of the law as a young emotional landmine. Having a negative and mostly unhelpful experience of probation as a user gave me an incentive to work within the field. I had mildly grandiose ideas of being some kind of maverick officer delivering uniquely exceptional support; embarrassing in hindsight. It wasn’t long before I had a reality check: the officers are, on the whole, genuinely compassionate and highly skilled, and there is much I can learn from them.

I soon settled into a routine. Each day has its own uniqueness, but there are many constants: I start by looking at my diary to the day ahead, during which there can be anywhere from five to 12 one-to-one appointments with service users. Between appointments, there’s paperwork. So much paperwork. Unfortunately, I spend more time documenting what I’ve done, detailing the intricacies of people’s lives and writing reports for courts and prisons, than I spend doing practical and helpful things for and with people. But I still try to value every interaction.

Many convictions, if not most, are a product of history and circumstance, though personal responsibility is still a significant factor in the choices we all make. It is my job to foster insight into this, and instil motivation and courage to take on challenges. This can feel like a pipedream when working with some people: just getting them to turn up to appointments on time, or at all, can feel like an arduous and fruitless task; when they do arrive, developing a relationship built on mutual respect is the next hurdle. To many, I am “the authority” – just another part of the same punitive system that just gave them a roasting for getting up to no good.

Sometimes I get it right. There was a man, I’ll call him William, whose criminal record uses up more pieces of paper than my certificates that qualify me for the role. Within the first five minutes of meeting him, he told me he would refuse to do any group work. William had a history of domestic violence, which meant it was imperative that he addressed this by attending a group facilitated by specialists in that area. I spent a couple of months getting to know him and letting him suss me out during one-to-one meetings. He has, like many, a sad backstory of abuse, neglect and rejection. This was a major reason for his emotional and relationship instability, and probably his immediate strategy to push me away. But William, like many, just wanted respect and a human connection.

Eventually, he began talking to me openly, without embarrassment, and he accepted my view that group work was key to helping him move on. He got through it and, although he still experiences difficulties, he and his family are in a much better place.

Then there was Francis (not his real name), who was almost sent back to prison in his second appointment with me since being released from custody.

The first 40 minutes went well: he told me about his long battle with drugs, the hardship he has put his family through, his so far inability to change and the battering his self esteem has taken over the years. It was great that he was engaging, sharing and trying to get help. But as chaotic as some of these individual’s lives can be, so can their temperament. It all changed when he asked for money: we reimburse bus fares. He didn’t have a ticket and eventually admitted he had walked. I was willing to overlook the deception, but it didn’t end there. “If you don’t gimme bus fare, I’ll go to the nearest shop, nick summat and get it that way,” he told me. Our relationship never recovered, and he was sent back to court for non-engagement and was later caught trying to steal.

Despite the high workload, organisational changes, battered staff morale and the odd attempts at manipulation by service users, there are many uplifting experiences that make the job worthwhile. I see people who have had severe and enduring drug addictions, who, through incredible strength and willpower, get into a state of abstinence and voluntarily offer their time to help others through their personal struggles. Similarly, we have volunteers who have personal experience of alcohol addiction, severe abuse, acute mental and emotional distress, and prostitution. I continue to grow and develop, as a person and a professional, among these incredible volunteers, service users and colleagues.


--oo00oo--

I'm sure most will agree an inspiring piece, however I have two comments, firstly it's not entirely clear whether the author is a PSO or PO and indeed if they appreciate there is any difference, but secondly and much more worrying in my view is this statement talking of 'vulnerable emotional stability' and the naively inferred assumption that CRC's won't be involved in matters that might upset those of a nervous disposition:-
"The privatised service – the payment-by-results side that I work for – supports people who have been deemed low to medium risk. Thankfully for my vulnerable emotional stability, this means we don’t support people who have been assessed as a high risk of causing serious harm."

21 comments:

  1. Just as a matter of interest Jim. In what context was the article found in the Guardian.Was it a readers letter or part of a report Probation section.You can guess I don't read the Guardian!

    ReplyDelete
  2. "Public Leaders Network - public servant - my letter to the public".

    ReplyDelete
  3. struck me very much as a puff piece rather than a really accurate reflection of what it is to be a PO

    ReplyDelete
  4. I could relate to it, of course but agree itcwas not clear if pso or po. Please can this title be changed? It sounds as if he just walked into this job one day! Before i qualified as po i had already worked with challenging group, young people in care. You do need to be emotionally strong in thus job. Also i recently spoke to a retired po who was the risk management trainer. Note is final comment to me: 'statistically is is more ofyen than not the so called low risk or 'green' cases that commit a serious offence resulting in investigation'. We would do well to remember that in a time when training is scarce and staff with the least experience could be left managing those so called low risk cases that can overnight morph into the subject of our worst nightmares!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sorry for all the typo's!

      Delete
    2. It is a pso. Yet another pso that calls themselves a PO.

      Delete
  5. I am not a robot but i am excellent at telling the difference between buiscuits and milkshake. Also i like examining store fronts, particularly 'belleza massage' ooh, naughty!maybe we could invent a similar system to assess the risk of re-offending!

    ReplyDelete
  6. 12 one-to-one appts, but "I spend more time documenting what I’ve done, detailing the intricacies of people’s lives and writing reports for courts and prisons, than I spend doing practical and helpful things for and with people."

    12 x 30 mins is 6 hours, leaving 1 hour for recording contacts on 12 cases, referrals for programmes, all the "reports for courts & prisons", etc. Or...

    12 x 15 mins is 3 hours, leaving a more realistic 4 hours for paperwork - IF the computer system is working.

    I would guess most service users find 15 mins the more accurate figure; and what can be done in 15 mins? Tick a box or two, perhaps?

    Sadly I'm tempted to agree with 09:51 above, i.e. some kind of pseudo-reality puff piece. And equally I share Jim's view about the naiive simplicity of attitude - we know that DV work, mental health issues, child protection or any of the issues raised by offending or a perpetrator's background can & do cause upset or distress.

    Professional supervision by experienced practitioners, if not managers, (sorely lacking in CRCs) should be available for precisely this reason, not just to dump on staff for missing targets. A recent post on this blog touched on this issue.

    ReplyDelete
  7. A complete load of twaddle in my view. Working for the CRC and writing reports or working for NPS? must be in Court then...wait a minute Court officers don't hold cases. Not sure why they did this but for me its saying that any Tom, Dick or Susan can walk in off the streets and do the job without training or experience!

    ReplyDelete
  8. re today's blog - I checked it out on the Public Leaders Network page (there are also several other sites referring to Probation, under Public Leaders Network which I haven't read yet. Regarding the article above, I scrolled thro' the comments under all the little tiles, and the first one, from reddogmontana, also referred to it as a 'puff piece' then said, 'the trouble is, most probation officers haven't a clue'!!

    ReplyDelete
  9. an imposter has written this - no way can a CRC case manager have up to 12 apts a day. Our reporting instructions are once per fortnight for the first 8 weeks and professional judgement thereafter but generally it's onto monthly then 8 weekly. In addition let's remember a caseload of 60 will no doubt have about 20 in custody so only 40 'active' cases to manage, take into account those in breach or on warrant and we are down to between 30 - 40 active cases. I have plenty of time to spend quality time and follow up referrals etc so whoever wrote the piece above is not managing their time properly.

    ReplyDelete
  10. 11:29. I think you will find that each crc is doing things differently so we cannot speak for everyone. I am a po with 50 cases. Only 4 in custody, 2 sentenced and 2 on remand for for further alleged serious offences. Majority of my cases are dv now , so yes that does come with issues. I believe the article writer is a pso or he/she would have more challenging cases! In one year i have risk escalated approx 5 cases from medium to high. This has involved further incidents of dv, child cruelty and gbh. I have made use of clinical counselling. Crc po's snd pso's are managing risk on a daily basis. It is challenging and skilled work and the government hand it all over to unkilled staff and private companies at their peril.

    ReplyDelete
  11. CRC staff do not write reports unless it is a recall. I don't believe this is a genuine piece.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes they do. In my area psos write DRR reviews which are reports for Court. Do your research before making sweeping statements.

      Delete
    2. and don't forget breach reports - they can be quite indepth

      Delete
  12. Slight tangent but Justice related: Gove's now changed his story about why he fatally wounded Caesar. May's had a massive makeover, soft focus, fluffy-bunny rebrand; Leadsom came out with a new mantra about "I hate race hate, hate race, race hate stuff"; and the BlairWeasel is desperate for the oxygen of publicity in advance of Chilcott.

    What would a modern probation risk assessment make of a jailed war criminal? Would it be a CRC or NPS case?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. NPS Due to publicity

      Delete
  13. I am worried about the use of peer volunteers, as role models and mentors - why? Oh yeah, they are free to CRC's, spreading the workload, and the individual can put it on their CV's.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Of all the things the Gaurdian could have written about Probation why that. The RSR is not fit for purpose. Frequently getting people in crc who were previously assessed as high risk. Little thought taken by new staff about home visits and are home visits really necessary in all cases. Whilst they can be useful I think at times we invade people's privacy and would feel quite angry about Probation turning up on my door.

    ReplyDelete
  15. No. Always turn up at the door and, once inside the gracious home, always open and check the fridge. Jeffrey Dahmer's probation officer could have avoided undue embarrassment by following this simple maxim.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Report published here about the use of Time Out for DV cases, thought it would be useful to share:

    http://m.vaw.sagepub.com/content/early/2016/05/14/1077801216647944.full.pdf

    ReplyDelete