Over the last few months, there has been a lot of media coverage around the Probation Service. Careers in Justice spoke to one Probation Officer to find out more about what it is really like to work in Probation and what their work involves.
What made you decide to work in Probation?
When I was doing my A’ Levels (back in 1995 – 1997) I found that the more I studied Sociology and started to think about Psychology, alongside some Crime documentaries that I was enthusiastic about at the time, the more I knew I wanted to work with people who offend. Whilst studying Criminology at university, I attended a seminar about domestic abuse and violent offending. These subjects became something I wanted to understand further. I began to research career paths and stumbled across roles in Probation. I knew very little about Probation then, as most of the population still do now. I made a call in the last year of my degree with a Probation Office and asked if they took on volunteers. I was taken on as a volunteer and from that point onwards I knew that this was the career for me.
To this day, I still remember a case that I worked with as a volunteer - a man who was a chronic heroin user and living with his grandmother. I ended up engaging with the whole family and supporting this man with everything, from trips to the dentist to drug rehabilitation appointments. All to try and support his motivation to change. At the end of my Criminology degree, the Probation Service were recruiting PSOs (Probation Service Officers) and this is where I commenced in 2000. After a year, I then applied to complete the Trainee Probation Officer Training, involving a second Degree, NVQ and Diploma in Probation Studies. In 2003 I qualified and I have stayed there ever since.
What does your daily job involve?
My current role is a facilitator for the Sex Offender Treatment Programmes. I deliver group based accredited programmes and work with men in treatment for lengthy periods of time. I engage with their Offender Managers and Police Managers to monitor and support the management of their risk whilst they reside in our communities and Approved Premises Hostels. Some of the men I work with have served custodial sentences or may be on a Community Based Order.
What sort of things do you have to deal with?
Working with men who have sexually offended has its challenges but the role can be rewarding. The groups we work with are hugely diverse. This type of offending crosses all sections of the population and the work at times can be fascinating. We deliver up to 180 hours of treatment with one man and therefore these professional relationships build and you can see individuals strive to change. Like all jobs there are days when you need reminding why you ever wanted to do it but, on the whole, the positives outweigh the difficulties.
Are there ever any challenges to your work?
Absolutely. Our role is complex because we are working closely, and developing a therapeutic relationship, with a male who has sexually offended. However, we are also working and engaging with all the other agencies around that male (and we don’t always come from the same starting point or have the same opinions and assessments). Other agencies can include other Probation Officers, Police, Housing organisations, mentors, family members, Victim Liaison Officers, Social Services, and Mental Health organisations. Each one may often have different priorities. This means that the hat we wear changes daily and ultimately the role swings between therapeutic facilitator to risk management information sharer. I am always mindful that at the heart of the role I’m a Probation Officer and my main responsibility is to protect the public.
Do you enjoy your job?
I do enjoy the role. I’ve had the opportunity to do most roles under the Probation Officer Umbrella but I do feel that my skills, attitude, personality and motivation are best suited to working with men who have sexually offended. This has been my chosen role now for over 10 years. The role and skillset required for this job have evolved over the years and this has allowed for my development and assisted in adapting my practice and resilience to the subject matter. My mantra has been to separate the crime and behaviour from the person in front of me and to work to develop peoples’ good qualities.
Does it feel like you are making a difference to the lives of people you work with?
I think it does; you see small changes and commitment to desist from committing further harm by the majority of men participating. You do get men who drop off the programme, who perhaps are not suitable for a number of diverse reasons or indeed see their risk increase and commit further offences.
Some of the skills taught on the programme can really alter a man’s thinking and set about a spiral of small changes and I think this is what keeps me motivated.
Would you encourage others to enter the sector?
I think overall the National Probation Service has changed dramatically since I started. The set up and management of the future service feels unsettled and unknown right now. We are hugely understaffed and at times people and some colleagues express the views that they feel they are sinking with workloads. The privatisation of a large section of the work goes against everything I stand for and the politics surrounding this are a thesis on its own.
But if I remove myself from this and look at the day to day job and the quality of work that I still feel happens then I would say that it remains a fulfilling career. Its more than a job and you have to want to do it for other reasons than the pay!!
What do you feel needs to change with in the sector at the moment?
Staffing levels need to be addressed as a matter of urgency and we should never have allowed the privation of any elements of the Probation Service. I also feel that the public need to be better informed about the critical role we play in public protection.