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Rehabilitation Transformed? (Chapter 3 – The road ahead)

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Hi, welcome all to what will be the last edition of this particular series. For anyone wanting to catch up and bring themselves up to speed please click for Part 1 or Part 2.

We have come to this stage now, having looked at what changes have been made in Probation, from the viewpoint of a Recruiter helping Probation Professionals find work in the UK probation market. TR has changed the face and structure of UK Probation.

In this issue, we will be looking at what the future holds for Probation, having already seen so many operational changes, changes to the Services infrastructure (IT, Offices, Prison’s etc.) and also a shift in mentality and practice such as the National Probation Services planned E3 programme. Let us now look at how this bodes for the future and also new changes to come for all CRC and NPS stakeholders.

Before we look forward, let us look back. In preparation for all the changes that were yet to come The Ministry of Justice “vetted” Probation, through what was known as the 4th Test Gate or TG4 and later in the 5th Test Gate (TG5), (full reports can be read here). In 2014 these reports showed that I.T., Staffing and the Third Sector Involvement were pointed out as both a potential risk and an area for great improvement for the future.

I.T Systems

The initial report in 2014 acknowledged ICT to be a focus area. TG5 later made several recommendations and points out key progress updates for both the OASys and NDulius systems, along with changes to the hardware being used in Probation Offices. So let me show you what they have achieved so far.

We are now in April of 2016, and the rollout of the new IT systems, is still very much a work in progress for both the NPS and various CRC’s, although it must be said, that it is not clear that all CRC’s will update the software at this point. The NPS have had several issues recently, the update of their IT systems, saw certain parts of the country have Comms difficulty recently, with vital services such as Phones & Emails offline. Both service managers and Temporary Probation staff, have made us aware of several such instances, the worst example I can think of, is an entire office in Cumbria, losing full access to internet, Phone lines and Fax, for almost a full day. We must understand that these things do happen, but in a service which such as Probation, these setbacks can have huge implications towards everybody involved, including the public.

OASys and Delius updates have also been plagued with setbacks and niggles along the way, this was rightly acknowledged as a major risk. So why have there been so many issues over the last 18 months, and more importantly what can we expect going forward. Well, the plan is to go ahead with updating the IT and Comms infrastructure, with there being more talk of I.T updates and system changes to both OASys and Delius.

The CRC’s seem to be taking different approaches, Sodexo, being one of the biggest owners in terms of CRC’s owned (currently 6) are looking at revamping their systems entirely, and implementing a brand new and separate system to that of the NPS, NOM’s and other CRC areas. What implications this system could have in terms of effectiveness of communications, are yet to be seen.

Once you stop to consider the vital information that is being transferred daily between NPS & CRCs, and also between CRC’s in different parts of the country, there is the strong possibility that this will further disrupt clear communication between services. It was outlined as a risk in 2014 but is yet to be seen how effectively this risk has been managed.

There are also some quite harrowing rumours and articles in the media like this about the potential negatives of implementing new technology. This article talks about the dangers of replacing highly trained professionals with a machine. Whilst it could be argued to be a little biased, I personally think it is probably not the best idea – especially when you think offenders can sometimes be some of society’s most challenged people – and that it’s just way too much emotion for a computer to handle and channel correctly.

Any disruption to the rehabilitation of offenders should be taken very seriously. It must also be said though that innovation and new systems, a new way of doing things and improved data management leading to improved understanding of outcomes may in fact deliver real improvements to better manage this countries serial offenders.

Recruitment of Staff

This is obviously a subject close to my own heart, as this is what I do and where I fit in to all of this. Recruitment and Staffing was always going to take a big focus and TG4 listed it as the 1st of several risks in their September 2014 report.

“Recruitment of appropriately qualified POs’. Probation Officer (PO) vacancies as a result of: possible increases in workload, staff attrition, change and transition and time required to embed new processes and realise efficiencies.
Concern about vacancies leading to potentially unmanageable workloads in some areas. Higher numbers of Probation Service Officers (PSO) available but concern about PSOs having to manage complex cases, without having the necessary experience. PO recruitment into the Prison estate is likely to encourage movement from the CRCs into Prisons.”

So what have they done since? TG5 mentioned “around 150” qualified staff, joined operational teams around November 2014 when the report was conducted and a further 270 trainees having begun training in October of the same year. Plans of 2 further training Cohorts to take place in January and March 2015 were also in the report. In addition to newly trained staff, “Managing Staff Resilience” was also highlighted to retain existing, experienced staff in order to address the high attrition.

Well looking at the current situation, I can safely say that there still seems to be staffing shortages (quite severe shortages in some areas) across many parts of UK Probation. This applies to the CRC and NPS both. The interesting part is how they are dealing with it.

The obvious way of dealing with staffing shortages, is to get more efficient, well trained staff in. In the long term, the MOJ are hoping to have found the answer with a new Probation Qualification (for further information on courses and how to apply click here). How effective this shorter course will be remains to be seen, but it certainly is an avenue for people who are interested in working for Probation in the future. It is not fair to go any further, without making mention, of the number of redundancies that have been handed out. This is a contradiction to the aforementioned ‘shortages’ but redundancies are still occurring as CRC’s try to make themselves more streamlined. The service managers we speak to talk repeatedly about being short staffed but as yet, don’t have any funding available to recruit temporary or permanent replacements. The CRC’s plan is that by improving processes & IT systems, they’ll increase efficiency and therefore need fewer staff to get the job done. We can only hope they will get the balance right.

All in all, there is still a lot to do when it comes to Staffing. The staff we place and speak to daily, have complained about increasing work load. People have raised concerns about the number of cases they are being asked to take on, or the number of reports they are asked to write etc. and my personal experience has seen the number and severity of these complaints grow in recent times. All this extra work has had an adverse effect on morale, health and stress for many probation professionals.

Third Sector Influence

It is important to make mention of this, because some very important services are provided by the 3rd sector, and often not-for-profit work does go under the radar. Charities have always played a massive role in providing public services. Funnily enough, in this case, the shift to becoming privatised has put what seems to be, an even greater focus on the role of charities.

Charities and Not-for-Profit organisations, were major players in the CRC ownerships bids, with most owners being a coalition, of Private, Public and Third sector companies, a great example of this is Durham Tees Valley CRC, whose ownership coalition ARCC (Achieving Real Change in Communities Community Interest Company) is comprised of;

• Changing Lives in Durham Tees Valley CIC, a Probation Staff CIC
• Thirteen (formerly Fabrick Housing Group), a Registered Social Landlord • The Wise Group, a Social Enterprise
• Safe in Tees Valley, a Charity
• Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust (TEWV), a Public Organisation
• The Vardy Foundation, a Charity
• Stockton Borough Council, a Public Organisation
• Darlington Borough Council, a Public Organisation

Clear to see that DTV CRC, is an organisation that holds a very heavy local presence, but it also has many charitable organisations chipping in with the delivery of their programme(s). I cover DTV CRC, in my role as a recruiter, and I can confidently say that they are currently manging quite well in to the transition of TR, because they have multi skilled people at hand to deliver service required.

We have seen other areas and organisations, use charities in different ways, Sodexo’s 3rd sector Partner, Nacro (one of the UK’s largest Criminal Justice Charities) has the means to actively recruit and supply staff and resource. This could potentially serve great purpose, when it comes to delivering high quality service to UK Probation, but it could also help cut down staffing costs without having to lose service quality.

The Charities involved at present, and any others that may join in the future, hold great influence over whether or not TR will be a success. In light of the changes that have been and are being made to the service, these companies and their staff could provide vital and much needed support, to the Probation Staff there. Many of these companies provide highly specialised programmes of support to offenders as well, such return to work training, drug & alcohol addiction counselling etc. their involvement could see the number of re-offences come down.

To conclude everything I have said here, and in the 2 earlier editions of this blog. I think it is fair to say that there are still many uncertainties within UK Probation, one thing is for certain, TR has certainly had an impact on the job that I do, it has had a strong effect on all those involved with the service. The staff are being stretched, and the frustrations have rubbed off on to the clients who use the service. One thing is for certain, there are be many new changes over the coming months and years. This is very much still a work in progress.

UK probation has changed now forever. I have worked with Probation services for years & have made many many friends in the field. I know how driven, professional and dedicated the people on the front line are. It is the responsibility of those who control the strategic plans for the service to empower these professionals to properly manage the people under their watch. Whilst many changes have happened, many more are planned & I for one would like to wish everyone working within the Probation field Good Luck with the plans. Remember; it is not the system which makes people work, it is the people who make the system work.

Thank you for your time across all 3 editions of my blog. Until next time. Javid.
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