No two days are alike in my job, and no day turns out as expected. We work flexible hours to allow us to respond to crises by staying late and to cater for clients who may work so need to meet us in the evening.
A typical day starts with looking at my diary to see what is in store. My “day job” is juggled with my role as a trade union rep so my day consists of meetings with clients or colleagues.
As a probation officer I have a specialism in working with women. They make up a tiny proportion of our caseload but have very different needs. Women I work with may be in prison or been released from prison or they may be serving a community sentence. They come with a range of back stories, from the woman abused by her partner for 15 years before she lashed out at him and stabbed him; to the woman who doesn’t understand why she can’t stop drinking and using drugs and really doesn’t want to cause the harm to others, but needs to rob people to fund her substance use.
My job is to help these women understand how to live their lives differently, by understanding what has gone so wrong for them. Some women just can’t manage to make the changes, their lives too chaotic to allow them to. Like the woman who goes back again and again to her damaging relationship and loses her children as a result. The trauma this causes is intense and it would be easy to wonder why she doesn’t just leave him. It’s never that simple, the abusive relationships are built over time at the expense of her self esteem and ability to exist independently of him. She blames others for the hurt caused, because it is too hard to admit where the blame really lies. My job is to make sure that the public is protected, so throughout this, I have to make decisions that she will be further hurt by such as sending her back to prison to stop her harming someone or placing restrictions on her. The skilled part of my job is to do these things while maintaining a good working relationship with her. Making sure that we can continue to try to work together to address the underlying reasons for her offending.
I work with around 40 cases at any one time. Balancing face to face work with the endless paperwork is always a challenge. Each time I see someone, speak to them or someone else about them, send a letter or a message I have to make a note on a computer system. At the start of my work with someone I complete a hugely detailed assessment, gathering vast amounts of information and making sense of it in a structured way to develop a plan for our work together. This is reviewed every six months or when something significant changes. Things change constantly so there are lots of reviews. If we need someone else
to do some work with our client we have to complete a referral, even internally. On top of the main assessments there are specialised assessments for specific circumstances, in domestic violence cases, or sexual offending. Working out what we can do to help someone
move away from offending may also require specific assessments, some take hours to complete. We also write reports about out clients, for courts, for the parole board (who make decisions about certain prisoners moving through the system), for MAPPA (multi-agency public protection arrangements) or any number of other agencies. Someone once estimated that we spend 70% of our time in front of a computer.
You might think that we would have sophisticated IT systems for all of this paperwork. I’d love to tell you we do but a combination of bad infrastructure, dodgy contract arrangements and randomly bolted together systems means nothing works well.
On Monday I arrived at work with only two clients to see hoping to get some paperwork finished. The system was only allowing us to make the most basic of entries, reports weren’t accessible all day. Deadlines don’t move when things like this happen, we just have to stay later the following day to complete the work. Every so often a shout goes around our open plan office “press save, my system has crashed”. Crashing systems are an accepted part of our daily work; we know the drill, save as you go to limit what you lose. Many experienced officers like myself have a mantra, we do what we need to do (coping with bad IT and endless bureaucracy) in order to do what we want to do (work with people
to change their lives and prevent them offending again).
There are many moments of despair in our working lives, our clients are damaged people who cause damage to others. We have to navigate bureaucracy and endless change. We often work under intense pressure to meet deadlines or justify decisions we have made. We have to work hard to make sure we look after each other. I work in an open plan office and we survive on tea and laughter. When someone returns to their desk despondent or has a difficult phone call we are there to put on the kettle, to listen to them and reassure them and once that is done to cheer them with a joke or funny story, to help them to smile and remind them this is not all there is in life. We may take a colleague for a walk around the block, or to a nearby café for a bun. Small things can help to heal the hurt caused by the job that we do.
National Vice Chair