Life as a probation officer

Emma Knowles, Editor
October, 2018

Liz Sang is a case manager based in Wakefield. Her extensive work experience was crucial to landing the role. Find out more about what being a probation officer involves and the biggest challenges she faces

How did you get your job?

I obtained a BSc (Hons) in Forensic Psychology from Leeds Trinity University, graduating in 2013. My course offered placement modules - I completed my placement at Langley House Trust in a hostel for offenders. This gave me a good insight into the work of probation and supporting services. 

I stayed at Langley as a relief keyworker following my placement, and secured a role in the female housing project after graduation. I continued to build experience - as a housing officer for the Together Women Project, as a personality disorder mentor in Her Majesty's Prison (HMP) Newhall, and within the Liaison and Diversion Service, based in Leeds's police custody.

The application process for my current role as a case manager at West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) was fairly straightforward - all that was required was my CV. 

My interview was a mix of career background and competency questions and a ten-minute presentation of a time that I have overcome a problem. Having experience with service users across various settings allowed me to use real-world examples and highlight skills that would be part of my role.

What are your main work activities?

The core aspect of my role is risk management, and ensuring court orders are complied with. Rather than just focusing on the offence we consider the service user's whole life.

At the CRC we use a person-centred framework that details a service user's journey through their order. If a service user has been convicted of a drink driving offence, for example, it's important to consider if they have an alcohol problem or if there were any triggers to the offence. This approach often reveals that a service user has a few issues that require intervention to allow them to complete their court order and prevent re-offending.

Following a sentencing decision at court, the service user will work with their case manager to complete an induction to their order, a holistic assessment of risk and their personal circumstances, a risk assessment and management plans, linking these to their sentence plan. The sentence plan identifies interventions required to reduce risk to the public and risk of re-offending.

The service user meets with their case manager throughout their order to continually assess if the risk is increasing, decreasing or remaining the same, and if new management plans or interventions are needed.

As service users may have complex needs or a chaotic nature, some fail to comply with the requirements of their court order or prison licence. In this case, the case manager is required to enforce the order through warning letters, recall to custody or breaching the order and returning it to court. 

What do you enjoy most about the role?

I enjoy making a valuable contribution to local communities, by supporting individuals with chaotic lifestyles and complex needs. By carrying out this role, we offer protection to the public in a sustainable and meaningful way.  When we stop people from re-offending, we're promoting public safety and ensuring fewer victims are created. 

As probation is a court requirement, it can provide much-needed support to individuals that may not be able or willing to access mainstream services. By working with service users to build their own motivation, they're more likely to access support from appropriate agencies and address support needs that may be a factor in their offending.

I enjoy helping individuals make positive choices in their life and ensuring that they complete their order.

What are the challenges?

Like any role, there are many challenges to meet performance targets and this can be tricky at times, such as when clients attend unexpectedly if they're in a crisis.

Having a positive work/life balance is a key aspect to being an officer, to ensure work doesn't take over. Using flexible working hours and blocking out days to work from home to complete paperwork is really helpful.

How has your role developed? How could it develop in the future?

My role is constantly evolving and changing to incorporate different policies and procedures. We're currently undergoing a team restructure to support caseload management. In the longer term there are opportunities for training, either in a specific subject of work or by completing the Professional Qualification in Probation Studies (PQIP).

The CRC has other opportunities to progress to management level, or work with the performance team on quality assurance.

Do you have any advice for aspiring probation officers?

It isn't until you're in the role that you understand the workload. For me, there are some important aspects to consider:

  • Have some experience working with service users who have complex needs. This can be either through securing work experience or completing a student placement.
  • Be emotionally resilient. There's a lot of pressure to manage different targets, so being able to deal with pressure is a big plus point.
  • If you can, volunteer with your local probation office. This way you can speak to case managers and officers about things that are specific to their roles.

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