Sam Gildersleeve studied criminology and criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth before going on to complete the Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP) programme. He now works as a senior probation officer for the Probation Service

Why did you decide on a career in the probation services?

Throughout my original criminology degree there wasn't a lot of focus around the rehabilitation of people that have offended. Other services such as the prison and police service took more focus. I still feel that the Probation Service is the forgotten part of the criminal justice system, which is something I am passionate about changing. I want to raise the profile of the service and the great work that everyone does every day.

How did you get your job?

I got my job through a sponsored ad on Instagram. I applied via the ad and then went for an assessment day, which was different to any other interview process I had encountered before.

I was then offered a position to join the PQiP programme and spent the next 15 months training to be a probation officer in Basildon, Essex. This involved shadowing the work of other qualified staff and learning on the job, as well as having my own caseload and completing the required formal qualification.

I had a bumpy ride as a PQiP. My position on the programme was interrupted due to being diagnosed with dyslexia. As a result I was given more support, not only from my team but also from assistive technology. A practice tutor assessor, with whom I built a great relationship, also supported me. 

Life as a trainee was stressful and at times, I felt I had to balance so many things at once. However, I was surrounded by a great team in South Essex, who shared their wealth of knowledge and supported me through it all. When I qualified and was posted to North Essex, as part of a team in Chelmsford. I remained as a probation officer for three years before being promoted to a senior probation officer based back in the team that I trained with.

What's does a typical day as a probation officer involve?

As a probation officer I monitor very high, high, medium and low risk offenders, who have committed various offences. I offer them support to reintegrate into society.

However, my role is not only to assist people on probation to reform, but also to protect the public. I work to assist people on probation to make changes in their lives, not only via supervision but also by being able to signpost people to other agencies that may be able to offer support. Whether this is with housing, employment, mental health, drugs and alcohol or general day-to-day assistance.

I speak openly to people on probation regarding their behaviours and the reasons that may have led them to offend. I then create assessments and sentence plans that aim to tackle their criminogenic needs, to discourage them from reoffending and therefore preventing further victims and ultimately protecting the public.

My role also includes multi-agency working, and the writing of  different reports and risk assessments, including OASys, Parole, Breach, and response to supervisions, to name a few.

What three skills are essential to your role?

  • resilience
  • patience
  • listening skills and the ability to talk openly with someone.

What part of your job gives you the most satisfaction?

Being able to assist people to make changes in their lives and being able to see the end result - that someone has had the ability to turn their life around and make a positive change. 

What are the challenges?

Initially, I struggled with building my resilience and understanding that I cannot help everyone. You need to accept that people are going to make their own poor choices, which includes possibly re-offending. Sometimes that can be a really hard thing to accept.

Your job is demanding and can be emotionally draining. How do you strike a work/life balance?

 I think it takes a specific person to work in this role. You will naturally adjust to be able to switch off, although there will be times when you worry outside of work hours. I feel I manage this by making notes to remind me to complete anything that I'm worried about.

What type of work experience should someone do if they'd like to become a probation officer?

Experience in any role that works with vulnerable people will be useful. The Probation Service also has opportunities for students to come in and see the work that we do day-to-day.

Can you debunk a myth about probation work?

 I think a lot of people feel that probation officers are too soft and that all we do is sit and talk to people who have committed an offence, when in fact we are a lot more involved in the public protection side of things.

Tell us about an issue facing probation services today.

General public perceptions of the Probation Service - not many people know who we are as a service or know about the brilliant work that we do every day to protect the public. This can lead to challenges within recruitment. Getting our message out there is an issue that the service faces.

How would you sum up the role of a probation officer?

Being a probation officer is not an easy role, it can throw all sorts of challenges at you. However, it can be the most rewarding experience. You will learn so many new skills and meet many interesting people along the way. It can be stressful, and at times you have to balance many things at once. However, it really is a diverse and interesting role and you'll get to do things in your day-to-day job that not many other careers offer.

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