- 15 August 2017
- 6 min read
My job as a Probation Officer
Diane Wills explains why her job as a Probation Officer is more complicated than people first think.
What does your role entail?
What do you do?
This is a routinely asked question where I struggle to find an appropriately succinct and satisfactory answer. My response depends a little on my mood, my state of mind, and my fluctuating sense of confidence.
I am a company director running a business delivering criminal justice and social work services. My route to this point has been one which has twisted and turned with the cadence of life.
I am a Probation Officer by profession, qualifying in 2001; one of the first cohorts to be controversially separated from the social work qualification in the late 1990s by the then, Conservative government.
The Diploma in Probation Studies was introduced by the ‘New Labour’ government shortly afterwards.
How did you become a Probation Officer?
My years in the London Probation Service have influenced and moulded my entire career. My tendency towards extremes meant that post-qualifying I excitedly entered straight into a public protection team.
I relished the fast pace, the high risk, the challenging training and the support and friendship of my colleagues. Even at the time, I had a sense of these being my ‘halcyon days’ and knew I had to work extremely hard and take advantage of every opportunity offered to me.
As a result, I left as an accredited groupwork facilitator with a national training post and a secondment to the Home Office under my belt. By then, I was a specialist working with men who sexually offend, and this remains my core business today.
In my sixteen years of post-qualifying experience, it is an area of work which has gradually become very high profile, attracting much media and police attention. There is rarely a day when there is not a news item associated with sexual harm.
Being somewhat impulsive, I moved to Scotland for a few years, where I discovered that they have no probation service. Justice is a devolved matter since the Scotland Act 1998, and remains under the auspices of social work.
I somewhat begrudgingly met the requirements of the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), and became a registered social worker, gaining valuable experience working with children and families, including disabled children and short break foster carers.
I had some existing experience in English social work. For some years prior to qualification, I worked as a part-time adviser for an emergency duty team, which gave me a good grounding in legislation in relation to emergency child protection, older people and mental health measures, as well as the concept of thresholds and gatekeeping.
I also had a short stint as a complaints investigator in adult social care. This seems an oddity now without a social work qualification, but I managed to demonstrate the requisite skills and knowledge to come first in the interview process.
I later qualified as a Practice Educator, a role in which I am still actively engaged, with undergraduate and postgraduate students now in the South West of England.
This allows me to keep up to date with rapid changes as well as gaining knowledge of a wide range of social work arenas. I thoroughly enjoy working with students, helping them to aspire to be the best practitioners they can be; the aspiration I still hold for myself.
How have things changed throughout your career?
The National Probation Service has changed beyond all recognition, consolidated by the ‘Transforming Rehabilitation’ agenda and the marketisation of justice services.
Aligned with these changes, work with sexual offenders has gradually been overtaken by forensic psychology services. Most of my current training and operational experience is now theoretically located within this field.
What experience do you need?
Spanning three disciplines allows me to hold a position, in which I can offer multiple perspectives and approaches.
A broad theoretical understanding enables me to apply a depth and richness to my work, with each discipline adding a different dimension to my thinking and understanding.The core of my experience is my probation background, bringing criminological understanding of crime and punishment, the law and the complex nature of ‘risk’.
Added to this, is my social work experience, which has provided me with a valuable understanding of diversity, social injustice, and acceptance of the sheer messiness of life.
Forensic psychology brings hard science into my practice, adding a sharpness and confidence in my case formulations.
Whilst these disciplines can be dichotomous in the learning experience, the way they bisect and overlap allows me the freedom to traverse a range of skills, methodologies and ideologies to the way I work.
What is it like working as a Probation Officer?
I love my work. There is a privilege and an indulgence to working at such a deep level with individuals, which I know is what draws a lot of practitioners to working in social care, but tends to be missing in the day to day grind of caseloads.
I am not afraid of the dark in people, and this is where I spend a lot of my time; with the demons and the pain. I’m not sure what this says about me but I don’t dwell on this too much.
Perhaps counter intuitively, this enables me to work with men with considerable empathy and compassion.
My career has taken turns which I would not necessarily have chosen, nor anticipated. With hindsight, there are many decisions I would have made differently.
Nonetheless, my experience has allowed me to establish a unique professional outlook. I am indeed grateful for every opportunity I have been afforded.
My career continues to develop in ways I would never have considered at the outset. This is exciting and helps to maintain my interest and passion.
The question of ‘what I do’ remains elusive.
Questions by Jacqui Lee. Answers by Diane Wills.