Cumbria: Best private probation practice

Northern Powerhouse

Today’s (5 October 2017) probation inspectors’ report on Cumbria seems to be further evidence of an emerging theme of the new split probation service — the further North you go, the better it is.

The Community Rehabilitation Company showed the best probation work HM inspectors had seen in a private company since they started inspecting the reshaped system three years ago.

The work of the public National Probation Service (NPS) in Cumbria was also good, though inconsistent in ‘pockets’.

Cumbria and Lancashire CRC is run by Sodexo Justice Services in partnership with Nacro; it is the third largest CRC-owning company, with six CRCs supervising 18% of the national CRC caseload. At the start of 2017, HM Inspectorate of Probation inspected Sodexo’s work in Northamptonshire and Suffolk. Neither was performing well. More recently, Sodexo’s CRC in South Yorkshire was found to be much better.

Publishing the latest report Dame Glenys said:

The quality of the work within Cumbria is good overall. The NPS (its North West division) is providing a good-quality service for the most part but, as elsewhere, there are pockets of inconsistency. Staff are working hard with complex cases and are appropriately focused on protecting the public. However, more needs to be done to realise the full potential of the service so as to make a bigger difference to people’s life chances.

The inspectorate, she added,

found exceptional practice at the CRC, the best we have seen in a CRC since we began inspecting CRCs and the NPS on a regular basis following Transforming Rehabilitation. The enduring values of probation and evidence-based professional practice shone through, case after case, in our inspection.

Not all is well, though. Poor working conditions in some offices and the open-plan booths we have found in Sodexo-owned CRCs elsewhere made things difficult for service users and staff alike. Also, the CRC’s supply chain of services – those support services it commissions from other community organisations, in both the private and voluntary, third sectors – was too thin. Commercial considerations and uncertainties had inhibited development by the Cumbria CRC of the supply chain.

More detailed findings are set out below:

Findings — CRC

The main inspectors’ findings of the work of the CRC were:

  • The CRC’s public protection work was good. The CRC was prioritising public protection. The quality of assessment and planning was good, particularly in relation to child safeguarding. Relationships with statutory partners were positive. Responsible officers were skilled in delivering effective interventions and the large majority of service users were making progress in minimising their risk of serious harm to others.
  • Sophisticated and timely assessments, together with well-targeted plans, were in place for the majority of cases. There was a thin supply chain and limited services available, which posed challenges in providing support to service users. Staff were
    undertaking bespoke programmes of work creatively and effectively. Service users were making progress in addressing the problems that hinder desistance.
  • Quality of practice was good overall, with examples of some excellent engagement with service users. The organisation recognised the value of an effective working relationship between a responsible officer and service user. Staff took service user engagement seriously and employed creative compliance strategies. There were difficulties in doing this, but the
    commitment of responsible officers ensured that overall contact levels with service users were impressive.

Inspectors were still concerned about the use of booths for confidential interviews

Findings — NPS

  • Generally, the quality of public protection work was good but there were some areas of inconsistency. Initial assessments and plans were of a high standard. Liaison with partnership agencies was good, and we saw examples of effective intervention. Being responsive to changes in circumstances was an area of weakness, however. Insufficient attention was being paid to monitoring the impact of intervention on service users’ progress.
  • The quality of supervision was generally good, but more emphasis was needed on making timely alterations to planned interventions. Sentencers were satisfied with the service being provided. The court team was performing reasonably well and was committed to improving its practice further. Assessment and planning were strong and supportive of service users’ protective factors. The challenges of working with the complex NPS cohort were well understood. These challenges were exacerbated in Cumbria by the difficulties in accessing appropriate services.
  • NPS staff were missing opportunities to involve individual service users in reviewing their own progress. Successful compliance with the sentence was being considered too narrowly, with the focus being on attendance at appointments, and more energy was needed to support service users in bringing about positive behavioural changes.

Findings — Co-ordination between NPS and CRC

Overall levels of co-operation and co-ordination between both probation agencies appeared to be good:

  • There were healthy working relationships between the CRC and NPS and good levels of communication. Both organisations had a clear commitment to prioritising the protection of the public, and were working well with statutory partners.
  • The CRC and NPS had a shared understanding of third-sector organisations, services and resources within Cumbria. They were both committed at a strategic level to contributing to multi-agency forums. They were experiencing ongoing difficulties
    in accessing appropriate provision to support service users with substance misuse issues. There were some tensions regarding the range of services available to the NPS via the rate card. This was partly related to the limited supply chain, but also due to a mismatch in staff expectations and a lack of faith among CRC and NPS practitioners in the reliability of the system.
  • Both organisations were cooperating well in taking an efficient approach to breach enforcement action, in the majority of cases. Open lines of communication between the CRC and NPS supported effective working.

Conclusions

Despite a number of continuing problems, it is very heartening to see an example of a Community Rehabilitation Company making good progress with committed and skilled staff focused on proper desistance work. As usual, I leave the last word to Chief Inspector Dame Glenys Stacey:

Responsible officers have been tireless and remarkably conscientious in their persistent engagement with service users and their creative approach to the delivery of effective interventions. And staff  have remained focused on the critical issues, especially the protection of the public and safeguarding of children.

That is exactly what we expect of probation services, and it is a delight to see it provided by the CRC in Cumbria.

 

Click here to see my infographic summarising findings from the first thirteen inspections of the new public/private probation system.

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