Highest workloads seen by inspectors
Staffordshire and West Midlands Community Rehabilitation Company (CRC) had strong leadership and some good aspects but the quality of its delivery of supervision was undermined by excessive workloads, probation inspectors found in a report published today (19 December 2018).
The workload in the CRC, responsible for supervising 13,531 offenders, was the highest seen in the six CRCs inspected since April 2018 by HM Inspectorate of Probation. The CRC covers Birmingham, the Black Country, Staffordshire and Coventry and Solihull.
Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said the CRC had been given a ‘requires improvement’ rating – the second lowest assessment. This contrasts with the performance of the Midlands Division of the National Probation Service which was rated “good” in an inspection report published yesterday.
“There are some good elements of delivery across the organisation, and leadership is strong and provided by a dedicated and motivated management team. The individual workloads of probation professionals are, however, the highest we have seen so far in the current inspection programme and this is clearly affecting the quality of work.”
“With a severely stretched workforce, staff morale and sickness levels deteriorate, day-to-day practice becomes overburdened by firefighting, effective engagement with training, policies and guidance reduces and, consequently, individuals subject to probation supervision are let down. It is also extremely difficult to keep the public safe.
“I am particularly concerned that risk of harm is not being prioritised in the assessment, planning and delivery of services.”
The report noted: “Two-thirds of staff interviewed told us that their workload was unmanageable and this is not surprising; a high proportion of them had more than 70 cases, and the majority, particularly those managed by probation officers, were complex.” Inspectors were concerned about inadequate work to assess domestic abuse and child safeguarding concerns.
Despite the effects of heavy workloads, however, Dame Glenys said the CRC “should be commended for what it is achieving in difficult circumstances. I am impressed by the CRC’s approach to engagement at a strategic level, using feedback from those under probation supervision to improve services when it can.
“And this CRC is employing some people who have previously been subject to probation supervision, demonstrating a commitment to changing lives and showing what individuals can do when we all try.” Supervision of unpaid work orders from courts was also good.
Inspectors organised their key findings under three main headings: organisational delivery; case supervision and unpaid work & through-the-gate.
Inspectors’ main findings on this domain were mixed:
- There is strong leadership at both senior and middle manager levels but the focus on delivering quality is only at a relatively early stage. Communication with staff by managers is good and various strategies have been employed to embed a new vision, mission and culture over the last 12 months. Managers at all levels are committed to ensuring that those subject to supervision receive a high-quality service but they acknowledge that more work is needed. Activity to improve the quality of case management had not, until recently, received sufficient attention.
- Staff workload is excessive and preventing delivery of a high-quality, personalised and responsive service for all. Staffing levels are not adequate to enable quality delivery, with high levels of sickness absence exacerbating the issue further. The majority of responsible officers have an unmanageable workload. Although we saw evidence that management information is used to monitor caseloads, solutions are difficult, if not impossible, to implement under the current resourcing model.
- A comprehensive range of services is in place in most locations, and there is a commitment to delivering only interventions proven to reduce reoffending. The organisation is committed to evidence-based practice, and this is reflected in SWM CRC’s delivery of a broad suite of accredited programmes. Senior leaders in the National Probation Service (NPS) hold the CRC in high regard and are satisfied with the provision of services in its three priority areas: education, training and employment (ETE); accommodation; and women’s services provision.
- Policies and guidance are clearly communicated, and although there are positive elements to the estates and ICT arrangements, there are some concerns. The overarching aim of the estates strategy is to enhance engagement by creating modern, bright and welcoming spaces and to remove barriers between service users and responsible officers. Feedback from staff is mixed and they described to us some risky situations that have resulted from this new way of working. There are still frustrations for staff using the nDelius case management system and OASys (offender assessment system) – connectivity to these can be unreliable at times, but out of the organisation’s control.
Overall the CRC’s core function of supervising offenders was assessed as well below standard.
- Assessment focuses sufficiently on engaging the service user but does not do enough to identify and analyse the factors related to offending or keeping other people safe. Work to engage individuals in the assessment process is good, and diversity and personal circumstances are analysed well in understanding service users’ ability to comply with their sentence. However, factors linked to offending and desistance are not assessed to a sufficient standard. The assessment of issues relating to risk of harm is hindered by the lack of multi-agency liaison. In cases where there were domestic abuse and child safeguarding concerns, we found that relevant checks were not made often enough to aid the accuracy of assessment.
- Planning does not adequately address service user engagement, reducing reoffending or protecting the public. Planning practice is generally poor. Although there are some examples of plans that focused sufficiently on engaging the service user, this is not consistent. Similarly, there is a lack of focus on reducing reoffending and desistance. Of most concern is practice relating to keeping other people safe, with risk of harm not prioritised effectively in the plans we saw.
- Engaging the service user is prioritised in the implementation and delivery of interventions, but responsible officers do not address offending behaviour or risk of harm effectively. We saw some encouraging practice for engaging the service user. Requirements often start promptly and responsible officers use appropriate flexibility to take account of the individual’s personal circumstances. However, the implementation and delivery of interventions do not focus sufficiently on desistance. Similarly, we saw an inadequate standard of practice in the activity to address the risk of harm and keeping other people safe.
- Reviewing is not effective and adjustments to delivery are not made when necessary. The quality of work to review the progress of individuals in the cases we inspected was inconsistent. Reviewing is often regarded as an administrative process, and we did not see responsible officers involving the service user meaningfully. This is especially problematic in relation to the risk of harm where quality is compromised further by the lack of multi-agency liaison, particularly with the police and children’s social care departments, to help understand changes in risk.
Unpaid work and through-the-gate
- Unpaid work delivery is good and the CRC is effective in maximising opportunities for service users’ personal development and delivering the sentence of the court. Assessment is good and there is sufficient focus on key issues relevant to unpaid work, as well as keeping others safe. The organisation is clearly committed to the personal development of the individuals who receive this sentencing option, and this is evident in the range of placements on offer. There is also commitment to intensive delivery of unpaid work, with requirements being completed in a timely fashion as a result.
- The coordination of resettlement activity and communication with responsible officers is not effective.
Through the Gate practice is disappointing and, although there is some encouraging work on resettlement planning, the delivery and coordination of activity are poor. There is also a lack of communication between staff working in the prison and responsible officers.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the sixth inspection of a CRC under the new rating system and all six areas have been rated in the second to lowest band: “requiring improvement”.
Despite the inspectorate’s kind words about Staffordshire and West Midlands CRC’s aspirations, there are clearly insufficient staff to deliver a proper service. It is interesting to note that the Midlands NPS Divison, which was rated “good” in yesterday’s inspection report, is also suffering from “substantial staff shortages”.
I have been compiling an unofficial table of probation performance based on the inspectorate’s ratings. The first table will be published on Friday and shows SWMCRC at the bottom of the pile.