Motivated but poor case supervision
West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company – which supervises more than 8,000 low and medium-risk offenders – has received a mixed write-up from probation inspectors in a report published today (31 October 2018).
Staff in West Yorkshire Community Rehabilitation Company were found by inspectors to be well led and striving to do well but they struggled with heavy caseloads, ICT and infrastructure problems beyond their control, and some gaps in skills.
The weaknesses at the CRC, which supervised 8,136 medium and low risk offenders at the time of the inspection in July 2018, led HM Inspectorate of Probation to rate it overall as “Requiring Improvement.”
Aspects of its case supervision were assessed as inadequate. A key weakness was found in work to reduce the risk of harm to potential victims from those under supervision. Inspectors noted instances where, in domestic abuse cases, some staff members failed to identify the potential risks posed to children.
Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, publishing a report on the inspection, said:
A key area of practice that requires prompt improvement is managing risk of harm. Case planning in general is not sufficiently robust and reviews of work need to be improved across the board.
However, despite noting some poor assessments, Dame Glenys also concluded the leadership of the CRC, part of a consortium of CRCs led by Interserve, was eager to learn and improve as it faced some major challenges:
- Leaders and staff had done much to develop their organisation, “in straitened circumstances, but more needs to be done to improve service delivery.” The report noted: “Staff and managers are passionate about providing quality services but many report being overwhelmed by workload pressures and being weary of organisational change.”
- Much of the CRC’s operating model is embedded but some key aspects (such as the organisation’s estate strategy and information and communication technology strategy) are not fully implemented. These compound the already demanding workload pressures on staff. The report noted that for full implementation to be achieved, the Ministry of Justice must promptly ensure that Interserve can use the Strategic Partner Gateway, or a suitable alternative, that will enable the various systems to work together.
- Some case managers have gaps in their knowledge and skills, and this limits their ability to deliver good-quality, personalised services. The management has begun to address these deficiencies.
Among positive findings, Dame Glenys noted that partnership working was strong. Specialist services, such as services for women, were in place and Through the Gate work with those leaving prison, as well as supervision of unpaid work imposed by courts, showed promise.
Overall, Dame Glenys said: “This CRC’s senior leaders understand the challenges faced by the organisation. They promote a culture of learning from mistakes and they actively respond to findings from audits and independent inspection. Consequently, we expect that the findings and recommendations in this report will assist their efforts to address practice shortfalls and improve the quality of the services provided.”
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:
- West Yorkshire CRC has a strong leadership team which is committed to the provision of effective services. The CRC’s owning company (Interserve) has its own values, aspirations and goals for its CRCs. Managers in West Yorkshire understand the probation business, and have used this knowledge to build upon the company’s values and to inform their approach to business transformation. The Interserve operating model is conceptually credible. It supports a personalised and strengths-based approach to helping those subject to supervision to achieve rehabilitation goals. There have been delays in fully deploying all aspects of the operating model, however, and this has hindered progress on delivering services as intended, as has lack of sufficient staff at all levels.
- Some staff lack the skills, knowledge and experience to undertake the tasks they have been given. Many staff report that the learning and development support on offer does not always meet their needs. Local managers have insufficient capacity to contribute systematically to the quality of work done by team members, but staff welcome the support that is available via their line managers.
- Service provision to support rehabilitation is well developed and there are mechanisms in place to keep provision under review. The CRC commissions services based on an analysis of needs and an assessment of the effectiveness of services. CRC managers take an active approach to engaging with strategic partners in the area. They have lead roles in key strategic fora – for example, chairing local Reducing Reoffending Partnership Boards. This is resource intensive but the investment is in line with their aim to enable individuals to access relevant services, both during the period of supervision and beyond.
- Relevant policies and practice guidance are in place, although staff are critical about the methods of communicating these. Mobile ICT is being used to enable flexible working arrangements for practitioners. There have been substantial ICT challenges, however, which have impeded progress on delivering services in line with the operating model expectations.
Inspectors were critical of the quality of work with offenders:
- Assessments focused on factors related to offending but these factors were not analysed well enough. Too many responsible officers did not demonstrate an understanding of the reasons why those they were supervising had offended. Many had only considered current offences and missed looking at historic offences and behaviour. Information from available sources was not always considered within assessments. Attention to diversity factors was mixed.
- Planning for work to reduce reoffending was not good enough in too many cases. Plans often did not adequately address how best to keep actual and potential victims safe. Plans were not always personalised and did not build on protective factors. Contingency planning was weak.
- Responsible officers formed effective working relationships with individuals but interventions did not always meet individuals’ needs. Work to manage non-compliance was recorded. Responsible officers did not focus enough on promoting the safety of others when delivering services. They did not always exchange information on risk of harm with partner agencies and other service providers. Despite efforts to make available a range of intervention and partnership services, not all individuals got access to the services they required.
- Reviews of work, particularly in relation to risk of harm, were poor. The quality of work to review progress in cases was variable. Individuals under supervision were not consistently involved in reflecting on how their risk of harm had, or had not, changed.
Unpaid work & through-the-gate
- Assessments generally focused on the critical issues relevant to unpaid work. A new system to manage unpaid work had been implemented recently and this had highlighted several problems with the delivery of the service. Managers were aware of these and were working to resolve them. In our sample, personal circumstances and individual diversity needs had been appropriately considered.
- The coordination of resettlement activity and communication with responsible officers was promising. We saw many examples of good work in Through the Gate practice. Resettlement plans were completed and individuals could contribute to their plans. Diversity needs were being appropriately considered but not all plans adequately built on individuals’ strengths and protective factors.
The Probation Inspectorate works on a four-band rating system: excellent, good, requires improvement and poor. This is the third inspection under the new rating system and West Yorkshire, Merseyside and Essex CRCs have all been rated in the third band: “requiring improvement”. In all three reports, there is a sense that performance is improving and of the inspectorate wanting to commend and drive that improvement.
Despite this sense of improvement, I am increasingly concerned that the weakest domain in all three areas inspected so far is the most important, the core probation activity of supervising offenders.