This is @ZoeStaffsGMPT 5th post in an ongoing series about her life and learning as a probation officer.
There’s a first time for everything – especially when you’re working as a probation officer. Here are a few of mine…
My first… child protection referral
No one likes doing a child protection referral. The mere words cause fear in many people you’re working with, who’ve often had poor experiences and for whatever reason, have negative views of social workers . But I make no bones about the fact that this represents an extremely important part of my job.
My first child protection referral was as a fairly green PSO. One day, a lad turned up with a small child I had never seen before. He said it was his son, which he was now looking after as his ex couldn’t. This was a bit random, but not totally unbelievable: children in chaotic families can often move around between relatives.
But I just had a funny feeling. And I realised it was because the lad was carrying this child everywhere. His feet never touched the floor of the office, and although I’m no Dr Spock parenting expert, I knew that a 3 year old should at least be toddling, and it, well, just looked a bit “odd”.
(That’s my top-class probation training coming to the fore there….”it just looked a bit odd”)
When I found out the child had no GP, no nursery, no nothing, I told him I’d make a referral, for need purposes, so social services could help register the child. He was extremely negative but his own past sort of explained why. When I did the referral anyway, I felt absolutely terrible, and wondered why I felt I had the right to force another agency into this lad’s life.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you how this story ended. But let’s just say, my fledgling spider-sense had picked up on something major. And it reminds me that some of the most uncomfortable things you have to do in this job, are for some of the best reasons.
Every probation officer can tell you about the person they worked with who died. Names, dates of birth, maybe even that “JFK” moment (where they were when they heard the news).
I knew my lad’s favourite song. He used to play it all the time in the computer room (if he could get away with it) when he was meant to be getting on with a jobs search. I recorded it onto a CD and gave it to his mum in the church; just in time to hear the same song coursing through the speakers, as his coffin was brought down the aisle.
Unfortunately, my first funeral, like many others, was of a young person with no physical illness. It was suicide, and it was utterly pointless. And it wasn’t out of the blue. Just writing this now, I feel like I’m doing a mini-coroner’s report in my head listing the number of people who tried to help, the number of referrals (and re-referrals, and re-re-referrals) I did to the mental health agencies, that he just dipped in and out of like a toe in hot bath.
I spoke to my lad before he died. He’d just been picked up on a warrant after breaching his order; the Court had gone with my proposal and released him back into my supervision, and he rang up from the Court to ask when I needed to see him next. It was 4pm, the court was 20 minutes away, and the office was closing at 5pm. I weighed it up and told him to come in the next morning instead. He chirpily agreed. He died about 4 hours later. I regret that appointment decision every day.
My first…thank you card
Oh my. Well, it’s all getting a little bit serious and maudlin here isn’t it, so I shall try and perk up a bit and end on a high. I can’t remember my first thank you card (there have been so many after all 😉 ) but I can remember my last. It was from a lad I’d been working with for ages, who I’d locked horns with on so many occasions; normally about his infuriating stubbornness to believe he couldn’t amount to anything or was worth any time or effort.
On my leaving lunch (which I decided to have in the client section of the office, so that lads could get some scran rather than it all being gobbled up by us hungry probation gannets) he sat quietly in the corner, clutching a plastic bag. At the end, he gave me the bag but whispered “please don’t read it out”.
What I found was a lovely heartfelt card, a bag of coffee chocolates (a hark back to the many coffees he’d seen me neck back in our sessions no doubt) and one of those mini bears on a cardboard plinth with a message on it. The message was what got me the most; it seemed to sum up how a lot of people (and offenders) feel about probation…..that we shouldn’t really bother…. as they’re not worth the hassle. Thankfully though, it made me realise that (just maybe) this lad had finally started to believe he was worth all the trouble.
The message (which is perched proudly next to my computer right now) reads;
“thank you very much. You shouldn’t have….but I’m really glad you did”.
Over and Out