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Working with trauma in adult probation
HMI Probation research explores the experiences of probation staff working with trauma.

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Trauma-informed practice

The latest (18 March 2022) Research and Analysis Bulletin from Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Probation focuses on trauma in adult probation. The report, written by Dr Madeline Petrillo from the University of Greenwich and Dr Alexandria Bradley from Leeds Beckett University is based upon interviews with probation practitioners and managers in England.

A trauma-informed approach largely follows six core values (Safety, Trust, Choice, Collaboration, Empowerment, and Inclusivity) to incorporate trauma knowledge across all aspects of organisational policies, governance, and service planning/delivery. As set out in the graphic reproduced below, the original application of trauma theory within the design of services provided five conditions required to establish trauma-informed change.

Key findings

Interestingly, trauma-informed practice was a topic (TIP) taken more seriously by some Community Rehabilitation Companies than the National Probation Service (see my evaluation of the trauma-informed work of the Midlands’ CRCs). The researchers key findings were:

  • There are pockets of practice throughout the Probation Service that unquestionably meet the ‘criteria’ of TIP. Importantly, much of this work is with the most vulnerable people on probation; women, young adults, and those with mental health and/or personality disorder diagnoses.
  • Staff identified a number of benefits of using TIP for themselves and those with whom they work. In particular, trauma-informed approaches feel intuitive, improve job satisfaction, can help overcome the dissonance between personal and professional values and organisational demands, can help create a meaningful working relationship between the practitioner and the person on probation, and they provide a more humane lens through which to redefine the more punitive aspects of practice.
  • Formal training, clinical supervision, knowledgeable and committed line management, and buy-in from senior leaders were identified as important in providing support to staff using TIP and there were strong examples of this in practice, particularly for those working with individuals screened into the personality disorder pathway. Overall, however, staff felt the professional culture in probation encourages work practices that can result in vicarious trauma, compassion fatigue, burnout, and that staff wellbeing is not prioritised.
  • Most staff believed the Probation Service can become a trauma-informed organisation, but that there are at present significant barriers to progress. These include the challenges of reconciling TIP within a system of punishment, processes being prioritised over people, lingering organisational cultures of fear, shame, and blame, a lack of knowledge and genuine buy-in from senior leaders, unmanageable workloads, and the continued dominance of the risk management paradigm.

Overall, the researchers conclude that despite pockets of “inspirational” TIP – interestingly often the result of staff’s own desire to become more trauma-informed – probation as an organisation is at a much earlier stage in the journey towards being a trauma-informed organisation able to deliver TIP to people on probation and support staff in this work where they are vulnerable to vicarious or “secondary” trauma. 

The researchers helpfully identify eight enablers that could support the further implementation and development of TIP in probation:

  1. Compulsory ‘Becoming Trauma-Informed’ training for all staff, including senior leaders and support staff
  2. TIP specialists in all PDUs who have appropriate knowledge to ensure TIP is also gender and culturally responsive to implement and develop TIP locally.
  3. TIP specialists at different levels of the organisation who can co-ordinate and oversee organisation-wide strategies for knowledge and information gathering and sharing and embed trauma awareness and responsivity in all policy and practice guidance.
  4. Participating in local initiatives using whole systems approaches, such as the Lancashire Violence Reduction Network, that are embedding TIP across public services.
  5. Developing organisation-wide projects such as the PSR pilot to embed a trauma perspective into risk assessment and sentence management tasks.
  6. Working in partnership with trauma specialists to support people on probation with specific vulnerabilities such as young people and women.
  7. Making clinical supervision available and accessible to all frontline staff.
  8. Developing or purchasing trauma-specific interventions, particularly for people with specific trauma-related needs such as veterans, women, and young people with experiences of care.


Thanks to Gerd Altmanfor kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Pixabay.

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