Tag Archives: Probation

Photo of Joanne McMullan, Probation Services Officer

A Day in the Life – Of a Probation Services Officer

Joanne McMullan is a Community Service Probation Service Officer with the North Antrim team based in the PBNI Ballymena office covering Ballymena, Antrim and Larne.

I have been a Community Service Probation Service Officer for the past three years, and before that I worked in Programmes for almost thirteen years. I decided on a career in Probation because of my Aunt who was a Probation Officer. She always talked very highly of the work that Probation does, and I thought that was a career path I would like to go down.

I oversee the completion of Community Service Orders from start to finish and I am constantly on my toes. I can start working on a list of Service Users to place and by the time I am half way down, I get another list of people to place. My work includes finding placements for Service Users, looking after the daily time sheets, telephone calls, text messages, emails, collating monthly statistics, and setting out rotas for who goes where with which squads. I also assess the Service Users for the Community service placements, which can be difficult at the moment as you can’t really meet them face to face due to the restrictions and assessment has to be done over the phone.

Getting placements for Service Users to complete their hours can sometimes be a struggle due to people’s perceptions of Probation and community service, not everybody fully understands what we actually do. So part of my job is about breaking down barriers as I try to find placements in charities, sports clubs, church groups and voluntary and community groups that we can work alongside. So far we have had some really good partners, like Habitat in Ballymena who let me know that they might not be able to exist if it wasn’t for our Community Service placements.

There are also challenges specifically due to the pandemic, such as Community Service Supervisors can’t carry anyone in their cars and I have to think about alternative transport to get Service Users to their placements or squads. Many of the indoor placements are also closed due to safety restrictions which leaves a gap to fill. The restrictions also mean that each supervisor can only really oversee two Service Users and this can restrict the Community Service hours available to Service Users. If the Service User is near the end of their order and they don’t have their hours done, I have to get an extension which can sometimes upset the Service user if they don’t fully understand the process. Explaining it to them can be difficult sometimes, especially if the extension is not their fault.

Placements have been limited during COVID19, as the work has to be outside and I have to think about the weather, about the right clothing, and making sure they have the right equipment when they are completing their Community Service. On top of this, they may not get a full day if the weather turns really bad and they have to be sent home. There are also issues like making sure the placement has shelter and toilet facilities.

Larne Football Club have opened back up and allowed us back onto their premises, they are a very good solid placement for Probation with really good Service User numbers attending. We also have other places like the People’s Park in Ballymena, which has a poly tunnel where Service Users can go for a bit of shelter. Party Time Gardens in Portglenone is a place where I would also send Service Users to be supervised and we work well with them there.

The most satisfying part of the job is seeing a Service User change their attitude, as they complete their Order, to a more positive one. It has to be remembered that they may never have felt positive about themselves before. This can be a big change for the Service User, as this may be the first time they have ever seen something through to the end. I enjoy watching them on their journey as they accomplish this.

I know having a Court Order for Community Service imposed on you isn’t the most positive thing to talk about but for many of the people we supervise its maybe the only thing that they have ever completed. It might be that they have never learned to use a lawn mower, never had to use a gardening tool, never had to paint a wall or lay paving before. Yet by the end of their time they have become more confident and have better self-esteem because of doing something that many take for granted. I love hearing that a former Service User connects with a placement so much that they stayed on and are volunteering there or even got a job out of it.

I know it can be stressful at times but I just really love what I do.

Photo of A Probation Officer interviewing someone under supervision during Covid 19

Probation Adapting Practice To Deliver Services To Keep People Safe

The Probation Board for Northern Ireland has been adapting its practice during COVID-19 to ensure that it is able to deliver essential services and continue its work rehabilitating and resettling people into communities.

Director of Operations Hugh Hamill said:

“Throughout Northern Ireland probation has streamlined our offices into six operational hubs where high risk individuals under supervision can be seen on a face to face basis and other staff are working remotely with service users using new tools and technology.”

“We know that domestic abuse is an area of concern during the pandemic when so many families are social distancing at home.  Recorded crime shows a rise in reported incidents during the pandemic. We have therefore put in place additional safeguards to manage domestic abuse perpetrators and those with a history of domestic abuse.  We are maintaining our normal face-to-face contact with those who present as a significant risk of serious harm.  We are continuing to deliver programmes and interventions to perpetrators and our partner support workers continue to work with partners and ex-partners.   We have increased liaison with partner organisations including the police and social services.”

He added: “We have also introduced a new screening tool, which all probation officers must use to identify concerns in any case in respect of domestic violence or child protection. This tool will flag up any concerns in a case at the earliest stage and enable us to put measures in to keep people safer.”

Director of Rehabilitation Dr Geraldine O’Hare commented: “Those with mental health and addictions are likely to be more vulnerable during this period. Over 70% of people on probation’s caseload have a substance misuse problem and over 60% have a mental illness. With this in mind PBNI psychologists are carrying out assessments by telephone and video call.  Indeed assessments have increased significantly during this period.

“We have also enhanced  our award winning mobile phone app ‘Changing Lives’ which can be downloaded free and has a range of resources including a self-assessment tool and alcohol diary to help people manage their mental health and addictions. Probation officers are working with many service users remotely using the app”.

“PBNI provide a direct service to victims of crime who have registered with the victim information scheme. Importantly during this period work has increased. Indeed because a number of prisoners have been released early the work of the victims unit has increased. Victims unit staff who are probation officers are on hand to provide information on the type of sentence individuals are on, and the progress they are making. The system for referrals has now moved to an online system and staff are speaking directly to victims using the phone or video calls”.

Dr O’Hare continued: “Probation prides itself in our work within communities and many of our staff are currently working to help out in local community projects like foodbanks.  The people we work with have many vulnerabilities and often rely on support from local community groups.”

“Much of probation’s work is about providing an individualised service to people to tackle the causes of crime and prevent reoffending.  We have been innovative in adapting our practice to these new circumstances. Our aim is changing lives for safer communities and this work continues throughout the pandemic.”

Delivering Probation services in a rural area during COVID-19

 

Working in a rural area in Northern Ireland during the COVID-19 pandemic has its own distinct challenges. Yet staff in probation rural teams have been working hard to find creative solutions to overcome the isolation and deliver essential services.

A/Area Manager in North Antrim Denise Stewart writes: “An important element of my work is staying connected to team members who are now dispersed and working from home. I make a point of keeping in telephone contact with my team as much as possible. I am mindful that everyone’s circumstances are different. Some staff members have young families, are caring for vulnerable relations, others live alone. There can also be difficulties in getting a balance when you are working from home. Importantly we have also set up a WhatsApp group to stay more connected and it has been really important in keeping us all connected and there is a lot of reassurance for staff in being able to see and speak to one another.”

Likewise, working with service users means thinking differently about service delivery.

Probation Services Officer Cheryl Johnston says: “My role is to deliver interventions to help people change their behaviour and take responsibility for their actions. I am now delivering one to one interventions over the phone and through video calls. This approach is not without its challenges and has had a mixed response from service users. One of my service users is a single mum with two children and it has been difficult for her to focus on the telephone as she is constantly being interrupted as she has no childcare. Yet another service user reports that she finds telephone contact actually works better for her as she can be more open and forthcoming on the telephone than by talking face to face.”

Service users in rural areas have reported difficulties in accessing local services and in some cases, the only contact they have in any given day is from probation. Probation staff therefore have the added responsibility of trying to ensure service users, particularly those who are vulnerable, have basic necessities.

Denise continued: “Every time a probation officer makes contact with an individual service user we need to consider whether they are living alone, do they have mental health issues, or are they struggling with addictions? As well as holding people to account, we are asking questions about their basic needs. Are you coping? Do you have enough food? Do you have electricity? Do you have medication?”

“Living and working through this experience has certainly had its challenges, however probation staff living and working in local rural communities continue to play their part in delivering services to keep people safe.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) PBNI Information and Advice

PBNI response to COVID-19 Pandemic

In March 2020 the work of probation in Northern Ireland changed beyond recognition. Coronavirus poses the biggest threat any of us have ever seen in our lifetime.
In response to the pandemic and the unprecedented restrictions imposed by the UK Government and NI Executive , the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) made very significant changes to its operational practice and working arrangements.

On 23 March in order to comply with the Government’s measures in relation to social distancing and working where possible from home, PBNI streamlined its service delivery, closing its eleven offices and instead opened seven ‘operational hubs’ throughout Northern Ireland. On 1 April, PBNI published its ‘interim operational arrangements’, which covers case management, programme delivery, work in courts, work in prisons and work with victims of crime.

The majority of PBNI staff have been enabled to work effectively remotely from home with access to PBNI case management system and records. The use of video and teleconferencing has been of paramount importance in enabling staff to deliver programmes and complete supervision. Teleconferencing has been introduced for staff to keep in contact with each other and service users.

PBNI has also increased the use of its mobile phone app ‘Changing Lives’ which aims to provide services users with a range of resources and tools on their mobile device.

PBNI Hubs

PBNI Headquarters
80-90 North Street
Belfast BT1 1LD
Tel: (028) 9052 2522
– open every day between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Newry Probation Office
1d Monaghan Street
Newry
County Down
BT35 6BB
Tel: (028) 3025 3030
email: admin.newry@probation-ni.gov.uk
– open every Monday between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Omagh Probation Office
Sperrin Centre
1 Market Street
Omagh
BT78 1EE
Tel: (028) 8225 4872
email: admin.omagh@probation-ni.gov.uk
– open every Tuesday between and 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Derry – Shipquay Street Probation Office
25 Shipquay Street
Londonderry
BT48 6DL
Tel: (028) 7131 9670
email: admin.waterside@probation-ni.gov.uk
– open every Wednesday between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Dungannon Probation Office
2 Feeney’s Lane
Dungannon
County Tyrone
BT70 1TX
Tel: (028) 8775 4848
email: admin.dungannon@probation-ni.gov.uk
– open every Thursday between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Portadown Probation Office
12 Church Street
Portadown
Co. Armagh BT62 3LQ
Tel: (028) 3839 7575
email: admin.portadown@probation-ni.gov.uk
– open every Thursday between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

Ballymena Probation Office
3 Wellington Court
Ballymena
BT43 6EQ
Tel: (028) 2566 2345
– open every Friday between 10am – 12 noon and 2pm – 3pm for appointments with service users

PBNI Probation Board for Northern Ireland

NEW PROBATION PARTNERSHIP TO PROVIDE RAPID RESPONSE TO ADDICTIONS

The Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI) is partnering with ‘ASCERT’,  a Northern Ireland based charity, to provide a ‘Rapid Response Addiction Service’ to people under probation supervision.

The purpose of this partnership, which will commence at the beginning of November, is to ensure there is a ‘Rapid Response Service’ so that service users presenting in crisis can be referred to a support service for counselling or intervention within 48 hours for initial support and assessment. They will then be offered a 12-week intervention and support programme tailored to the needs of the individual.

The project will target males and females from the age of 18 and above who are subject to Probation supervision. Funding is currently available to work with 300 people.

Probation Assistant Director, Stephen Hamilton commented: “76% of people assessed by PBNI have an Alcohol or Drugs Offending Related Problem. There is a well-established link between drugs, alcohol and crime. In fact, one of the biggest factors that influences whether someone will reoffend is their use of drugs and alcohol. Therefore, tackling this type of behaviour is a priority for probation.  It is really important that we are able to quickly respond to crisis situations at whatever time they occur and we believe that this new partnership will help us respond to those in crisis and ultimately rehabilitate people and prevent then re-offending in the future.”

“Many of the people we work with have complex needs, such as drug and alcohol addiction combined with chaotic personal lifestyles, homelessness, mental health issues, and deficits in family and community support. We hope that the interventions provided will also help to impact on some of the related issues.“

ASCERT Chief Executive, Gary McMichael said: “ASCERT provides services across Northern Ireland that address the impact of alcohol and drugs related issues. We are committed to ensuring individuals, families and communities are supported in the most effective way to deal with the challenges they face. It is important that when people with addiction issues are at a point of crisis they can get the right help quickly in order to stabilise the situation and avoid things becoming uncontrollable, but that can be difficult because of waiting times for services. This partnership with PBNI is an innovative project that will ensure that its service users can get support at the time when they really need it.”

ENDS

The Probation Board for Northern Ireland is a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB) of the Department of Justice.

For further information, please contact PBNI Communications Office on Mobile: 07979758011/ 07584362190.

Probation Board for Northern Ireland Corporate Planning 2020 to 2023

Probation seeks views of the public on the delivery of services

PROBATION SEEKS VIEWS OF PUBLIC ON DELIVERY OF SERVICES

Today the Probation Board for Northern Ireland is seeking the public’s views on how to help shape the future of probation services in NI. This consultation is part of the development of PBNI’s Corporate Plan for 2020-23 which will set out the strategic direction for the organisation over the next three years.

Chair of the Board Dale Ashford commented: “PBNI is committed to engaging with communities and stakeholders to inform them of our role in tackling offending, leading in reducing reoffending and rehabilitation, working effectively and efficiently in order to deliver ‘smarter justice’.

“This plan provides an important opportunity for us to hear from stakeholders and communities about the services that are being delivered. PBNI has been innovative, collaborative, and responsive in meeting the challenges of the last number of years. Looking forward, this Board wants to create the circumstances for the organisation to thrive and develop further because in doing so, it will mean fewer people will reoffend and there will be fewer victims of crime. We need your views to help us do that,” he added.

PBNI Chief Executive Cheryl Lamont stated: “The plan aims to build on the strong foundations which have been laid in developing effective probation assessments and interventions, alternatives to short prison sentences, a problem solving approach to justice and direct work with victims of crime.”

Ms Lamont continued: “Many of those subject to probation supervision have serious addictions and mental health problems. Dealing with these issues and facilitating change is resource intensive. 76% of people under probation supervision in Northern Ireland have an alcohol or drug-related problem. Likewise there are high numbers of people on probation supervision assessed as having mental health problems. it is necessary for PBNI to continue to think about how it delivers its service into the future. This includes looking at international best practice, considering technological advancements that can assist our work and enhancing our partnership work with organisations and across communities.”

Chair of Probation Dale Ashford concluded: “This consultation provides an opportunity for stakeholders to inform and shape probation in the future. It provides an opportunity for all those with an interest in probation to help us ensure the organisation is fit for purpose, effective and efficient in the coming years. Most importantly, it provides an opportunity for everyone in NI to have a say in how probation can contribute towards making every community safer.”

ENDS

This consultation is open until the end of October 2019 and further information can be found at https://www.pbni.org.uk/guide-information/make-decisions/current-consultations/