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.