His Majesties Inspectorate for Probation published a thematic inspection of work undertaken, and progress made, by the probation service to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse and protect victims. The report highlights some very worrying findings in relation to work carried out both with regards to quality of assessments and the delivery of interventions.
Building Better Relationships is the only intervention delivered in the community for domestic abuse. The programme’s accreditation was renewed November 2022 but to date no evaluation of it’s effectiveness has been carried out and HMPPS have no plans to do so. This is possibly in light of the current development of the Next Generation programme which is planned to be rolled out in late 2024. Therefore it is unknown how effective this programme is at reducing risk and re-offending.
Renehan (2020) summarises: A thematic inspection of work undertaken, and progress made, by the Probation Service to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse and protect victims 16 ‘In short, we do not yet know what works, for whom, and under what circumstances. Consequentially, the effectiveness of both accredited voluntary and statutory programmes unfortunately remains in doubt.
There are also concerns that the structure of the programme is preventing meaningful rehabilitation staff development.
Studies focused on the delivery of BBR have highlighted concerns about the ability of those delivering the programme to manage the sometimes-traumatic disclosures, which underlie their offending, that men may make in the group.
Renehan (2020) fears that BBR may: ‘…teach men to control their emotions rather than to fully understand them.’ Hughes (2017) also found that the effectiveness of BBR may not be fully realised, as: ‘While BBR contains many therapeutic elements, its structured nature risks diverting attention away from developing skilled staff practice.
Members will be aware of the ongoing talks with HMPPS regarding the implementation of the Target Operating Model and the impact this will have on programmes teams. Napo are concerned that some of the aims identified by HMIP will not be met under the proposed new design and possible re-banding of staff to a Band 3.
1.4 Aims and objectives In addition to following up on the progress made on recommendations from previous inspections and reviews, this inspection sought to answer the following questions:
- Does leadership support and promote the delivery of a high-quality, personalised, and responsive service for all perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse?
- Are staff within the Probation Service empowered to deliver a high-quality service for all perpetrators and victims of domestic abuse?
- Is a comprehensive range of services and interventions in place to undertake work with domestic abuse cases?
- How well do practitioners support desistance from domestic abuse behaviour?
- How are victims and their children supported and protected?
- Are arrangements with statutory partners, providers, and other agencies established, maintained, and used effectively to deliver high-quality services?
Napo will be asking the employer how they plan to meet the Inspector’s aims under the proposals and highlight the risks that are associated with such a move. We will specifically focus on how staff will be empowered, trained and supported to deliver high quality work especially in the context of an inexperienced and over worked workforce.
Assessment and Sentence Management:
The quality of SARA has been highlighted in the report as lacking any real analysis to make the assessment meaningful. Napo is aware of a growing trend of training PSOs in SARA for both Court reports and in some places sentence management with little or no training about context and risk management making it simply a tick box exercise. However, we will be asking questions about the quality of this training as a stand alone assessment tool without the theoretical underpinning required to analyse concerns and risks.
57% of Oasys assessments failed to analyse the risks associated with domestic abuse. This is in part seems to be due to the guidance being unclear for practitioners using Oasys. Definitions are vague and dilutes the assessment of perpetrators. Whilst the Inspector doesn’t make reference to workloads in this section, it would be difficult to ignore the fact that staff are working under immense pressure and that this will have a direct impact on their ability to carry out thorough assessments and to have time to fully read all the relevant material. This is addressed in Sentence Management however, where it is highlighted that one client had 10 officers in 12 months and their supervision consisted of little more than “hello, how are you?”. This is supported by Napo’s own survey into workloads and previous HMIP reports that have highlighted a lack of meaningful supervision as a result of unmanageable workloads. The Executive Summary states:
In too many places, practitioner workloads are excessively high. Two PDUs we inspected were identified as ‘red’ under the prioritisation framework for sentence management11, and one was ‘amber’. Where PDUs are not operating under business-as-usual arrangements, the guidance often directs staff to reduce intervention delivery and partnership work, which are crucial elements of effective domestic abuse work. Therefore, these measures impact negatively on the quality of work.
There was also a lack of multi-agency working which is deemed vital in work with domestic abuse perpetrators and victims. This is in part due to an inconsistency in protocols with local police forces with Cardiff being highlighted as having the most comprehensive approach with the police. There was a similar pattern with social services with many probation practitioner reporting that they are not invited to strategy meetings or conferences.
There are clearly a number of questions for the Senior Leadership to answer in relation to this report. Not least about the effectiveness of the their chosen operating model. As we are seeing with the programmes teams there appears to be a clear shift to moving away from specialist teams despite evidence that these specialist teams of staff offer a much more effective approach to managing risks.
Notwithstanding our concerns about the general quality of practice concerning domestic abuse, we found some examples of impressive practice. Where specialist multidisciplinary teams were in place, this enabled practitioners to work collaboratively with police and other services. Practitioners in A thematic inspection of work undertaken, and progress made, by the Probation Service to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse and protect victims 11 these teams demonstrated a better understanding of the complexity of domestic abuse. As they usually had smaller caseloads, they had the time to work more effectively with people on probation. Joint work with other specialist organisations, such as through the Drive project, also led to effective work to reduce domestic abuse.
Napo will be pressing the employer to:
- urgently review their current model and ideological shift of disbanding specialist teams.
- Asking for a full action plan to be provided to set out their strategy for improving work with both domestic abuse perpetrators and victims.
- Review the training for all grades of staff to ensure staff feel both empowered and supported in their role. Napo will highlight the dangers of training people in risk assessment tools such as SAR without providing context training about identifying risks and triggers as well as managing them.
- That there is a full review of role boundaries and much clearer stronger guidelines indicating which cases should go to which band of staff and empower staff to challenge any allocation decisions they feel are outside of their training, expertise and pay.
The full report can be found here: A thematic inspection of work undertaken, and progress made, by the Probation Service to reduce the incidence of domestic abuse and protect victims (justiceinspectorates.gov.uk)