The current adjustment period in the service due to reunification provides a timely opportunity to consider how women practitioners are affected by the work they do with women, and to think about what support the employer should provide them. Napo members will know that during the privatisation era there was wide variation in the approach to working with women, both between CRCs, and between CRCs and the NPS.
It has long been the case within probation – and the criminal justice system more widely – that women clients, being such a small proportion of the criminalised population, have not often been high in organisational lists of priorities. This does not detract from the committed and excellent work that many officers and managers have been providing to women clients in recent decades, often without sufficient time, recognition or specialist training and support.
This is notwithstanding the comprehensive Corston Report (2007) into women with vulnerabilities in the justice system, which has set the blueprint for work with women in this sector, followed by the Women Offender Strategy (2018) and other documents which guide practice. These can be seen as broadly positive developments. However, as staff will be aware, the devil is in the detail. Healthy supportive working environments which enable best practice are often not the daily milieu in which staff find themselves.
Women on probation suffer from myriad difficulties, and are usually involved with multiple services, including child safeguarding, domestic abuse and mental health. The level of emotional support, vulnerability management and multi-agency working that most women clients require is phenomenally high.
However, given the service’s ongoing prioritisation of risk management, women clients don’t tend to be allocated as much time for casework, as their risk profile is usually substantially lower than men’s. This, combined with the emotional toll of supporting women who have experienced multiple and ongoing traumas, means that women officers working with women are at an elevated risk of overwork, work-related stress and even burnout.
Attenders at previous Women in Napo events (and those who read their Napo emails) may be aware of London South Bank University’s current research project into vicarious trauma for women working with women in probation. 145 Napo women completed this project’s survey earlier this year. It is not possible to publish headline findings yet, as the research phase is still in progress, but suffice to say that Napo women had strong views on this topic! (Napo will be receiving a bespoke report on the findings to share with members in due course.)
This research project needs YOU
The current phase of the project, running until mid-December this year, is the 1-1 interview phase. Some Napo members have already kindly given up their time to participate in this, but more are needed.
If you are a woman practitioner with experience of working with women clients – whether that is in a women’s team, supervising a substantial number of women on your caseload, being a women’s safety/partner link worker, or any other role working with women in probation – then do please consider participating. It is a 1-hour time commitment to a recorded interview using Zoom or Teams. The project is particularly keen that women of colour’s voices, and women with other protected characteristics, are heard in this project, to ensure full representation of the workforce. Please do alert your colleagues to this article if you think they would be interested. (Napo has been very helpful in publicising this project for LSBU but participation is not limited to Napo members.) If you would like to be interviewed about your work with women, please email me on email@example.com with the subject title ‘Probation research project’.
Once the research project is complete it will be written up for publication (all contributions from staff will of course be anonymous and any identifiable information will be changed), with the aim of encouraging HMPPS to see this time of reunification and change as an opportunity to provide comprehensive support and gender-specific training to women working with women in probation. One can only hope!
Criminology dept, London South Bank University, 103 Borough Rd, London, SE1 0AA