You never know what will happen when you miss a routine committee meeting. In September when I was away working in Hong Kong the Board of the Probation Institute, of which I am an elected member, decided that I should become its first elected chair. Teach me to miss the meeting! This will not be the easiest of tasks I have ever taken on, in about 40 years of working in and alongside Probation but it is one which I am certainly proud to do. I intend to take up the challenge because I believe the PI has a potentially important and certainly unique role as probation is reshaped and refashioned in the course of the next few years. We are in the midst of a difficult time (and I recognise for many that is an understatement) concerning the future of Probation but the essence of what rehabilitation of offenders is all about is built into the DNA of successive generations of probation workers. We must continue to draw on that legacy and continue to strive for high quality, innovative practices. The Institute is committed to supporting and enhancing high quality probation practice by promoting the professional development of all workers who are engaged in this rehabilitative endeavour, wherever they work.
Whatever outcome individuals may have wanted from Transforming Rehabilitation we are left with a plurality of delivery arrangements with a range of agencies and organisations from the public, private and voluntary sector shaping the delivery of community sentences, probation, resettlement and rehabilitation. What they all need is a workforce which is fit for purpose, which can be enabled to engage in continuing professional development and can share their skills and knowledge in professional networks outwith their employing agency. This is the business of the Probation Institute, indeed, its core mission.
Now I know there are many obstacles to overcome not least has been the bleeding of probation expertise as disillusioned people have chosen to retire or just leave. I understand that but I also know that service users remain and need support and engagement. Workers who have stayed or arrived anew are facing difficult adjustments, a fight for survival and massive career uncertainty and insecurity. I know that these challenges are huge and that achieving a positive environment is far from easy. But surely we have to continue to try.
What I do recall, having been around for so long in this unique probation world, that I have lived through many previous near fatal attacks on probation as an institution. But there is something at the heart of practice which transcends even the worst of crises because workers care about the people they help and will always be service user focused whatever the practical arrangements of agencies and employers. Indeed the code of ethics prepared by the Institute speaks to those values and puts them up front.
Let me explode one myth now. The PI is not in the pocket of the Minister or NOMS. Indeed maintaining a conversation with them remains an uncertain endeavour. We are and will always be in the pocket of our members. I believe that our independence is our strength and if I doubted that I would not have taken up this role! I hope my past record points to an independent spirit striving for probation in all its diversity. Yesterday we had our second Representative Council meeting, a body created as a result of member elections. In a spirited and at times defiant discussion our Council showed a determination to take the PI forward, to use it as a vehicle for maintaining and enhancing professional standards and to seek to get this message out to all working in probation. The PI is not, per se, a campaigning organisation it is there to support good practice through its register, its approach to training and education through its Professional Development Framework, shortly to be launched in November and seeks to ensure its services are relevant to the changing dynamic of probation, in all its plurality.
Creating a new organisation at such a time has been a very difficult exercise and it is not there yet. I feel such an organisation has been a long time in gestation, long before the recent changes. It is difficult to protect a profession which has few reference points as to what counts as good practice, a situation which most professions from dental nursing to security services would look at with amazement. There was a time when being a probation officer and working for the probation service were synonymous and there was an unambiguous qualification structure. We have moved so far from that vision now and have not always been able to protect the professional aspirations of all of the workers who have contributed to these changes. I believe that the Probation Institute fills that gap and can do so the more its membership grows and through participation and exchange can ensure its focus and its future is driven by member intentions. I would want everyone who is reading this and shares our values to join or re-join now and make your voice heard.
At the same time share your reservations to anything I have said by responding to this blog and keeping the conversation going. In future blogs I will focus on particular elements of the work of the Institute and explore and I hope expose other myths which have grown up around it.