Overworked probation staff failing to carry out children’s social services checks

Routine safety checks on the dangers offenders could pose to children, their partners and the public are not being carried out as probation officers buckle under the pressure of overwhelming workloads, inspectors have warned.

Over the last year, inspectors reviewed all 28 probation services; seven publicly-run national probation services which deal with high-risk offenders and 27 private community rehabilitation companies (CRCs) which monitor low level criminals.

They looked at nearly 6,000 cases and interviewed 1,900 officers.

No probation services were judged as outstanding overall and there was a “clear difference” between public and privately-run services, the chief inspector of probation Justin Russell said.

Just one of 21 CRCs was rated good as opposed to five of the publicly-run operations.

Some 67% of staff in privately-run CRCS had a workload of more than 50 cases as opposed to 5% in the public sector.

Mr Russell (pictured) said: “People aren’t doing what should be routine checks with children’s social services if the offender has potential of access to a child, either in their own home or perhaps in a partner’s home or family’s home.”

He said staff were failing to “robustly” following up on checks into records to domestic violence call outs, and they were they were “not digging back enough” into past criminal history which could reveal more serious offences or those which put the public in danger.

While inspectors raised this as a theoretical risk to the public, they can issue an alert to a probation service to take action if they fear someone is in “immediate danger”.

Mr Russell said he sat in on an interview with a “very experienced probation officer” working for a CRC with 30 years in the service who was “literally in tears at the size of the caseload she was being expected to manage”.

He said: “It was well over 70 not that long previously it had been over 80. And she just felt guilty that she wasn’t able to manage such a big caseload. You could see the stress that was causing.

“The sheer volume of work can make it difficult for probation staff to maintain high standards and can impair judgment.

“High workloads can also contribute to stress and sickness levels. In some organisations, this has led to additional pressures on the remaining workforce as they cover for absent colleagues.

“High workloads may be impacting on the way that risk to the public is being managed.

“Probation services are not doing enough to identify and manage the potential risks that some individuals pose to others.”

Inspectors also found:

  • Just six services rated as good
  • 21 which require improvement
  • One rated inadequate

The Midlands national probation service was deemed the top performing while Devon, Dorset and Cornwall CRC was rated the worst, having been inspected just before organisation Working Links – which used to run it – went into administration.

There was a “clear legacy” of failures in rehabilitation and probation reform programmes and the “under resourcing that has led to in recent years”, he added.

“There has been significant under-investment in services for supervising low and medium-risk offenders, and this report lays bare the legacy of that shortfall.

“As a result of these failures, CRCs receive less than they need to adequately supervise what is often a highly chaotic and difficult to manage group of offenders.”

Prisons and probation minister Lucy Frazer said: “We took decisive action in May to create a new model for probation that will better protect the public and rehabilitate offenders.

“I am confident this change will bring together the innovative skills of private and voluntary providers and the expertise of the National Probation Service to increase public safety.

“We have already recruited over 600 new probation staff to ensure a smooth transition to the new model which will begin in Wales at the end of this year.”

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