Family involvement in probation practice
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Family Involvement Project

Background to the research: Family involvement has shown to be integral to desistance from crime (Burnet and McNeill, 2005; McNeill et al, 2012; Weaver and McNeill, 2015). However, what does family involvement mean when it comes to probation practice? Commissioned by Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company (KSS CRC), this research sought to explore just that.

Methodology: The research took a qualitative approach, and involved interviews, focus groups and written data gathered by the Research and Policy team from over 50 members of KSS CRC staff, and 15 family members who had a loved one being supervised by KSS CRC. Data was collected over the course of 2019

Results (Staff): Views and experiences of involving families in a service users’ probation journey were varied amongst staff. Though most saw great value in it, particularly in the way in which families might support rehabilitation objectives by acting as an ‘extended arm of probation’, some also identified a number of barriers too. For example, staff spoke of the challenges presented by disruptive family members, that there was not always scope for a family inclusive model in service delivery, and most significantly, that by extending the remit of probation to include families, there was a risk that staff would be seen in a social or therapeutic way i.e. a “family counsellor”.  However, despite these barriers, staff were generally open to the idea of connecting more with families, but wanted more consideration of how that might work in practice.

Developing a family inclusive approach saw suggestions around implementing family friendly reporting times, having dedicated family workers (thereby taking the onus of frontline staff), and where possible, providing additional locations where probation services might be delivered.  Most notably, staff talked about the idiosyncratic nature of ‘family work’, suggesting that that not all families were going to be appropriate for involvement, with some being potentially detrimental if left unmonitored.  Implementing a more family inclusive model of service delivery was suggested as best approached on a ‘case by case’ basis.

Results (Family members): Families were, by and large, fairly consistent in what they revealed. Our research identified key challenges in terms of lacking a clear understanding about what probation is and does and, reflecting staff concerns, typically perceiving probation as a support service. This misconception unfortunately led some family members to feel frustration when they did not receive the help they were looking for, translating this into a perceived failing of the service. This feeling was intensified in situations where probation staff were seen to be enacting risk assessment processes and enforcement. What appeared most pressing for family members, however, was the need to be acknowledged and listened to by staff when it came to the often invisible work they undertook in supporting their loved ones through their orders. Importantly, where staff did actively engage with family members, the response was hugely positive. 

Recommendations: The findings underlined a clear need for a cultural shift in promoting the value of family involvement in probation practice. Staff and families offered many practical suggestions as to how this might be achieved.

  1. Modelling how family involvement might help rather than hinder probation work
  2. Providing training which explores ways in which staff might work effectively and usefully with service users’ families.
  3. Offering mentoring from more experienced staff to help newer or less experienced staff gain confidence in working with families.
  4. Empowering staff to develop frontline practice to include more face to face communication, reflecting the importance given to it by family members.
  5. Developing a family assessment ‘tool’ to enable staff to make more robust judgements when it comes to appropriately involving service users’ families.
  6. Considering the increased use of co-locations to engage with service users and their families outside of the formal probation office setting.
  7. Offering more reporting times which support a more family inclusive model
  8. Providing information relating to who ‘probation’ are and what they do, and how family members might become more engaged with the supervision process.

To read the full report, request a copy from our Research and Policy team.