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Domestic abuse: Recognising the role of training to equip probation staff

As we move into new ways of working in a Covid world it’s important to ensure staff are properly trained to deal with the challenges of supporting individuals in a virtual world.

Learning and development is critical in helping employees understand what has changed. With reduced face-to-face contact with individuals, staff in all workplaces are having to adapt quickly to new ways of working. In particular, staff must learn new ways to identify, challenge and mitigate risk.

Kent Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company (KSS CRC) has been on the front foot by adapting training to assist employees with the necessary knowledge and support, in spotting signs of domestic abuse.

The sad reality is that probation practitioners continue to be at the forefront of responding to domestic abuse. Many perpetrators and victims will not ask for our help and often present with related issues such as alcohol, stress, depression and relationship issues.  How we respond to any disclosure about domestic abuse, however indirect, can be significant for encouraging responsibility and motivating the individual towards change. Just as importantly, to help us act and ensure the safety of victims and any children.

But to do this, our practitioners need to have the skills and confidence to use their professional curiosity to uncover signs of abuse under these new Covid-19 conditions.

We are fortunate to have an in-house learning and development team who has quickly updated our training offer following the pause of all face-to-face meetings. They’ve been able to provide our employees from across the south of England and Wales with virtual learning.

Virtual training has refreshed what the key identifiers of domestic abuse are for our employees and how Covid-19 is changing these. It has also helped our practitioners, through critically reflective discussion, to identify and overcome current challenges specific to the pandemic.

Effective practice during Covid-19

Paramount to good probation practice is the relationship between an individual and their probation practitioner. Often it is this relationship that helps us to uncover and act on new information to manage risks to victims.

With the delivery of timely, effective training, we’ve been able to show that working under Covid-19 restrictions doesn’t have to be a barrier.

As with many other organisations, the advent of lockdown meant our staff had to change the way they work almost overnight. Our revised training has helped our employees to apply their existing expertise in new ways. Everything from thinking about how they can use video calls to help them assess the risks, read a person’s body language and see who else is in the room, to using the opportunities to challenge and ask more questions so they can identify, assess and manage the risks.

Probation Service Officer (PSO) Yolanda Corney from Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset and Wiltshire Probation Services said she will “use Facetime or Skype to see service users, to assess their living situation, needs and risk more.”

PSO Charlotte Stone who works in West Sussex said the reflective discussion has given her the confidence “of how to best deliver interventions in this environment.”

Our trainers and employees have also noted unexpected benefits from virtual learning too.

People say they’ve felt more confident to contribute to discussions than they would have in a classroom environment. They are also meeting and sharing experiences with people they would not usually see as they are in different areas of the country, providing a wider pool of knowledge to reflect on and solve their practice issues.

If we’re to spot domestic abuse and tackle the issue, we need to ensure we’ve got the skills and can apply these in the new ‘Covid-19 world’ for our practice to be effective. Virtual learning is helping us to rise to this challenge. It’s only by investing in learning and development that we can effectively respond to domestic abuse under the current circumstances at a time when victims need us the most.

Jane Port is Assistant Chief Probation Officer and lead for learning and development at Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company, part of the Seetec Group, an employee-owned company operating in the UK and Ireland. Through its four probation services, KSS CRC works to reduce reoffending and in so doing, improve people’s lives –potential victims as well as perpetrators of crime. 

You can find out more about our domestic abuse Covid-19 training for probation practitioners, as well as other virtual training we offer on topics including mental health, substance misuse, and sex offending, by emailing our Learning and Development team.

The blog was first published on HMPPS Insights.