Health and social care - student stories
John Pierre-Madigan, Probation Worker
Why did you choose probation work?
My background is from a family of six children from a council estate where I saw friends drift in and out of crime. I had a desire to make a difference and to help people see that there are choices in life. I was interested in probation work for a long time, but having left school with four CSEs at 16, I never thought I could do it. It was only after taking a MENSA test that I realised if my IQ was anything to go by, I might have a chance.
What has been your career path before probation work?
After leaving school at 16 I went onto a youth training scheme, followed by the Army for three years. After this I moved from one job to another: labouring, warehouse work, factory work including driving a forklift truck. A lot of this work was on night shifts.
While I was working, I studied for a health and social care degree with the OU. At the same time I was a volunteer for the St John's Ambulance, did volunteering for the Probation Service for about a year and then a residential children's school for about eight months. After this time I was offered a full-time post in the residential care school and made my change in direction.
I applied to be a trainee probation officer and got a place. The training requires you to study for a degree, work towards an NVQ and also go on placement. One of the reasons the recruiters were interested in me was that I had studied with the OU while working. My first year of training was a busy one; I was also in the final year of my degree with the OU! Although it was hard work and required me to juggle many balls, it enabled me to make relevant links between the different areas in my life.
Skills you use the most
Time management, especially the need to prioritise deadlines, read and digest information, then prepare succinct and precisely written reports for the courts. Being able to interact with people is vital as is concentrating on the salient issues. There is a lot of one-to-one work with offenders and this requires you to work through both your own and their emotional barriers.
Every day is different. Of a working week, about 3½ days are spent in the office with the remainder split between prison and being in court, which is why it is crucial to be able to plan ahead and be organised, especially with paperwork.
Best and worst parts of the job
You get to work with a huge spectrum of people, from the homeless to professionals who have made mistakes, so you are communicating on all different levels. Unusually I have a role in supervising five trainees even though this is only my first year as a probation officer and I am finding this very stimulating.
The job is generally very pressured and there are times when you have to engage with people such as sex offenders or rapists where it is difficult to isolate your professional behaviour from your emotions. You have to focus on the person rather than the crime and think about risk reduction and management.
Where do you see yourself going?
My role is currently that of case manager where I manage up to 35 offenders at one time. I liaise with the courts and offer pre-sentence options, which is basically providing the courts with guidance on how to best sentence that particular individual. I also visit prisons where I am involved in the release process.
As a next step I would see myself as a personal development adviser or practice manager, monitoring quality assurance within a team. In 5-10 years time I would like to be a senior probation officer in charge of 15-20 staff.
At the moment I'm studying the second year of my Masters degree in Social Policy and Criminology with the OU, which is certainly an academic challenge. I'm currently looking at what study to do next.