Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2014-15: Amber is granted a Commendation for “going the extra mile” in her role as a Probation Service Officer with drug offenders in the Brighton & Hove area, and for the knowledge, professionalism and dedication she brings to her role.
Amber Betchley is a Probation Service Officer for Kent, Surrey & Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company (KSS CRC), commended for her outstanding work with drug offenders in the Brighton and Hove area.
A singular characteristic that emerges in Amber’s nomination and supporting statements is that they involve so many colleagues, across a very wide range of partner organisations, as well as offenders she has supported, who all go out of their way to extol her work. In part this is a response to the fact that “Amber wouldn’t dream of singing her own praises [which] is why we’re doing it for her.” (A not uncommon feature of Butler Trust nominations, incidentally, and of course a core reason for their existence).
From partner charity workers, police officers and colleagues at all levels, to case studies and offenders she has worked with, a universally enthusiastic picture emerges of someone handling a difficult and demanding caseload with deep professionalism, positive engagement, and a level of performance that far exceeds her job description.
A small selection of dozens of comments capture the flavour. “Ah, Amber, yes she’s the one that always goes the extra mile for her clients,” says Sarah Marshall, project worker at Brighton Housing Trust. “She’s wonderful…yes, Amber is brilliant at her job.”
Sarah Martin, a Drugs Rehabilitation Requirement (DRR) Recovery Worker at the CRI (Crime Reduction Initiatives) charity, says “I adore Amber. She is just so professional and excellent at her job…she is the ‘go-to’ girl. She is so incredibly helpful and knowledgeable…I can’t speak highly enough of her and I know everyone in my team would agree.”
Many of the cases Amber works are heart-rending, with long, disturbing and complex stories involving abuse and violence, leading to difficult patterns of addiction and chaotic lifestyles. Amber’s engagement with these cases, which might involve brigading many different organisations and individuals, is clearly regarded with some pride as an exemplar of the highest quality probation work. One Judge was so pleased with the progress by a client of Amber that he revoked an order early. The offender, in turn, then told the Judge it was largely due to Amber and the support she had provided him.
Amber’s deep knowledge of probation and DRRs in particular is another consistent theme, as is her generosity in sharing her expertise. Katie Watson, a Probation Officer in her team, say “I have only ever heard good things from her offenders and they have always spoken about her in a positive way. She always goes the extra mile, both with team members, her offenders and partnership agencies.”
Adrian Baillieu, Acting Chief Executive for KSS CRC, captures the flavour of dozens of individual comments with his own assessment: “The work Amber does is at the heart of our services and Amber’s genuine style and approach enables change. Amber is approachable, kind and always there for both the service users she works with and colleagues.”
He continues, “Amber has a huge capacity to help others which she uses tirelessly…This dedication, belief, kindness and always going that extra mile deserve the praise and acknowledgement the Butler Trust Awards bring.”
Amber is “the font of all knowledge when it comes to DRR,” says Debbie Knight of the Court and Assessment Team at Lewes Crown Court, who used to work with her, noting that it’s Amber’s “very humility that makes her great. She thinks she’s just doing her job; she has no idea how much extra she puts into it.”
One of Amber’s clients talked of her “big heart and good personality.” Another, whose closing sentence spoke volumes about the real world impact of Amber’s work, gets the last word: “Amber actually believed in me, actually listened to me and trusted me. I’ve got a lot of respect for Amber and she could always tell when I was lying – so I just couldn’t do it. She’s helped me so much and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for her.”
IN THEIR OWN WORDS
[Amber Betchley gives her account of the work for which she won her Commendation]
A significant drug problem exists in Brighton & Hove and I received a commendation for my work with substance users in this area. By offering a range of support, such as treatment planning and practical assistance tailored to meet individual needs, many have reduced their substance use. Others have achieved and maintained abstinence. This has improved lives, helping them to desist from further offending.
I have worked as a Probation Service Officer (PSO) in the probation service since 2004, having always had a desire to work within the Criminal Justice system. In 2009 I joined the Drug Rehabilitation Requirement (DRR) team working specifically with service users subject to this requirement, a sentence imposed by the court designed to help service users address their substance misuse issues. There have been many changes within the probation service since this time, including the privatisation of the organisation and introduction of the Community Rehabilitation Company’s (CRC), by whom I’m now employed, and although I work with a wider range of cases now, I still predominantly work with those subject to DRR’s and it is for this work that I was recognised by The Butler Trust.
Working with this client group can be particularly challenging due to the often chaotic lifestyles that individuals lead. The DRR is an intensive requirement which individuals often struggle to comply with and as such a degree of flexibility and professional judgement is required, whilst also maintaining boundaries. This can sometimes be a difficult balance to strike, as you want to be responsive to individuals needs whilst at the same time ensuring that the sentence of the court is implemented. There are also a number of agencies involved in managing DRR’s and it is vital to have good communication between these agencies if the Orders are to be effective. It is important that service users are aware of the liaison that takes place as it is not unheard of for them to attempt to play one professional off against another!
It is also important to ensure that the DRR’s run as efficiently and effectively as possible and often this means reviewing processes and identifying areas where improvements can be made, which are beneficial not only for service users but also for staff who are having to work with increasing caseloads with limited resources. For example, I was recently involved in a project where we worked with the local magistrates’ court to reduce the frequency that service users were required to attend for their DRR Court Reviews where their progress is reviewed. Prior to our intervention everyone was required to attend on a monthly basis regardless of progress. This was time-consuming for Offender Managers who would have to prepare the reviews and it was also deemed to be unfair on those service users who were doing well, having to attend at the same frequency as those doing not so well. As a result of our liaison with the court, the frequency with which services users were required to attend depended on the intensity of their DRR, and those assessed to be making good progress would not have to attend as often. As a result of this it has been reported by service users that they feel the DRR Court Review process is more meaningful.
Another project I was involved with was the introduction of assessing service users at court on the day of sentence, rather than adjourning for the assessment to take place which had previously occurred. The rationale was that by starting people in treatment at the earliest opportunity, you assist them in addressing their substance misuse immediately and build on their motivation that they have already cited during the assessment process. This is beneficial not only in terms of compliance with the DRR and hopefully reducing their risk of reoffending, but also it reduces the risk of harm to the individual concerned which is a significant factor given that until as recently as 2011, Brighton & Hove had the unenviable title of drug death capital of the UK, with the highest mortality rates from drugs per capita. Fortunately year on year this number has reduced and this is due in part to how all agencies working with substance users, including probation, have changed their approach and now focus much more on aiding people to get into treatment.
I am very proud that with my support, I have assisted many service users to achieve their goals in relation to their substance use, particularly those that are abstinent at the time they come to the end of their probation supervision and do not go on to reoffend. In my experience the best outcome I can achieve is when I do not see service users again, unless it is in their new roles as peer mentors assisting other DRR cases address their substance misuse.
In my experience, the key to making DRR’s successfully is the close partnership working between probation and the local drug treatment agency, which in Brighton & Hove was CRI but has recently changed to Pavilions. By having dedicated DRR workers in both agencies, all workers have an awareness of each other’s cases and it eases liaison between services as you are able to build positive working relationships. Another essential part of my role is training new members of staff who join the team, passing on my knowledge and experience. I am able to provide information on different substances that the service users we work with are using. I am also able to advise on processes and best practice. This can at times be time consuming, however it pays dividends in the long term as it ensures the smooth running of the team and, hopefully, provides the service user with a positive experience of supervision and the best chance possible of making the DRR a success. For me, one of my proudest achievements is being a respected member of my team who colleagues feel able to approach for advice, assistance and support.
I also believe that a key to working with service users, including those with substance misuse issues, is to adopt a strengths based approach and provide positive feedback and encouragement on what people have achieved rather than simply focusing on the negatives. For example, it is not unusual for service users to consistently provide positive test results, particularly at the beginning of their DRR. If they are then able to submit a negative test, even if it is an isolated incident, this is an achievement to be commended and we focus on how they managed to achieve this as opposed to why they are unable to sustain it. Furthermore, it is identified that building on a service users recovery capital can assist them to maintain their abstinence in the long term. As such we look at the benefits to them in terms of their health, finances, personal relationships etc if they were to address their substance misuse and focus on ways this can be achieved such as engaging in treatment, mutual aid groups and voluntary work. By setting small, achievable goals it assists the service user to feel that they are making progress and in return I have found that they become more invested in their own recovery.
Working in probation is not always easy. Recently we have had to cope with the government’s Transforming Rehabilitation agenda which has resulted in a large part of the probation service being privatised. This has on occasions resulted in low morale amongst staff due to uncertainties regarding the priorities of the new organisation and the perceived lack of understanding from senior management. In addition, at the same time as the changes were happening in the probation service, there was a change in local drug treatment provider which all concerned, including myself, found particularly challenging. We have also had to cope with poor IT systems and high caseloads. However despite all this, the rewards of actually helping people to make positive changes to their lives far outweighs the disadvantages and when things are difficult I always try to remember why I wanted to work for the probation service in the first place.
All in all I am proud of my achievements to date and am humbled to have received a commendation from The Butler Trust for my good practice. Moving forward I would like to develop different ways of engaging with service users and build on the knowledge that I already have, particularly in light of the changing landscape of drug use. I would also like to increase the amount of time that I spend with service users on an individual basis and to achieve this I need to prioritise my work and manage my time more effectively. Despite the uncertainties that lie ahead I am committed to building on the success of the DRR team, which will include developing strong partnership working with Pavilions to provide a good service to service users and to assist them in undertaking activities that will build their recovery capital. I will also continue to share knowledge with my colleagues to encourage good practice and hopefully at some point in the future it will be their turn to be recognised by The Butler Trust and have tea with Princess Anne at The Palace!