Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2015-16: David receives a Commendation for the high level commitment and quality he demonstrates in all aspects of his role as a Support Services Assistant at Kent, Surrey and Sussex CRC.
David Morris is a Support Services Assistant at the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Community Rehabilitation Company (KSS CRC), and is Commended for the outstanding quality of his work in this role.
Indeed, David’s work is a textbook example of how each and every role in a team can make a major contribution – as this nomination (itself a textbook example of a clear and engaging read) demonstrates. Although lengthy, it’s presented almost verbatim, with little editing, as an exemplar of how to make this role transformative, and could be usefully used in training for this role. Clearly, if David could be bottled or cloned, probation offices across the estate would benefit enormously. Here’s why…
Nominator Catherine Buss, of the Worthing Probation Office for KSS CRC, starts:
“Support Services Assistant David Morris isn’t just good, he’s excellent. He does everything he’s supposed to do, everything he’s asked to do on top, and in addition he comes up with his own ideas and initiatives. But it’s what he does for our service users that is truly amazing. He makes it a point to get to know their back-stories so that when they come for an appointment – and he’s the first to greet them – he knows exactly whether he should say ‘hello Mr Jones’ or whether it’s better to say ‘alright Bill?’. He always knows who is coming through the door, how vulnerable or chaotic they might be and who their practitioners are.
“He’s up the second they walk in: greeting them, smiling at them and doing his best to put them totally at their ease. He welcomes everyone as if they’re the most important person in the world at that moment. If the probation officer is running late, he’s up again straight into the waiting room explaining the delay, making them a drink, asking them how they’re doing. They trust him, they thank him. He even dresses for it: not too smart so he intimidates them but just casual enough to demonstrate he understands the real world, the world in which service users operate. He knows precisely what he’s doing, it’s not just functional, it’s deliberate so the service user feels comfortable, valued, un-judged and calm before their appointment, because that way, the probation officer has a fighting chance to make real progress on their rehabilitation.
“David doesn’t just have a finger on the pulse of the workings of the office but the whole of the CRC. His real gift, I think, is his ability to see his place within the bigger picture. One recent example is of a lady who came in without an appointment when there was no one available to see her. David was instantly aware she hadn’t been in for some time and assessed she was in a bad way, was at a high risk of reoffending and absolutely needed to be seen. He persuaded her to hang on, convincing her she would be seen. He then matched her needs to the probation officer who he believed had the most appropriate skills and was also likely to be available quickly and then he kept her there until she could be seen by that officer. The woman had a whole host of problems and the probation officer was incredibly grateful to David for doing such a sterling job of assessing the situation.
“David doesn’t just read people well, but situations too. So when a man brought in his elderly (80-year-old) mother with him for a pre-sentence report appointment, David knew instantly this was a risk – not just because service users weren’t allowed to be accompanied – but because he didn’t want anything to happen that might intimidate, upset or disturb the woman. He didn’t recommend she wait outside, David suggested a café down the road, told the service user it would be a good idea to let his mother wait there, that he’d explain to the probation officer where he was while he escorted his mother, and that David would contact her when her son was finished.
“He’s utterly tenacious in everything he does. He makes a point wherever he can to do the legwork for probation officers such as finding local emergency doctors and dentists – anything that will free them up to get on with the business of rehabilitating. A member of staff had been waiting five weeks for IT to fix her laptop, so David stepped in and sorted it. When our mail collections service was erroneously cut off, causing us potentially huge problems getting travel warrants in time to appointment-holders, he identified from a spreadsheet of invoices he keeps (his own idea) that it was a mistake. Our accounting department struggled to make headway with Royal Mail so David used the friendship he’d struck up with our postman to circumvent the problem by going directly to a Royal Mail manager and having the collections reinstated. When he organises to get a contractor in to fix a problem, he strikes up such a good relationship with them, he always manages to get the extra flickering light or broken handle fixed at the same time. He’s very good at eliminating those things that might reduce morale at work.
“David is our anchor and every ship needs an anchor. I receive at least one written compliment a month about him from senior probation officers, from head office and from visitors, and as for spoken ones, well, they come at least once a day.”
Butler Trust Local Champion Suki Binning is Deputy Chief Executive of KSS CRC, and continues the story:
“David is being nominated for doing his job extraordinarily well, for going well beyond what’s asked of him, and for transforming what might to some be a simple reception desk job into a key part of the rehabilitation process.
“It’s in everything he does, his approach to his job, the extra value he brings to it and his motivations. But the impact of what he does is very real to our service users and very much puts them – at least – on to the right route to rehabilitation. One such recent example is of a service user who had run away from her accommodation because of abuse and was sitting in the waiting area for about four hours while her probation officer looked for new accommodation for her. David was very aware of the length of time she had been waiting and made it his business to see what he could do to help. He found out from probation staff that she was afraid someone was after her and realised that the last place she should be sitting was in front of the window of the waiting room where anyone looking for her – and knew she was on probation – would be sure to find her. So he moved her into the group room next door, where she was away from any window as well as other service users and from where David could more quickly get to her had he needed to intervene. He made her drinks, gave her books to read and chatted to her. “I feel like I helped her that day”, he says, “because I could see she was very vulnerable.”
“Another woman arrived in the office recently who he correctly assessed as very vulnerable: she looked like she hadn’t eaten for a long time. The probation officer saw her sooner than her appointment time at his urging and also took up his suggestion of giving her regular food vouchers. In another instance a woman with alcohol dependency problems who was newly released from prison turned up when there was no one able to see her. She did not want to wait for a probation officer but David knew they wanted to see her and so began a long cat and mouse game to bring her back every time he heard the door go and realised she was trying to leave. He even removed a friend of hers who had arrived and who David knew was a bad influence on her.
“David is constantly alert and assessing everything around him. He is always gathering information about service users from probation officers so he can greet them and treat them in a manner which will help their rehabilitation. He has an impressive knowledge of the particular skills of each probation officer so he can match them to a service user who has come in without an appointment. And he has an exact idea of the comings and goings of probation officers so he can inform waiting service users when they’ll be seen to and by whom. David also has a heightened awareness of escalating situations in the waiting rooms. He might be an incredibly polite person, but he’s also extremely firm when required: we haven’t had a single reportable incident this year while he’s been on duty.
“There is no end to the people who are willing to offer testimonials for David – from service users, to external agency visitors, from probation staff to our contractors – there just simply isn’t the space.
“David plays a lot of sport outside work and he’s very good at it – in fact he’s just been asked to a trial for the national six-a-side football team. He’s in the Premier Division for Worthing and they’ve won the past two titles and he’s been voted Player of the Season because he’s been voted the Man of the Match the most. But he says he’s not the best player in the team. He says it’s down to the way he plays. He’s the main defender, so he’s at the back and has a view of the whole pitch and so he organises and positions everyone on the team, and as the main defender he simply can’t let the ball get past him. His working style is awfully similar to his playing style. “I’m the first person a service user sees when they arrive”, he says. “However I behave represents the type of experience they will have of probation and if it’s not good, they’ll assume the whole thing is going to be rocky. But if I can get them to think positively from the offset then there’s a chance I can pass them on to the probation officer in the right frame of mind to make real progress with their rehabilitation.”
“He has a very relaxed easy manner and is very down-to-earth. He’s able to strike up a camaraderie with service users – including the chaotic ones (the ones with multiple issues such as mental health problems, homelessness, drug use and so on). He chats to them and they chat to him – not realising he’s perhaps the only person who’s asked them how they are in the last week. “It gives them a chance to release, especially if they’ve come without an appointment and probation staff don’t have any availability. They might have had a bad night or a fight with their partner. I ask them what I can do to help. They’re grateful just to talk to someone.”
“He’s able to convince those service users who – frequently – really don’t want to be there to hang on and not leave without seeing a probation officer. “I can’t relate to their issues, but I’m a similar age to a lot of them and maybe they see me as a friend rather than the desk guy. I like having a connection with them”, he says. “I want them to see this office as a place they can come along to and open up because that’s what they need to do. If they’re a closed book, then they can’t change their offending behaviour.”
“He advises, assists and befriends. “It’s just who I am”, he says. He fundamentally understands that everyone plays a part in the rehabilitation process – not just probation officers. Just like when he’s playing football, he can see the entire pitch: he recognises it’s a team effort and every member has a key role to play towards the end goal. Perhaps, he says, it’s all about keeping his mum safe; he loves his mum very much and less crime will keep her safer in world.”
Service user MM says: “Dave is always really jolly and helpful. He knows me now so there is never any hanging about waiting to be seen. He is absolutely brilliant and always makes me feel welcome. I love it when I come in to the probation office as he always has a smile for me and is so helpful to me. When I had my first appointment at probation I was very nervous. The minibus had broken down so the waiting room was already quite busy – and as I felt nervous, I waited outside the building. Dave kept an eye on me and came and found me for my appointment. He had made a real effort to ensure that I was OK. Dave really knows ‘people’ – you couldn’t wish for a better guy. I really respect the guy.”
Probation Officer Emma Jenkins says: “I remember my first day at the Worthing office. I saw a man outside the office, talking with the group who were due to depart on Unpaid Work. He was busy running around, doing travel warrants and making notes to be passed onto probation staff. I remember thinking he was really pro-active and had gone out of his way to deal with the travel warrants outside, and to show an interest. I hadn’t seen this effort elsewhere. He then also showed me where to sit, and introduced me to staff members.
“Once when I was in interview with a service user, another who had been out of contact for some weeks arrived at the office. When I discovered this, I immediately regretted I hadn’t been available as I needed to take new contact details and arrange an appointment. I needn’t have worried as Dave had recognised the service user and, realising they’d been out of contact, didn’t let him leave to come back at any random time. Instead Dave took his new contact details, and checked my movements sheet to suggest a time for the service user to return. Dave just always seems to go out of his way, above and beyond what is asked of him within his role, while also knowing the restrictions and boundaries. He is a great asset.”
Probation officer Sarah Laine says: “Dave is highly professional and always looks after us when we are in interview rooms. He gets to know our cases’ stories which is such a bonus if we are not about. As his manner is so calm, cases respond very well to him. I know from feedback from my cases that they always feel listened to by Dave and if he says he will do something they always trust he will pass on information.
“For example, Dave knows that LD is very hard to get hold of, she is a street drinker and also a victim of domestic violence. She has turned up at our office and Dave knew we hadn’t seen her for ages so he encouraged her to stay in the waiting room and made sure she was OL in there until we got back. That was a really important meeting for us and we were very grateful.”
Nigel Bennett, Chief Executive of KSS CRC, adds these words:
“David Morris demonstrates every day that the business of rehabilitation is greater than just the interaction between a probation officer and a service user. He makes a point of engineering the right set of conditions for the service user to get the best out of their rehabilitation appointment by putting them in an open and receptive frame of mind. What he does is immeasurable but I’ve no doubt it can play a vital role in the outcome.”
In David’s own words, “I’ve been nominated because people say I have a way with service users. I can gauge just how to communicate with them and I remember things about people really easily – the big stuff and the little stuff. And I do whatever’s needed without any fuss. I’m always willing to help – whether it’s related to my job or not.
“I think I’m able to make a connection with service users because I just talk to them normally, treat them as an equal. They must feel awkward coming in, knowing we know what they’ve done. They probably feel like they’re being judged. I don’t want the probation experience to be unpleasant or become something they’re afraid of because that will only hinder their rehabilitation. They just need a chance to put right what they’ve done wrong.
“I think a lot of service users just appreciate that I know who they are and who they’ve come to see without having to tell me. They know I’m reliable: if they’ve given me a message for a probation officer, they know I’ll pass it on swiftly. They know I’ll get their probation officer to see them as fast as I can so no one is waiting around. They also know I’ll do my best to help them myself as far as I can so if someone rings up saying they’re ill and can’t make the appointment, I won’t waste their time connecting them to a probation officer, I’ll say, ‘Okay, don’t worry about it anymore, just get us a doctor’s note and bring it in when you’re better.’
“On a really busy day when the office is packed with service users and staff are milling around waiting for me to either allocate them an interview room (already double-booked) or give them a travel warrant or a safety alarm, and Community Payback workers are hanging around wanting help with this and that, and all three phone lines are going, I’ll have my eye on the security monitors and even if I’m talking on the phone, I’ll acknowledge a service user that’s just arrived. I’ll let them know with a nod that I’ve clocked them, I know who they are and will get their probation officer to them ASAP.
“I think service users respect me. If one ever behaves badly when I’m around, they’ll apologise later. There have only been three recorded incidents on my watch in the last two years, but when I’m on annual leave or on training, the occurrence increases. An incident is when a service user is angry, aggressive, abusive, or difficult to handle in some form. One such incident in the reception area really affected another service user with mental health problems who witnessed it and felt trapped in the room. I discussed this with my line manager and together we came up with a process to contain such incidents in future. So now, in the event of an incident, one member of staff will deal directly with the service user causing the problem, a second staff member will move other service users away from the communal reception area, and a third will go outside and prevent anyone else from coming in while the incident is ongoing.
“I always make sure there’s water and some tissues available in the waiting room. If I see any service user looking upset, or having any kind of difficulty, I go out there, sit with them, get chatting to them, find out if there’s anything I can do to help, and in general do my best to help them feel better.
“My line manager says I’m the barometer in the office for staff well-being. It’s true that I do my best to take care of everyone – if I can. I know the birthdays of all my colleagues, how many days left they’ve got to their holiday, or if someone needs to leave early or be at an appointment – I’ll be the one to let them know it’s time they were heading off.
“I think the wellbeing of staff is critical if we are to do our jobs well. Recently a service user came in with an appointment letter for a pre-sentence report. I knew he wasn’t on the appointment list for that day and then I remembered he’d rung to say he couldn’t make that date and the letter he was showing me was no longer valid. I reminded him he’d called in and that he’d been offered a choice of two new dates. He was supposed to call back confirming which one he wanted, but hadn’t. His probation officer explained the letter was no longer valid. He became aggressive and was shouting at her showing her no remorse though she was heavily pregnant. She asked him to leave but he refused. I decided it wasn’t on as he was probably distressing her as well as other service users in the waiting area and called the police instantly to put a stop to the situation.
“I think my greatest impact is around making service users feel valued and part of something worthwhile. I show an interest in them. If I see their name on the list of appointments that morning, I’ll find out all about them, what crime they committed, what sentence plan has been put in place and how they’re doing on it. I go over and chat, address them how I’ve gauged they like to be spoken with, find out about their day and how they’re feeling. If they need something, I’ll do my best to sort it for them. I just talk to them normally really. I want them to feel they are somewhere safe where they can work out their issues and stop committing crimes. I think my style opens them up to the possibility of working effectively with us. I’ve had service users thank me directly for being a positive part of their rehabilitation.
“Although it’s not really my job, I’m proactive in assessing someone’s needs as soon as they come through the door. I’m the first person they see, I’m the first experience of probation they’re getting so I want to make sure I’m part of their rehabilitation not just the reception guy. So I’m alert. I don’t miss the bruises on someone’s arm when they lean on the counter or the person waiting outside for them who I believe is a bad influence. I clock it all and I’ll let the probation officer know.
David’s aspirations for the future reflect an intelligent sense that he has something genuine to share with a wider array of colleagues: “I’d really like to mentor, train and manage new staff doing my job in all our offices. I’d really like them to learn from my experience either through a workshop day, or me spending a day with them in their office or even via an online video. I’d like them to know how important this job is. I want them to know that reception staff can make a positive contribution to the rehabilitation process. I want them to know we have a role to play in assessing service users risk by noting things we see that the probation officer doesn’t such as who has accompanied the service user and what sort of influence that person is having.
“I’d like to manage reception staff so I can guide them on how the job should be done. I also think I can show them how to get great satisfaction out of the job by becoming part of the rehabilitation process rather than handing the service user over to a probation officer to start it off.
“I’d also like to see this role getting more involved in frontline design and delivery so the service user can start the rehabilitation process from the moment they walk through the door. It would be great to produce the model reception experience for service users that is the first step in rehabilitating the service user. I’d like to rewrite the job description with the benefit of my experience.”
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