Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

DR KERENSA HOCKEN (HMP Whatton)

DR KERENSA HOCKEN (HMP Whatton)

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AWARD WINNER 2015-16: Kerensa, a Senior Psychologist, is Clinical Lead for the Sex Offender Treatment Programme at HMP Whatton. Described as “one of the most inspirational people I’ve had the pleasure to work with”, she receives an Award for her exceptional work in all aspects of her job, and in particular for her role in developing interventions for sex offenders with an intellectual disability. [This Award is sponsored by Sodexo Justice Services.]

Dr Kerensa Hocken is a Senior Psychologist and Clinical Lead for the Sex Offender Treatment Programme (SOTP) at HMP Whatton. As Lead Nominator Matt Brammer, Programmes Manager at Whatton, explains, “Kerensa took on the role of SOTP Clinical Lead shortly after arriving, and her work in this area has helped Whatton establish itself as a centre of excellence for its work in SOTP and with sex offenders in general.” Whatton is the largest treatment centre for sex offenders in the whole of Europe, delivering the full suite of existing SOTP programmes, and Kerensa plays an active role in the full range of these interventions.

Matt describes Kerensa’s “endless enthusiasm for the subject matter” and how her “in depth knowledge of even the most recent research papers has enabled her to share what works best through both training and supervision.” He goes on to call her “one of the most inspirational people I have had the pleasure to work with. She benefits greatly from the fact that her work is also one of her most passionate interests and this is clear for all to see in any interaction she has with others.” As Matt says, “the nature of the specialist work undertaken at Whatton is challenging, and can be detrimental to people’s wellbeing. Kerensa’s ability to motivate others whilst encouraging autonomy is second to none and she is a key reason why we have numerous facilitators who are still delivering to high standards 10 years after they started.”

As well as treatment programmes, Kerensa’s Senior Psychologist role includes day-to-day staff management, writing SARN (Structured Assessment of Risk and Need) Reports, and supervising Trainee Psychologists working towards Chartered status. Matt says Kerensa’s “responsive style and motivational nature has helped bring out the best in her team and she has instilled a tremendous work ethic to each and every one of her supervisees. Kerensa is always willing to listen to problems and offer advice and solutions where appropriate, and she has the most natural ability to complete high volumes of work in whatever time is available to her.”

Gerry Bishop, Head of Public Protection at Whatton, adds that Kerensa’s role “comes with great responsibility. As the largest treatment centre for sex offenders in Europe, Whatton is tasked with delivering over a quarter of the national SOTP completion target on a consistent basis. Whatton provides the full suite of SOTP programmes and the programmes team has 35 facilitators.” The work is often very complex, says Gerry, who notes that for almost 15 years Kerensa has provided “the highest level of clinical support available anywhere in the service. The support and guidance she has given to Treatment Managers, Supervisors and Facilitators has helped create a unique rehabilitative culture at Whatton which has consistently ensured the offenders get the best possible treatment experience.”

A key area that Kerensa has driven forward concerns also the Intellectually Disabled (ID) population at Whatton. This group’s impaired levels of intellectual and social functioning makes work on offending behaviour with them “extremely challenging”, Gerry points out, and the work “has to be specially designed and adapted. Kerensa’s talents in relation to this are very special and her knowledge of the client group is outstanding and instrumental in continued development of treatment approaches for this minority group.”

One of the major challenges for sex offenders remains reintegration into society on their release. As Gerry says, “Often the nature of these crimes causes offenders to be ostracised from their local community and their family and closest friends. For many offenders this often means they are released to a new area and unfamiliar surroundings, and research suggests that this can be both a vulnerable and risky time.” He praises Kerensa’s commitment to helping offenders create better lives and preventing future victims, as seen in her being a founding member of the Safer Living Foundation charity, ‘Circles of Support’. Run in conjunction with Nottingham Trent University, Nottinghamshire Police, the National Probation Service, Circles UK (a national body specialising in this area), and HMP Whatton. ‘Circles of Support’ has a strong research component and a focus on reducing re-offending through rehabilitative initiatives.

Gerry adds that “Kerensa gives her own time freely to take on every aspect of the work including volunteer training, fundraising, mentoring, and most importantly, the intervention work itself.” He describes Kerensa’s “infectious motivation for the work she does” being matched “by an almost unparalleled work ethic. She feels like the most perfect fit for the work that she does. Working with sexual offenders is extremely rewarding but over time the demands of this work can become draining and affect an individual’s mental well-being. Kerensa is mindful of this and makes excellent use of her free time in order to maintain her drive and high levels of resilience.”

Gerry says Kerensa’s “warm and flexible treatment approach” helps “build hope for the future and a desire for change. She has the special ability to personalise her work to the individual whether this be a group member or a colleague and this makes the recipient feel listened to and valued. Kerensa is also adept at getting the best out of people, identifying quickly what they respond best to, and offering both praise and constructive criticism where appropriate.”

He describes her as “unbelievably passionate about what she does. She loves helping others and treats every individual as a person. She believes wholeheartedly in rehabilitation and recognises the potential and ability to change and become better in everyone,” adding that “she appears to have more time and energy than anyone else but despite being so busy she always manages to make time for others when needed. Her positive influence on others is instrumental in helping maintain the motivation and well-being of the facilitator team at Whatton and her approach to working with offenders is an inspiration to all that work with her.”

Many colleagues appreciate her ability to make time for others and offer support, with one reporting that “Kerensa is very motivational and approachable and has always made time to advise and guide me whenever I’ve needed help. Not only is she a fountain of knowledge, but she also has a great sense of humour that has helped me through some pretty stressful times in the past.”

Her ability and knowledge has also been recognised by more recent colleagues, particularly as part of her Safer Living Foundation charity work: “I have worked with Kerensa for almost a year now. To begin with I was awed by her knowledge. As I got to know her better I found her dedication and enthusiasm motivating. But above all these things her kindness and selflessness shine through. She is a true inspiration and working with her is a joy.”

Colleagues find her inspirational, with one saying, “I’d like to think I could be half of what Kerensa is as a Chartered Psychologist.” Offenders were equally positive and one captured her impact by saying, “Kerensa treats me like a real person. She doesn’t judge me, she praises and encourages me. But most of all she listens to me. She makes me feel like I do have a future, one that I can be proud of.”

Kerensa values resilience and personal wellbeing and regularly runs training for all staff to help them develop and maintain these skills. She also “feels passionately that we provide the best quality treatment to every one of our prisoner clients”, and this has driven her development of the first (and currently the only) SOTP for deaf prisoners in the UK.

Her work developing and championing the Deaf SOTP means that NOMS can now offer treatment places to people who have previously been unable to access accredited programmes on sexual offending behaviour. As well as “enormous benefits for our deaf clients,” Kerensa explains, “on a day to day basis it opens channels of communication with prison staff and other deaf prisoners which helps them to feel more included in the regime and supported by others, reducing isolation, a key problem for the deaf community in prison.” She adds that “the work I do as part of our disabilities steering group has greatly improved the day to day lives of our prisoners who have disabilities.”

Kerensa notes that the culture she has helped inculcate in Whatton means that “any staff who join our team and have worked in other prisons or forensic settings have commented on the positive and caring atmosphere in our team, which stands out to them.”

Kerensa is keen to develop her work and has a number of new initiatives in mind. One priority is better engagement with prisoners’ friends and family. She cites a recent consultation with visitors “which highlighted to me just how neglected the friends and family of convicted sexual offenders are.  The visitors I spoke to were shocked by the offences committed by the prisoner and as such were keen to learn to more information about why people commit sexual offences, sex offender treatment, and the process of the prison sentence and restrictions on release. It was evident that the visitors felt relief at being able to talk to someone, ask questions and have an avenue of support and information. As friends and family of people convicted of a sexual offence, they experience direct and vicarious stigmatisation, with little or no official support.”

Finally, as Kerensa herself emphasises, “public protection is at the core of my work.” As she points out, “every prisoner client helped is another potential victim prevented.”

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