Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2018-19: Lee is a Senior Children and Families Caseworker for St. Giles Trust, working in partnership with Wales CRC. He is Commended for his skilled and empathetic practice in helping families with often highly complex needs, and as a role model to both colleagues and service users.
Lee’s inspiring story is one of transformation, taking a long and challenging past and using it to become, in turn, a highly regarded professional making a significant contribution to other people’s lives. Initial Nominator and Line Manager, Justine Jenkins, explains that ‘Lee had a challenging start in life and, from the age of 17, he spent much of the next 20 years in prison. On release in 2014, he came into contact with St. Giles Trust and trained as a Peer Advisor in our Cardiff office.’ She describes Lee’s ‘passion for helping others’, and how he has gone on to be ‘instrumental in helping us build an excellent reputation with partner agencies and local communities in Cardiff and the surrounding areas.’
Now a Senior Caseworker supporting disadvantaged families in Cardiff, Lee ‘helps families experiencing chaotic circumstances stabilise their situations and progress towards independence and employment. Justine adds that ‘Lee becomes like a father figure helping with problems such as housing, multiple debt, substance misuse, domestic abuse and long-term unemployment. He helps families gain independence through equipping them with the skills to manage their own problems in future.’
Justine calls Lee ‘a mover and fixer for so many people. He can work with anyone and communicate with people at all levels and has a great deal of emotional understanding as well as practical skills and knowledge.’ She reports that:
‘He currently has an active caseload of 20 families and supports well over 30 each year. This is effectively like being a Dad to all of them. The benefits of this have a trickle down effect to the children in these families who now have a brighter future.’
Lee, she says, ‘is proof that positive change can happen. Younger people who are experiencing dark times look up to him as a highly credible role model and he is enormously valued by all for his knowledge, grit and determination. He never gives up and will go out of his way to support people others have given up on.’
Butler Trust Local Champion and Wales CRC Lead Partnership Manager, Melissa Lobb, describes Lee’s ‘invaluable level of support’, noting that ‘peers such as Lee have the experience and tact needed to remove barriers to engaging and bettering their own lives which they might not have otherwise accessed.’
Melissa says Lee is ‘well known and well regarded by practitioners in the community, not just Offender Managers but many others across other organisations including police, mental health services, community hubs to name just a few. His reputation precedes him’, she adds, and ‘his attitude, drive and willingness to support others have allowed him to change the lives of not just the service users themselves, but their families too.’
Melissa makes a further valuable point, noting that:
‘We should not forget that it is organisations such as St Giles Trust who recognise something special when they see it, and it’s through their dedication and commitment to support that have allowed Lee to flourish as he has from such a troubled beginning.’
A spontaneous testimonial is mentioned, from a Nurse Manager for the Vale, Cheryl Purchase:
‘I have worked with external agencies in the past but have never seen such dedication as displayed by Lee last week… Too often we get criticised for what we haven’t done, so in this instance I would like to pass on my gratitude for what was done. I am confident if it had not been for Lee’s input the outcome for this chap would have been dire.’
‘Glenn’*, a St. Giles Trust service user, wrote that:
‘If it wasn’t for Lee I would be in prison or not here now. He even sorted it for my grandson to go to Swansea football ground. I am in a different place now and finding it easier to cope. I try and do what I can but sometimes I need to call Lee and he advises me how to get around things. I don’t want my kids to end up like I did and I think they listen to Lee.’
Probation Director, Dawn Blower, adds that Lee ‘is highly thought of, both in prisons and probation in Wales, and thanks to his own personal experience of both the criminal justice and care system is able to establish excellent rapport with the people he works with.’
Lee’s own words are potent and moving, describing how he reached a point where ‘my journey was about to begin’, and through his work supporting prison leavers with accommodation and employment he found ‘a focus’ which led to ‘many success stories and the men I supported found it inspirational that I had turned my life around.’
His new project involves supporting children and families, often ‘the most chaotic individuals whose engagement with services was poor’, and helping them ‘maintain strong families ties and assisting with appointments and generic support.’
He concludes with a wonderfully inspiring paragraph:
‘All the negativity of 20 years I’ve now turned into one big positive. I have no fears about returning to my old ways. I’ve got a new career path and a focus to succeed. Work is my addiction and buzz now. I’m not ashamed of my past – it’s what makes me good at my job.’
* This service user’s name has been anonymised.
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