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Offender management and rehabilitation

Wellbeing vs. mental ill health

Two men sit together having a conversation. They are sat next to each other but are not looking at one another..

In today’s blog, our Assistant Director of Justice, Paul Kiggell, writes about Catch22’s wellbeing services for People on Probation, the differences in providing wellbeing support versus addressing clinical mental health needs, and the challenge of differentiating between lighter touch support and specialist mental health treatment.

In June 2021, Catch22 commenced delivery of nine new Personal Wellbeing services for adult males on Probation. This formed part of the Commissioned Rehabilitative Services model, stemming from the Reunification of the Probation Service. In summary, we were commissioned to receive referrals from Probation Practitioners and then to work alongside them to support People on Probation (PoPs) with their specific wellbeing needs. These support needs are identified due to their impact on the day to day health and wellbeing of the PoP, and also due to the increased likelihood of further offending associated with low wellbeing.

This all makes sense and plays to our strengths at Catch22. We’re compassionate – we recognise that people can find themselves in bad situations which can feel upsetting and scary, and we know that during these times they can benefit from us being alongside them to offer a caring and empathetic approach. We’re empowering – we deliver support which enables individuals to take more control of the situation they’re in. Applying these values to the model of building strong relationships with People on Probation to support them with their wellbeing needs therefore seems a great fit.

And it is; PoPs have told us what the support means to them:

“Thank you. I feel as though a weight has been lifted”

And Probation Practitioners have too:

“Your service is literally a life saver for some of our people on probation, not to mention gives me a way to show them that people actually care about them.”

The challenges around mental health needs

But it’s not without its challenges. One such challenge is around supporting service users with significant mental health needs. Whilst we are a service set up to address wellbeing, we are not equipped to deliver clinical, specialist treatment to people experiencing more acute mental ill health. Yet we are finding that numerous PoPs are being referred to us as a substitute for specialist treatment or whilst on waiting lists for statutory mental health services.

This often means that they are not in a position to engage in our intervention sessions due to being too unwell to participate or to focus until their core, clinical mental health needs have been addressed or treated. The lack of engagement from this cohort of PoPs can lead Probation colleagues to feel disillusioned with the service we’re able to deliver. Additionally, we are seeing a high number of safeguarding concerns which our staff need to act on, particularly around self harm or suicidal ideations. This in turn impacts on the wellbeing of our staff.

Addressing the challenges

So what have we done to address these very real challenges?

Firstly, we’ve guided our Senior Ops Managers, Team Leaders and front-line practitioners to communicate clearly with Probation colleagues; escalating to Senior Probation Officers where appropriate to discuss the suitability of some such referrals. In this way, we can advise that some cases are withdrawn until they feel well enough and in a better position to engage. Additionally, we’ve worked with our staff to consider the fact that sometimes our role can be to ‘hold’ cases, to supplement intervention from Probation whilst they are awaiting mental health treatment.

We’ve bolstered our offering too, whilst not blurring the lines around what we’re commissioned to deliver and crossing over into the remit of specialist mental health services. We’ve engaged with new supply chain partners who specialise in mental health, procuring mental health training for staff and managers which included direct consultation with practitioners and Team Leaders around subject matter requirements. We’ve also added some more creative wellbeing intervention and training to our offer, sub-contracting support from a Yoga instructor and also a fitness instructor, both with lived experience of the criminal justice system and a real focus on mental health and wellbeing. And we’ve strengthened our support offer to our staff, running wellbeing sessions and establishing comprehensive employee assistance and health support organisationally through Catch22.

Positive results

And the result of approaching this challenge the way we have? Our staff are feeling better equipped to offer support, whilst understanding the boundaries of what we are able to do with this cohort of PoPs. They’re also feeling more supported themselves, knowing that it’s ok for them to reach out if they’re feeling distressed by dealing with difficult safeguarding issues associated with significant mental illness.

Probation colleagues have a better understanding of the service we deliver, and our open and clear communication with them has led us to more appropriately managing the health needs of the PoPs we’re supporting. And we’re also freeing up resource within over-stretched statutory mental health services, by acting as a buffer to start managing the less acute health needs of PoPs whilst they await specialist treatment.

What’s next?

We’ll continue to listen and to learn. We’ll build on the excellent relationships that we forge with PoPs to help us to better understand their needs and to adapt our support where we can. And we’ll continue to communicate with commissioners and Probation colleagues to highlight and better understand gaps in service provision and subsequently to identify commissioning opportunities. And we’ll remain supportive of our staff, responding when they identify development needs and recognising their own wellbeing needs as paramount to enable them in turn to deliver an excellent service.

– Paul Kiggell, Assistant Director of Justice