DEVELOPING EFFECTIVE PRACTICE
The following report will focus upon the case of MM, a male convicted of Harassment and Threatening Behaviour. MM was sentenced to an 18 month Community Rehabilitation Order (CRO), and as an existing case belonging to me I naturally commenced management on the date the current Order was made. The salient points surrounding this individual are that he had a lengthy history of alcohol misuse and mental health issues, whereupon he is receiving regular medication for the latter. There are further issues of previous heroin use, although he has been abstinent for eight years. Given these issues MM presents as a very complex individual – yet when discriminatory attitudes, accommodation, poor thinking skills, relationship troubles and employability are added this only adds to such complexities.
At the assessment stage for his PSR, MM himself felt that he had a very chaotic and troubled lifestyle, and whilst he acknowledged good levels of support from his father there were no other areas of his life that added to this. Upon discussing issues to be addressed in his Initial Supervision Plan (ISP) MM identified the gaining of employment as the major factor that would not only prevent him from re-offending – but also add some order and stability to his current lifestyle. However MM presented with many barriers – he felt he could not find work – he left school at 16 with no formal qualifications, had only one notable period of employment as a metal sheet worker and has a history of mental illness.
The over riding objectives of MM’s Order, within an organisational context, were to prevent him from re-offending, to reintegrate him back into the community, and to protect the public from further or potential harm (ACOP 1993). The construction of his ISP and the subsequent objectives identified aimed to translate these organisational priorities into achievable goals that are relevant to MM’s criminogenic needs and risk management plan. The initial piece of work undertaken was offence focused – and paid particular attention to MM’s understanding of forming relationships and respecting boundaries – with a particular reference to his attitude towards women. However the intervention that this report will chart and more specifically evaluate is the following objective taken from the ISP; ‘To increase MM’s employability and to enable him to secure employment.’ The positive factors for MM were the support he receives from his father and his own commitment to change and avoid re-offending. The factors which could negatively impact upon the effectiveness of the intervention could be his low self esteem, particularly in respect to his criminal record and mental health issues. The specific intervention outlined in this report aims to demonstrate how the ‘target’ of employability has been achieved, and how therefore MM has increased his self esteem, self belief and on a practical level, his work skills.
Therefore on a holistic level this report will look to evaluate the effectiveness of a specific intervention. Evaluation is the key term that encapsulates the very direction taken, and therefore at this point it may be useful to offer the reader a definition. Within the context of Probation evaluation can be traced back to the production of the Effective Practice Manual; ‘Finding out whether the programme is achieving its objectives’ (Chapman & Hough 1998). However a more detailed definition is offered by Patton (1997) who sees evaluation as ‘the systematic collection of information about the activities, characteristics and outcomes of programmes to make judgments about the programme, improve programme effectiveness, and/or inform decisions about future programming.’ This naturally leads one to further inform the reader that given these definitions it is clear to see that evaluation has a very definite purpose, but perhaps more importantly it is part of a process, as opposed to an end in itself, and a means of informing future development. The intervention I therefore use will be thoroughly evaluated throughout, and will inform not only my personal future practice, but maybe that of the readers.
The design of the intervention was essentially two-fold, that is two separate approaches that included his Case Manager and a referral to the Education, Training and Employment team (ETE). It was made clear to MM from initial contacts that the ETE team would assist him on a practical level, helping him to comprehend the impact of previous and current offending upon prospective employment and aiding him with the content of application forms. Indeed at the commencement of his ETE sessions he asked me to accompany him due to his lack of confidence surrounding meeting new individuals within a Probation environment – which in turn allowed an effective three way session that produced an action plan that MM would follow throughout the duration of the specific intervention. The action plan focused on the following targets…
Whilst my initial ideas for this report was to evaluate an intervention undertaken solely by myself , I had to ‘acknowledge the limits of [my] knowledge and skills and the loss of potential if they work alone.’ (Chapman & Hough 1998). Having established the role of the ETE worker I felt it necessary to clarify my role to MM – and that was that within supervision I would be addressing the more subjective aspects involved in his preparation for employment – his interpersonal and thinking skills, motivation, how employment would change his current lifestyle, additional effects of employment and perhaps most significantly his self esteem, which at the point of contact was extremely low. At this point it is important to highlight the importance of ‘role clarification,’ in that it is necessary to ‘help the client understand how help will be provided for different problems, how services will be co-ordinated, and the workers responsibilities in this.’ (Trotter 1999).
Therefore the model of intervention I chose to use was that of Solution Focused Therapy (SFT). This approach derived largely from the work of de Shazer (1986) and is based on solution building rather than problem solving. Instead of exploring present problems and past causes it aims to identify current resources and future hopes, and according to Iveson (2003) it usually involves ‘3 – 5 sessions’ and has a great value as a ‘preliminary and often sufficient intervention.’ For MM the goal, or target of this intervention was to gain full time employment. Goals are the entire focus of SFT, and after the goal is negotiated between client and supervisor, and in this case the ETE worker, SFT specifies how to use a clients own unique resources and strengths to accomplish that goal. In the context of this report it is therefore important for the goal to possess qualities highlighted by SFT pioneers Berg and Miller (1992), which follows the NPS SMARTA targets in stating that goals should be achievable, specific, positive and small, and furthermore such goals should be seen as beginnings rather than endings.
Having outlined the type of intervention that would run alongside MM’s ETE sessions, and subsequently sub goals within the well formed goal, I began the intervention by asking MM a set of questions, which included ‘How will you know when things are better for you?’ ‘What positive changes do you think having a job will bring for you?’ and,’ What qualities do you have that you can offer employers?’ My aim at such an early stage was to enable MM to define his own solutions and identify the steps he must take towards the identified goal. MM response came in the form of potential barriers, which he perceived to be insurmountable. These barriers included mental health issues, a lack of experience, a criminal record and no confidence. The latter point was highlighted by his need for me to attend his first ETE appointment with him. This initial supervision session identified many qualities that he possessed, and many areas that I felt SFT could assist him in tandem with the practical support offered by ETE. This would take course over a five week period on a weekly basis, with his ETE session followed by subsequent session with myself – and the time limit chosen simply due to various writers suggesting that it was most effective over such a timescale (Iveson 2003).
In the following four sessions MM attended both his ETE and one to one sessions, which exceeded the requirements of National Standards 2005. Throughout each of the sessions I continued to encourage MM to overcome his fears surrounding employment through the seeking of exceptions to his claims around a lack of confidence, and emphasizing the skills he had gained from previous educational and employment placements. Furthermore we continued to explore how he had dealt with new situations in the past – and how he could apply those qualities to current situations. This approach is identified by Parton etal (2000) as ‘talking of exceptions puts difference to work for the service user and increases that essential sense of personal agency.’ Indeed this is yet further ratified by Ratner (1989) who extensively discusses the ‘exception to the rule.’
Identifying MM’s strengths and resources was a key aspect of ensuring the success of this intervention. By session 3 MM attended ETE on his own (which I perceived to be a huge step in relation to confidence building) and in our session he had brought along all of the certificates he had received in the past. This action was in response to a question directed towards him in session 2 – ‘What skills do you think you have gained from your life experience that would help you to achieve this goal?’ However the real key to achieving this goal was, in my opinion, the negotiation of smaller goals, which included his attendance to ETE, approaching employers himself (confidence building), attending the job centre and college for possible courses. Indeed all of these scenarios would increase his self esteem, which in turn would be followed up with the question of ‘How did you cope when facing this new situation? – something de Shazer refers to as a ‘coping question.’
When seeking to evaluate an intervention over such a short period of time I decided to employ a single systems design, primarily due to its simplicity and flexibility. This design works on the premise that I could ‘compare changes in the target [goal] against the baseline, during and after the intervention.’ (Bloom 2003) and therefore I felt that this would be most appropriate.
In order to evaluate the progress made by MM I have chosen to use one specific instrument – that of the scaling question which falls under the umbrella of solution focused therapy (de Shazer 1988). I took the baseline of this intervention (week one) as the time when employment was addressed fully and the referral was made to ETE. The scaling question (0 – 10) was designed to ascertain where MM felt he was in terms of 10 being fully employed, and 0 being unemployed, with no prospects of finding work. This question was administered on three occasions, the baseline period, during the intervention (week 3) and after the intervention (week 5). Within the evaluation stage I would take the ratings and collate them – with the sole aim of showing a move up the scale. This method employed the use of quantitative data.
I have also utilised qualitative data to support the quantitative data gained from the scaling question. Each of the five contacts were recorded according to NPS guidelines and so the relevant extracts have been taken from the contact sheets and summarised to further evidence his progress. On this basis both qualitative and quantitative data will be used in tandem, representing what social researchers call a triangulated approach.
Within this area one must also consider the ethical implications of this piece of evaluation – for example perhaps starting primarily with the idea that promoting paid work as a social stereotype could be viewed to be inappropriate and adopting a value base that is organisational, personal and even political. Ethical issues permeate all aspects of the evaluation process, and for Beauchamp and Childress (1994) there are four accepted principles; autonomy, non-maleficence, justice and beneficence. In the context of this research informed consent was not sought due to compliance being part of the Order, yet ethics surrounding autonomy needed top be considered. With MM being treated fairly, the intervention attempting ‘to do good’ and the absence of any harmful actions other aspects of ethics were negated.
(1) Quantitative Data
The following chart demonstrates the level that MM located himself in relation to the scaling question he received. Week one represents the baseline score, week three the monitoring score and week five the final score.
(2) Qualitative Data
The following data represents the qualitative information gathered from each of the five sessions devoted to the specific intervention.
07/06/05 – Stage 1
14/06/05 – Stage 2
22/06/05 – Stage 3
29/06/05 – Stage 4
05/07/05 – Stage 5
The scaling question was used to evaluate the extent to which MM’s employability was effected by the chosen intervention. Over the duration of the intervention (5 weeks) MM’s interpretation as to where he was on the scale increased from a baseline measurement of 2 in weeks one, through to a move up the scale in week 3 (point 3) to a final increase up to point 5 in the final week. This is an element of quantitative data used, yet within my evaluation I have also included some qualitative data – and the use of these two methods is what Sociologists often refer to as ‘triangulation.’ The qualitative data also displays an ongoing improvement in both MM’s ability to seek employment assertively and his motivation to overcome low levels of self esteem and confidence. Therefore the data suggests, all be it on a very simplistic level, that the intervention yielded success in its overall target of improving MM’s employability.
The model appears to have been effective in generating change for MM – whilst at the same time enabling myself, as a practitioner, to track his progress methodically and regularly. It is my belief that this specific intervention worked for MM largely due to the balance between his ‘enabling and disabling factors.’ The ongoing support from his father, myself and the ETE team were vital ingredients in him building confidence and recognising hiss strengths. The intervention was also employed at a favourable time – MM felt that he was ready to search for employment and receive the necessary support – culminating in his referral to a specialist team that assist individuals with mental health issues back into the arena of employment. At the other end of the scale the solution focused approach assisted in diminishing any effect that the disabling mechanisms may have induced – most notably maintaining the previously formed goal, negating his low self esteem and any drop in his level of motivation.
When attempting to draw conclusions from this study one must do so within the context of evaluation types. For Merrington (2001) there are many different ways in which we can evaluate, but for this study the process is that of ‘outcome evaluation.’ For Bloom (2003) this type of evaluation attempts to demonstrate that the results of a piece of work or intervention meet the pre-determined objectives, and its relevance to the Probation Service in its entirety is summed up by the pioneers of effective practice, Chapman and Hough (1998), who see outcome evaluation to be ‘clearly of central importance in developing best practice.’ On this premise it is not difficult to surmise that this process is heavily used within Probation evaluations, and at its core lies the concern with the notions of cause and effect. At first glance this framework sounds all too simple, yet I have discovered that the dangers of producing a report such as this are all too apparent. For Hayles etal (1998) ‘Determining a cause and effect relationship between intervention and client change is fraught with problems, and at best one is dealing with a process o9f logical inference and a reduction in the likelihood that change has occurred by chance.’ Although it is fair to say that each of the two sources of data demonstrate a positive, desirable change, the difficulty remains in identifying which aspects of the intervention generated change, and what other factors had influenced MM during this period.
When reflecting upon MM’s actions there is clearly a measurable change in his behaviour patterns, his attitude and his motivation – yet one would continue to question the extent to which these changes actually existed, or to put it another way what is the likelihood that the data has been effected by the ‘social desirability response, deliberate falsification and reinforced co-operation’ (Fisher etal 1994). Afterall this intervention was underpinned by the theory of compliance – MM was expected to form clearly developed goals and attend the sessions arranged by his supervising officer. Again when referring to improvement, and given the use of SFT and scaling questions it is difficult to evaluate the degree of change experienced by MM – except to vaguely state that there has been a positive change.
Perhaps most critically I would point to the limited amount of time within which we could evaluate an intervention, which has lead to an evaluation based solely on outcomes. MM has been unemployed for many years, and so for him to realistically gain and sustain employment one would perhaps need more than five weeks. Of course this intervention has resulted in him gaining confidence and self belief, developing a greater understanding of employment issues and gaining a referral to a specialist agency – which subsequently increases his employability. Yet with a longer period of time I feel that the evaluation would have been far more detailed and useful.
Given the opportunity to implement this intervention over a longer period of time I feel that employing a more diverse range of evaluative techniques and measures would prove to be more substantial in measuring the effectiveness of the intervention. For my own practice however this report has taught me that I can continue to evaluate my own practice regularly through the single system design process, and thus continually strive to improve. This point is neatly summed up by Clarke (1999) who states that the primary purpose of evaluation is not ‘to discover new knowledge, as is the case with basic research, but to study the effectiveness with which existing knowledge is used to inform and guide practical action.’
Partnership: Purpose, Principles and Contractual Arrangements
Bloom, M. (2003)
Integrating Evaluation and Practice
London: Pearson educational
Chapman, T. & Hough, M. (1998)
Evidence based Practice – A Guide to Effective Practice
London: Home Office
De Shazer, S. (1988)
Investigating solutions in brief therapy
New York: Norton
George, E., Iveson, C. & Ratner, H. (1990)
Problem to Solution
London: BT Press
Hayles, M. & Kazi, M. (1998)
Making a Difference: the impact of a single case evaluation project
Probation Journal: Vol. 45 (1) Pp. 27-32
Merrington, S. & Hines, J. (2001)
A handbook for evaluating Probation work with offenders
London: Home Office
Parton, N. & O’Bryne, P. (2000)
Constructive Social Work
Hound mills: Palgrove
Trotter, C. (1999)
Working with Involuntary Clients
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