For twenty-seven years I worked as a Probation Officer, serving in the areas of Huddersfield, Batley and Dewsbury. During those years, I was to learn one crucially important thing which this song reminds me of whenever I hear it. ‘We all need certain people in our lives from time to time BUT BEING THERE FOR THEM AT THE RIGHT TIME MEANS BEING THERE AT THE TIME WHEN THEY NEED YOU’.
I had not been in my Probation Officer job very long before it dawned on me (as it no doubt dawns on every public service worker in the country today), that my employer had provided me with insufficient resources, along with the expectation that I could do more with such limited resources than I was capable of ever achieving!
Paradoxically, I was able to do more with insufficient resources, providing that I was prepared to change my working practice from what I had been shown was desirable to what I knew was possible and manageable. The expectation on all Probation Officers at the time was to supervise around sixty clients who were either the subject of a Probation Order, a Prison Sentence or a Parole Licence. The Probation Officer would be expected to see each person concerned once weekly for between half and one hour; along with attending courts and visiting prisons and client’s homes from John O’Groats to Land’s End, plus recording the details of all such contacts. It soon became clear that the task was impossible, unless, keeping accurate typed records was always one month behind and half a week’s extra unpaid hours were worked just to hold one’s head above the parapet.
Never having been a person to waste my effort and energy on anything or anyone which appeared unproductive, but always being a person who will look for a better alternative, I came up with a new modus operandi. After spending a few months conducting a survey of all my client list, I quickly discovered that in order to truly help one’s clients of the Probation Service, it mattered less how often and for what duration of interview a Probation Officer saw the reporting client, and more what you did when you did see them; and in particular, where you able to help them? I found that it mattered more (assuming that the Officer had the knowledge and means to help the offender) that the Probation Officer ‘WAS THERE AND ON HAND TO HELP ON THE OCCASIONS THAT HELP WAS REALLY NEEDED AND ASKED FOR’.
For the uninitiated, most Probation Order clients agreed to be made the subject of a Probation Order in the first instance as a means of not been given a prison sentence by the courts. Most prisoners in the country’s prisons like to receive regular visits from their Probation Officers, not because they want to see them, but to have an hour away from the tedium of some tedious activity and to get offered a few cigarettes to smoke during the visit. Most prisoners who are released on Parole Licence accept this practice of being placed on parole licence ‘as being the only way they can be released anyway, if they wish to avoid serving every bit of their sentence without consideration of any reduction’ (up to half the term served remission).
Even when clients were forced to visit the office and talk with their Probation Officer whatever their Officer wanted to talk about, the relationships forged were often artificial, non-productive and meaningless to the client. Most clients inwardly resented their compulsion to report to their officer and almost all clients told their Officer whatever they thought the Officer wanted to hear and be able to officially record. In real emergencies, when the client would gladly have taken the advice and help of their Probation Officer (such as requiring official intervention on their behalf when bailiffs loomed, fines couldn’t be paid, a job was lost, gas and electricity was disconnected because of arrears, housing eviction was faced or their liberty was threatened, they would call to see their Probation Officer in the hope of receiving tangible help, ONLY TO FIND THAT THEIR PROBATION OFFICER WASN’T THERE OR WAS OTHERWISE ENGAGED AND UNABLE TO SEE THEM WITHOUT ANOTHER APPOINTMENT BEING MADE.
The upshot of my survey was that during a two-year period of statutory contact between the offender and the Probation Officer, there would be a few times at the most when the presence, help or advice of the Probation Officer would be sought out by the client. And, were each client upon completion of their contact period asked to fill in a questionnaire about the quality of the relationship established with their Probation Officer and the quality of service provided, their answers would be determined by their most prominent memory of their contact.
At the end of every statutory period having been completed, the client would not remember how many times his Probation Officer saw them and for what duration each visit, but if their Probation Officer had helped them and how? It was therefore essential that whenever a client sought the Probation Officer out that the Officer responded at the earliest opportunity that same day!
Friendships are the same! Being there for another during their time of need means precisely that! Being there means ‘being there’; not just sending your good wishes by e-mail message or down a telephone line but presenting oneself in person willingly.
The same applies in respect of one’s childhood memories of growing up in their parent’s house. When parents are dead and gone, the child will remember the things and contact that really mattered; often seemingly small things like ALWAYS BEING THERE FOR THEM WHEN THEY NEEDED COMFORT, REASSURANCE, UNDERSTANDING, ENCOURAGEMENT, A KISS AND A CUDDLE; WHATEVER WAS REALLY NEEDED! All the expensive presents, fashionable clothes bought and holidays taken will be forgotten far quicker than those other and more intimate occasions when the smallest of personal gestures and kindest of acts meant the most and left the most lasting impression.
And it is precisely the same with relationships between husbands and wives and lifelong partnership relationships when death leaves one person of the couple bereaved and with their most prominent of memories for consolation.
Love and peace Bill xxx