‘Taking Account of Maturity’: what does it mean for probation practice?

Roger Grimshaw, Research Director at the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies (CCJS) blogs about his research for T2A into how practitioners have been using T2A’s ‘Taking Account of Maturity’ guide

Taking Account of Maturity: A Guide for Probation Practitioners was published by T2A in 2013; by 2016 the Guide had been mentioned in NOMS guidance for pre-sentence reporting, marking a significant official acceptance. What happened in the interval?

In the publication Making Sense of Maturity, research with practitioners and managers shows ways in which the Guide was disseminated and embraced within probation services, and how they see it in the present context. We wanted to find out how the Guide was being used to develop frontline probation practice, to discover any ‘ripple’ effects (for example, on other agencies), to provide a template for monitoring use of the Guide and to scope out directions for future guidance.

Because fieldwork started in 2014, at the point when Transforming Rehabilitation brought abrupt structural changes, the research was delayed as probation grappled with its new priorities. Later, it proved possible to listen to practitioners who were operating with the Guide in the new context that prevails today. Amid the turbulence, the buy-in of senior management to promoting a maturity agenda was a factor in making the Guide a part of practice with young adults, though not all probation areas will have followed the same path. The Guide’s use was enhanced by practice briefings and support which could then chime with organisational delivery, especially by specialist teams.

Maturity looks different from the point of view of probation practice, because there are specific social pathways that have created challenges to the maturity of young adults under supervision.

‘So maturity is fundamental, it’s absolutely fundamental. About 30% of our young people have been in care. 50% of them didn’t finish school. Out of the 50% that did, only 5% got a formal qualification. So the rites of passage that you would normally associate with teenage growth and maturity, they just haven’t hit those milestones.’ (Probation manager)

Missing out on education, going through the care system, having difficulty communicating with agencies: these are just some of the experiences that need to be properly understood. Good communication and the development of trust are vital if young adults are to be engaged. Hence caseloads have to be adjusted to allow time for this sensitive work and other agencies must be fully engaged.

Crucially, the future health of maturity initiatives in probation depends on: an active strategic commitment to developing practice sensitive to the maturity of young adults; and an awareness of the pathways and milestones that a well-informed social policy binding together all agencies should address. If practitioners want to turn those conditions into reality, our research will give them plenty of ammunition and evidence.