The Caregiver

These essentially simple observations lie at the heart of attachment theory. In making the links to practice, I suggest that the worker can be seen as a temporary caregiver. This is appropriate because of the capacity of the child, as (s)he develops, to form significant attachments to a range of figures, bringing to those relationships patterns of attachment derived from early relationships with caregivers. The notion of the probation officer as ‘caregiver’ may be an obstacle to some, particularly in the current climate of anxiety about crime and crime control. A probation officer who described his/her  task in terms of the few desired qualities of caregivers listed above, would get short shrift from many Courts. The term ‘supervisor’ with an emphasis on control and on the worker’s focus on offending behaviour, may seem more consistent with the present day role of the probation officer.

Nonetheless, the notion of probation officer as ‘caregiver’ I would wish to uphold. First of all, it is a mistake to regard caregiving as woolly dewy-eyed tenderness, although these are connotations of ‘caring’ that are difficult to shed. Caregiving in the sense used here is not a general ‘niceness’ but includes limit setting, controls and punishment. Secondly, a probation officer who attempts to focus on the client’s offending behaviour, without attending to the emotional content of the working relationship, is unlikely to make any progress. This is why the task of the probation officer is still appropriately described in Probation Rules as to “advise, assist and befriend”.[1] It is why, however firm is the officer’s focus on offending behaviour, or on the management of environmental stresses, (s)he devotes a great deal of energy to the establishment of a relationship of trust and the maintenance of regular contact with the offender. It is in this aspect of the work that the notion of the caregiver is especially helpful and appropriate.

[1] S.I. 1984. No 647

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