In this paper, I have spoken of the probation officer’s task in terms that imply some criticism of some current social work thinking, but I do not have the space to develop these debates. Attachment theory may sit uneasily in the current climate with the preoccupation with target setting, offence counselling, service provision and scepticism about relationship centred work. However, I do not argue that attachment theory replaces the necessity for more focussed, behaviour specific social work, nor for the improved provision of skills training, education and information facilities for offenders. However, attachment theory opens up to more specific examination aspects of the relationships that probation officers form with their clients. It illuminates underlying processes that can be seen in all kinds of social work intervention. It should I believe, have a substantial place in the training and working knowledge of probation officers and indeed of all social workers.
Now, some 30 + years on, there is little in this article that I would wish to change. Given that the Criminal Justice system is even further away from believing in the value of ‘helping’ offenders, and more committed to notions of controlling, punishing and instilling responsibility in offenders, the idea of probation officer as caregiver will seem even harder to conceive. ‘Advise, assist and befriend’ has gone as a description of the purpose of probation officer work.