The door that never shuts on the vulnerable

Our Senior Caseworker Alison helps women leaving prison who have complex needs by ensuring that the right support is in place and the women are supported to engage with it. Read a day in her life here.

8 am – Day starts as soon as I switch my phone on. The phone is my lifeline as it enables me to do my job from pretty much wherever I want - around 90% of my time is spent out of the office. Time management is essential so I work at home first thing to write up my client notes from yesterday.
8.30 am – I receive an email from a colleague who is concerned about a client we have been working with for a year. The client is ‘dual diagnosis’ which means she has a mental health issue coupled with substance misuse. As she can deteriorate quickly I call her straight away, tell her of our concerns and try to establish how she is. I establish she is not in immediate risk but is struggling and feeling like she may relapse. We agree I will contact her Community Psychiatric Nurse who is due to meet her today. After contacting the mental health team I send out an update to all parties so that everyone is aware and appropriate actions can be put in place. I call the client back to update her.
Building up a relationship of trust is essential to approach what can be very difficult and sensitive issues. Many of the women we support have complex needs and quite often this will be a diagnosed or possibly undiagnosed mental health condition or personality disorder. As a result, people will often turn to some form of substance misuse or self harm as a means of coping. One of the conditions from clients is that they consent for us to liaise with other agencies on their behalf so we can provide a multi-agency service.
10.30 am - My first meeting of the day is with a client who was released last year. She is about to move from a hostel into her own flat. We go to a cafe for breakfast – meeting outside the structured environment of an office is a really productive way of building up a good relationship – to complete some applications for resettlement funds and sort out an issue with her benefit claim. We also have a general catch up and discuss how she is feeling.
12.30 pm – After the meeting finishes I return a couple of phone calls and emails. Alot of my work is done ‘in transit’ which means I need to keep on top of things such as calls, emails and notes.
2 pm – I’m in HMP Holloway to carry out an assessment for a client being released in eight weeks to draw up a support plan with her. Receiving referrals as early as possible means we are able to put support in place prior to release – particularly important when making housing and homelessness applications which is usually their main concern. The assessment lasts around an hour and a half, covering all aspects of the client’s situation. I maintain contact with my clients leading up to release as it is important to ensure they are kept updated.
3.30 pm – Before leaving Holloway, I see a client who was recalled for breaching her licence conditions to discuss her support plan. She is due for release again in a few weeks. Due to their high levels of need, many of the women we support may re-offend but we will continue to support them whilst they are in prison. Many have been excluded from services or simply fallen through the net. Quite often, we are the only people who haven’t shut the door on them. By continuing to work with them and helping them access other support, we can work towards making that change and breaking their pattern of offending.
4.30 pm – I head home continuing to check and reply to emails and checking in with my colleagues. I make another couple of calls to clients to clarify meetings for next week and generally check they are OK.
5.30 pm – My day always ends with ‘to do’ list. This is never completed and constantly added to throughout the working day. A colleague once compared the work to spinning plates – you have so many different things going on at once but you need to keep them all moving and not take your eye off. Some clients require more intensive support than others but that doesn’t mean you can let things slip with those who might seem less in need. Quite often it is the people who are less likely to ask for help who need it most.
6 pm – To do list done and phone off!

Alison Beach
Senior Caseworker
St Giles Trust