As part of my role as Police and Crime Commissioner, I commission services that support victims of crime. I also give grants to organisations in the voluntary sector that work with victims and survivors.
One of the areas of growing demand is counselling. While funding is an issue – perhaps always will be an issue – a shortage of counsellors seems to compound matters. And there are counsellors and counsellors. It is often the more experienced and specialised counselling that is most needed. It doesn’t take too much imagination to realise that a child who has suffered sexual abuse from a close family member is going to need a very different approach from that of an adult who has been assaulted by a stranger.
But is counselling always the right response?
My attention was caught recently by some research that seems to suggest that counsellors can be brought in too quickly. Dutch social scientists, who studied 236 survivors of different kinds of traumatic events, found that where emotional de-briefing is given too quickly, victims were more likely to go on and show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, needing even more help.
They compared the victims who received immediate counselling with those who received none and were left to cope for themselves. They found that the former had poorer mental and emotional health outcomes than the latter. This was attributed to what they called ‘hyper arousal’ – the counselling raised awareness of the traumatic event in ways that did not happen with those who had no help.
There may also be cultural factors in play when it comes to counselling. For example, when I taught at Lancaster university in the 1990s, I met a counsellor who was studying for an MA. She had been involved in helping the families of those who were bereaved when PAN AM Flight 103, going from London to New York, was blown apart by a terrorist bomb and fell on the Scottish town of Lockerbie in 1988. All the passengers and crew were killed, as well as people on the ground.
Grieving relatives came from over 21 countries, with many different religious and cultural backgrounds, to see the place where their loved ones had died. She was one of the counsellors who sought to help them. When she and her colleagues met a family of Buddhists, they were quite disconcerted. Her training had led her to believe that people impacted by trauma needed to express their emotions; the Buddhists were stoical and said little, turning inward. She was forced to re-think her practice. It’s possible, in the light of the Dutch research, that the offer of counselling was, in any case, too soon.
I am also old enough to recall the Aberfan disaster of 1966 when a spoil heap fell on the village and buried 28 adults and 116 children. The people of Aberfan refused counselling, closed ranks and supported one another.
Perhaps we live now in a less cohesive society which no longer has as many of these religious or cultural resources to draw upon. Perhaps we are less resilient as a result and so are in greater need of the help of professional counsellors when traumatic events happen. At any rate, the demand for help for victims and survivors of crime is considerable and I commission what I can to help. But I note the growing difficulty that the statutory and voluntary sectors have in finding suitably qualified and experienced people.
Mini Police Awards
I popped down to the South Yorkshire Police Conference Centre at Niagara in Sheffield to see some of the county’s mini police. One hundred and forty had come from different primary schools to be presented with awards for completing their term as mini police and also to see something of the work of the police. (The mini police scheme is run by police staff based at the Lifewise Centre in Hellaby, Rotherham.)
When I arrived at Niagara the children were already wearing their black baseball caps and yellow mini police tabards and had been divided into groups to look at different police activities – the mounted section had brought two horses along, there were dogs and their handlers, there was a Scene of Crime van full of scientific equipment as well as a police van with helmets and shields … and much more.
But the star attractions were probably two drones. The drone pilots asked the youngsters how much they thought the big and small drones cost to buy. They were nowhere near guessing the real costs – £12,000 and £4,500.
The intriguing part was having the drones take off and hover above us while the drone camera sent its pictures back to the laptop on the ground. Then two children went off to hide in nearby shrubbery and the drone with the infra-red camera found them hiding, sending the images back to the laptop – powerful demonstrations of the value of drone technology.
The mini police operate in many primary schools and have been a most successful way of introducing many South Yorkshire youngsters to police officers so that they see them as people they can always go to when in trouble.
Motorists behaving badly
Last Thursday I was at a meeting of Sheffield’s South West Local Area Committee (LAC) at St Columba’s Church on Manchester Road. As well as a large number of local councillors there were many members of the public, local authority officers and police from the neighbourhood team.
The LAC meets regularly to discuss issues of concern and this month they were in part focusing on community safety. They asked me to speak about police priorities in the coming year, answer questions and then join people at cafe style table discussions.
The conversations ranged widely, but I was particularly struck by how often matters of road safety came up – speeding and inconsiderate parking, especially near schools.
One person commended the work of Operation Park Safe. This is a police initiative currently being piloted in part of Sheffield. Members of the public are encouraged to report inconsiderate parking, sending photos and videos from mobile phones which the police can upload into their systems. It requires those who make the complaints to back them up with statements for action to be taken. So far the police have been able to act in 83% of cases and there have been 450 prosecutions in nine months.
If the pilot is to be extended, however, there are issues that have to be resolved. The IT infrastructure will have to be in place and an efficient way of processing offenders. Officers will need training so that there is consistency of approach across the wider area and what is pursued is in line with the law. An initiative like this is soon torpedoed if a case is contested in court and lost over some technicality.
Nothing annoys people in many parts of the country quite as much as inconsiderate and potentially dangerous parking. Operation Park Safe is clearly popular and has had real success. Many will want to see it rolled out further. But it takes its place in the queue of good ideas and initiatives which will be competing in coming months for the same scarce funding.