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2020-135: Online working with probationers: new chances for the working alliance

Target Group

This call is targeted towards probation workers working remotely with probationers.

"Yes, I can hear you now"

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, online counseling or supervision has increased
enormously. This is also true for the Dutch probation services; most probationers are not seen face to face, but contact is online/remotely (e.g. videoconferencing, telephone, WhatsApp). A relevant question in this respect is if it is possible to build up and maintain an effective working alliance when the probationers and probation officers are remote.

In the past year, a lot of expertise with online working has been gathered in the three Dutch
probation organizations. In the present research project, we systematically collected and analyzed the experiences of both probationers and probation officers with respect to online working. We also conducted a literature research.

The probationers were generally positive about the remote contact, although some said they
missed the personal contact. According to most probation officers, remote working is flexible
(efficient, saves time, travel costs), suitable for certain phases of the probation process (especially at a later stage and when a working alliance has already been established) and especially suitable for probationers with mild problems and low risk offenders. The general experience was that conversations are more pragmatic and businesslike, which can have both pros and cons. There were particular concerns about the ability to signal increasing risks, that the online contact is sometimes a bit non-committal and a risk of disruption work-life balance for the probation officer. As far as the working alliance is concerned, probation officers and probationers experienced the contact and mutual cooperation in remote working differently than in face to face contact. Once a foundation has been laid, it seems quite possible for most to continue working remotely, although according to the probation officers this also depends on the type of client, type of offence and risk level.

Opportunities for the working alliance in remote working are mainly in maintaining contact, in which the goals of the supervision and practical issues are central. In substantive online offender supervision sessions, there are possibilities with the working alliance to motivate clients, to prevent drop out, and to ensure that probationers comply with the conditions.

Executive party

Researchers from the Utrecht University of Applied Sciences in cooperation with researchers from Leiden University and University of Twente.