Getting the Basics Right

I have greatly enjoyed the years that I have been working in anti-social behaviour (ASB). It has brought together many of the skills and experiences that my personality craves: problem solving, investigation, creative thinking, partnership building and helping others. That’s without any reflection on the job satisfaction that comes from knowing that you genuinely have the ability to positively impact upon someone’s well-being.

That is not to say that the role of an ASB officer is an easy one. To do the job well you have to have reasonable level of knowledge and understanding of a number of other professional roles. The average ASB officer will spend some time each week being a lawyer, a social worker, a support worker, a teacher and a parent, to name but a few.

The world of ASB in housing is also changing greatly. Civil tools and powers are very powerful and I am a great advocate for the fact that as community safety partners we should utilise the full toolkit. If the Police cannot use criminal powers to tackle serious crime, such as gang activity, cuckooing or drug problems, then civil tools, including tenancy action, can be a great alternative. This does however mean that housing officers need knowledge of these other complex issues and may be called upon to deal with matters more commonly dealt with by the Police.

We also find ourselves facing the prospect of regulatory change, with suggestions in the current Social Housing Green Paper that the regulatory standard relating to ASB should be strengthened, and housing providers held more to account. This could result in the Boards of housing associations wanting more performance information about ASB delivery and expectations becoming even higher.

The challenge is often more pronounced for a generic member of staff or officer who works in supported or assisted housing. Because their role involves dealing with ASB only occasionally, they can be effectively forgotten about when it comes to deciding who needs specialist ASB support and training. In addition, where the organisation does invest in training for these officers, it may be ineffective, in that the knowledge that is learnt isn’t required in practice for some time after, such is the infrequency with which these officers manage ASB. The knowledge gap between specialist ASB officers and those who deal with it less regularly therefore becomes increasingly wide, creating inconsistent service delivery and poor habits.

Whilst it can be argued that much of the ASB dealt with by these officers will be low-level, it is actually these type of cases that need the best management. If they are not dealt with quickly and decisively they can often escalate or become the cases that are open for months or years.

Sadly, the role of the ASB officer, whether one who deals with the issues exclusively or someone who is generic, is greatly underestimated. I strongly believe that there needs to be more time and resource committed to ensuring that new officers have a strong induction programme, there is on-going “on the job” support and a focus on continuous professional development.

I would encourage all team managers to consider the following:

  • Is the personal specification that your organisation uses for recruitment an ASB officer right? Will it attract the right people for the role?
  • Do you have a clear and strong induction programme for new starters that includes a combination of learning such as training, further reading, work shadowing etc.
  • Are you clear on the competencies that an effective ASB officer needs to possess and can these be monitored through supervision. This should include soft skills, such as communication, as well as technical skills, such as drafting a witness statement.
  • Do you have a personal development plan for each officer, based on their individual needs?

You may wish to check out my ASB case management e-learning course. It acts as a comprehensive introduction to ASB case management and can be an excellent “off the shelf” induction programme for any new starters. It can be accessed here

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