RMA Blog: On the Importance of Lunch: The Assessors’ Day
Our OLR Team recently hosted an Accredited Assessor day, welcoming five fresh new faces to the cohort. Here, our OLR Lead, Ross Pollock, tells us what they had in store for the Assessors, and why meeting virtually just isn’t quite the same…
Accreditation is, professionally speaking, my first love.
When I joined the RMA, 15 years and 3 Chief Executives ago, Accreditation was my first and primary task. We needed Accredited Risk Assessors to meet the demands of the Court, and quickly. The Judges were getting to grips with a new sentence called the Order for Lifelong Restriction (OLR) and the Assessors were an essential part of the process which allowed the order to be made. As a result, I’ve been intimately involved in the process of accrediting some of the most skilled practitioners in Scotland to undertake some of the most challenging work available in their field.
Historically, getting the Assessors together under one roof has been one of the means through which we’ve supported this group. A recurring theme you’ll hear from Assessors is that it can be incredibly lonely work. Sure, you’ll speak to a large cast of characters when preparing your report. You might also receive supervision from a sympathetic colleague. However, the conclusions of the report (which themselves carry potentially lifelong implications) are your own. You may also have to stand in the dock and be cross-examined on those conclusions, which is also an incredibly lonely place to be.
With the worst of the pandemic seemingly behind us, November’s Assessor meeting was a chance for Assessors to reconnect with the RMA and one another. This was also our first meeting since recruiting a tranche of 5 new Assessors (the first new Assessors since 2011), so we were hoping for a heady mix of fresh-faced enthusiasm and venerable, hard-won experience.
First up on the agenda was an input from our Research Lead, Rachel Webb, on the recently published research on the offending behaviour of people sentenced to the OLR: the very individuals which the assessor group are required to assess. Rachel did an excellent job of enlivening what easily could have been a very dry, statistic-heavy presentation (“requiring at least 2 coffees”, as I very uncharitably put it). As it was, the presentation utilised a quiz format to reveal the key findings from each facet of the research, which immediately piqued the audience’s interest and, naturally, its competitive urges. Credit must also be given to the Assessors for being such an engaged audience, eager to share their own insights and reflect on how the data presented tallies with their own experience.
Suitably energised, the group tackled a the potentially more fraught topic of the new quality assurance process applied to their Risk Assessment Reports (RARs) by the RMA. This additional layer of assurance commenced in late 2021 and represents an increased degree of scrutiny by the RMA on Assessors’ work, with every RAR submitted now being subject to review and, potentially, feedback.
My input on this subject acknowledged that receiving feedback can be difficult, particularly in light of how taxing the process of producing an RAR can be, and the degree to which this document is already scrutinised in Court. In response to this, I emphasised that we had made efforts to ensure that we always provide positive feedback on deserving aspects of the Assessors’ work in addition to highlighting development areas. This contrasts with our previous, unofficial “No news is good news” ethos, whereby we had largely assumed that, given the high standard Assessors are held to as a matter of course, mere compliance with this should be considered praise enough.
The input also allowed us to examine emerging feedback themes and share examples of good practice, the intention being to clearly explain why feedback has been necessary and provide alternative approaches which align better with RMA Standards and Guidelines. The Assessors’ own contributions and challenges were an essential component of this discussion.
Our afternoon discussion was deliberately unstructured, with the Assessors being given a free rein to use the time as they saw fit. I also hung around to assist with points of fact, provide pithy asides and referee where necessary. One of the areas addressed was the future of this forum. In the hope that it will offer a regular and useful means of support to Assessors, it was agreed that we would aim to hold meetings biannually. It was envisaged that this would allow Assessors to attend at least one per year, in recognition of the barriers imposed by location and scheduling conflicts.
As the day’s discussions wound-up, one of the Assessors made a modest plea for a longer lunch break, observing that some of the most useful conversations one has at these events typically happen over lunch. Of all the observations that day, this one perhaps speaks most eloquently of the value of meeting face to face.
From a background in adult service and psychology, Ross has played a key role in the development of processes which ensure that partner agencies are enabled to manage the Order for Lifelong Restriction population in accordance with statutory requirements and best practice. As you can see above, Ross has also led the accreditation of Risk Assessors. His professional interests include complex trauma, given its prevalence amongst the OLR population.
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