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Local woman nominated for award for helping prisoners into work

Careers Adviser Christine standing next to Working Wales banner

Careers adviser, Christine Baker, from Abergavenny, has been nominated for the ‘CDI Career Adviser of the Year’ award for her work in helping rehabilitate offenders in HMP Usk and HMP Prescoed in Monmouthshire.

Christine has worked at Careers Wales for 25 years and has been part of the prison programme for the majority of that time, helping individuals facing release into sustainable employment opportunities.

Careers Wales has offered services within prisons for more than 15 years and in 2018/19 saw 839 inmates and so far in 2019 has already seen almost 10% more under its new Working Wales advice service.

Advisers like Christine attend prison employment fairs, workshops, discharge board meetings and meet with prisoners throughout their sentence to plan their next steps after release and into work.

The adviser of the year award, run by the Careers Development Institute, is given to individuals who demonstrate an outstanding level of effort and achievement for their work in career development.

As part of her nomination, Christine had to show the significant impact she had made on people’s lives through her work.

One former inmate she worked with explains how she helped to turn his life around: “In prison, I honestly thought my working life as I knew it was over. Companies would not touch me as my offence became very public and viral online. I had lost all hope of finding a job that I could put my 16 years of learned expertise to good use.

“I really did not know where my life was going. I had always worked since the age of 18 and thought of not being able to work really bothered me which affected my mental health.

“I had a meeting with Christine and she immediately put me at ease. She became my light at the end of what was previously a very dark tunnel. 

“We explored my transferrable skillsets, we discussed my likes/dislikes, we talked through my personal circumstances and family life and at the end of each interaction I always left feeling so much more positive about my future than I did when it began. 

“Christine became my ‘go to’ person. She would listen and advise me and  guided me into putting a plan of action together for my release. I always felt empowered after our appointments and like I had a purpose.

“Now, 15 months later, I am now more positive about my future than I have ever been at any point in my working life to date. I love my job and I can say, without a shadow of a doubt, that Christine has genuinely helped me take control of my life again.”

As a result of Christine’s ambitions, Careers Wales set up a prison resettlement work experience programme for inmates in 2018. The programme takes place at their own head office in Cardiff, allowing inmates to develop a wide range of skills including administration and customer service.

Christine is among three others shortlisted for the prestigious accolade which will be presented next month at an awards ceremony in Leeds.

She said: “Working with prisoners comes with a unique set of challenges. Many of the men have a lot of barriers such as issues with literacy, numeracy and lack of employment history.

“Sometimes they are highly skilled and well educated but can’t return to their former industries.

“While a lot of prisoners are motivated and determined to succeed, they are also often frustrated because there is no clear career path for them to take whilst in the prison system and upon their release.

“I help them through this process to find that way out, whether that be through education, training, employment or voluntary work.

“Almost all of the people I work with just want to move on in their lives and do something different - but the challenge is finding that ‘different’ for them so they will stick with it and create a life for themselves and their families in which they are in secure and stable jobs.

“It genuinely inspires me to see someone come from a closed point of view where they feel as though their options are extremely limited, to realising the opportunities available to them in the prison system and the services we offer them.

“Every case has a unique set of problems, which means I need to give a bespoke solution, but what unites every case is the sense of reward I achieve when I see someone grow in self-confidence and realise they’re able to find a job they have the skills and passion to do.”

To find out more about the support Careers Wales provides offenders and ex-offenders through the Working Wales employment advice service, visit Working Wales.