Karen Squibb-Williams is a barrister, former longstanding senior Strategic Policy Advisor and Crown Advocate for the Crown Prosecution Service and Attorney General’s Office, an aspiring author and now a governor for Oxford Health, representing service users in Oxfordshire.
Karen was inspired to stand for election to the Council of Governors for two reasons.
“I genuinely think that if you have a certain capacity to give something back, you should support those people who don’t have the ability, but who still need support. So, it’s my humble effort to try and offer whatever I’ve got in case it is useful,” she says.
“The other reason is I had no idea what was involved, and my curiosity is such that I like to find out.”
Now that some three months have passed since the election, Karen’s aspirations as a governor are starting to take shape.
“The role seems to nourish another area in my life: justice. And with this I mean individual justice; listening to people. We [the Trust] are offering something vital to people: health care services. For some people it can be very difficult to articulate what they need, and therefore it’ll be difficult for the provider to deliver.
“My ambition is to be a bit of a bridge between the speaker and the listener, the giver and the receiver. The areas where I can be useful tend to be in mental health or where people have difficulty expressing something,” she says, adding:
“I’ve got quite a bit of background working with vulnerable victims.”
This is a very modest way of referring to her extensive experience as a barrister and as a strategic policy advisor for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on her specialist areas, including forensic sciences, domestic abuse and police stop and search criteria for people on the autistic spectrum. Even today she provides training to medical experts on investigating and providing evidence for non-accidental head injury cases (formerly shaken baby syndrome.) For this work she won the Association of Chief Police Officers lifetime achievement award “commitment and outstanding contribution to the investigation of childhood deaths”.
Referring to this work she says:
“Really I just introduce them to how science meets law – which is not an easy meeting because law is looking for certainty and science deals with uncertainty.”
With the Covid pandemic Karen’s work has moved away from criminal law and the CPS and she has focused on pro bono -based work on family break-ups.
“Hopefully I can see the tail end of that and focus on moving to retirement and being a governor,” she says.
As a governor she has joined three sub-groups: the Mental Health Act sub-committee, the Warneford re-development group and the Recruitment and Remuneration.
In her first months she has come to see staff retention and morale as the biggest challenge for the Trust.
“I say this with a big caveat; I may not know what I am talking about yet!” she clarifies.
“But I take quite seriously the data we governors are provided. I look at the data and the graphs which demonstrate trends and emerging issues. It looks to me that staff come under the flags of the biggest cost, the biggest need for management support and the biggest need for senior management attention.”
“This is not an area I would have thought I’d put my focus on, but we really need to be getting the morale back on track. There are a lot of management plans and projects that impact on internal demand and staff have to be grappling with constant change. If the provider is working to provide health care services on the front line, and is encountering such significant internal challenges, the risk to the receiver is that they won’t get what could be achieved if there was less change.
“Now this could be nonsense. I’m not an experienced provider; I’m an experienced receiver. But if you listen to the staff and they are having to deal with constant change, it affects the way they do their job.”
Outside of work and governorship Karen has plenty going on.
“Obviously my dog, my eight grandchildren and four children. Everybody lives within five miles from me, so I’m blessed – but my goodness how much babysitting!” she laughs.
She also has a unit at the Old Flight House antiques and vintage centre in Weston-on-Green which she took up some nine years ago to “deal with stress.”
“I just collect things that are interesting, something someone made perhaps 100 years ago. I take something from a pretty ordinary environment, put it in a different environment and make a little bit of pocket money. And you meet such interesting characters,” she says.
And there’s another project on the go:
“For decades I have been intending to write a book – as many of us probably do! – and then I had this really good training from the Oxfordshire Recovery College. It was the first time I’ve done anything like this, as opposed to my legal writing, and it was amazing. Out of nowhere I ended up writing a children’s book!” she says.
“They teach you how to disengage your ‘thinking brain’ and engage your ‘creative brain’ and out popped this daft little book about ‘Flop the Pancake’. In the 26 years of living in Oxfordshire, the Recovery College is one of the most marvellous things I have found.”
She has read her book to two of her grandchildren.
“They listened to the whole story, which I take as a big thumbs up,” she laughs.
And her grandson helped her come up with the name for her protagonist, a pancake who didn’t want to stay in the frying pan.
“He said: Grandma, FLOP the pancake! And that was it.”
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Published: 17 September 2021