Day Three

Wednesday

Paperwork rules (zone director)

At 9 a.m. Ann South is office-bound again. She keeps copies of the main acts and government reports in her desk drawer for handy reference. Text books, reference books, pamphlets and journals fill the bookshelf opposite her desk. She receives some journals on circulation in the department and others, like Social Work Today, she receives personally, but she is "always behind in reading all of them". No journals are received by the zone director at her office during observation. On only this one occasion does she refer to an item from the collection housed in her desk, it is her personal copy of the National Joint Council "Purple book" containing staff conditions of service. She comments that:

senior officers have only recently been allowed by the assistant director, administration, to have personal copies of the "Purple Book". His argument was that we wouldn't keep it up to date, but he eventually gave way under constant pressure. I find it a very vital document to have, especially for meetings involving staff or union matters.

The zone director tries to ensure that the flow of written information from herself to others is as speedy as possible; her secretary collects any items lying in the zone director's 'out' basket each time she comes into the room. Ann South mentions her secretary specifically as being a very important contact, and she does indeed seem to fulfil an important information transfer role on Ann South's behalf. The secretary keeps the zone director's office diary, makes appointments and enters diary dates on her behalf. In most cases when making telephone calls to external contacts, Ann South asks her secretary to get the number for her rather than dialling the call herself and similarly incoming telephone calls from external sources are channelled via the secretary.

Non-accidental injury again (A D fieldwork)

By 10.30 Frank Field is attending an inter-agency committee meeting on non-accidental injury to children, consisting of representatives from the education and health services, as well as the social services department. The purpose of the meeting is to discuss a report on the work of the area review committee which has been prepared by the adviser, child care. (Frank Field's job description includes responsibility for the supervision of procedures necessary for calling a case conference and for attendance at area review committees if required). Discussion leads on to how to convene a case conference. The adviser reports reluctance on the part of two sector teams to call an area review conference, and also reluctance of some social workers to place their cases on the central register. She feels this is due to fears over confidentiality and loss of control over cases. Examples given by hospital staff show that the system is not foolproof and that clients have been wrongly discharged because of lack of relevant information.

Senior management group meeting (director; A D fieldwork).

The dominant meeting of the week, at least for senior management staff in the department, fills the entire afternoon. Frank Field manages to dictate a couple of letters, the minutes of the previous week's field-work management meeting and an agenda for that week's meeting (for the following day) to his secretary before joining the group. His contact with peers and superiors is mainly in formal management meetings, where specific items are being discussed, though he does have some informal meetings with the director, usually in the early morning or evening as they are arriving at or leaving the office.

The senior management group meet in the director's office to consider an agenda of ten items, five decisions taken at the previous sub-group and five more added by the director (who was on leave in the previous week). The group consists of the director, deputy and assistant directors. Agenda items have the initials of the initiator against them. There is no formal minutes secretary, but both the director and the deputy make notes of appropriate decisions.

The meeting proper lasts for almost three and a half hours of which over an hour is devoted to a review of staff who are being offered secondment on training courses and of vacancies needing 'defrosting'. Further soundings have been taken on the staffing issue by Frank Field and others and the consensus is now that the policy committee decision is unlikely to effect residential staff appointments (some of which are imminent). In any case it is believed that the embargo will not become effective until the chief executive has obtained clarification from the leader. Before the meeting a brief discussion of the position takes place between Charles King, Frank Field and the assistant director for administration who then updates the deputy when she appears. During the first part of the staff review the director takes notes of criteria and length of service of potential secondees. He then introduces the problem of the current secondee who has defaulted on his agreement with the department (jeopardizing the whole secondment system). Possible sanctions against the student are considered and a line of action agreed. Then the director withdraws from the meeting to deal with an incoming telephone call.

In his absence the deputy 'takes the chair' and presents possible objections by members against the assistant director (fieldwork) who vigorously rehearses his arguments to defrost posts. An implicit assumption is that some way will be found round the present embargo and that the 'normal' freeze of three months on non-vital posts will continue to operate. The deputy then goes through the same procedure with the assistant director (residential care) and with her opposite number in administration, both of whom fight much less. When he returns the director's contribution is to maintain a broad perspective with such comments as "We had the same problem this time last year" or "We need to know what it looks like on the 'league table' , we're operating at about ten over par."

Another half hour is spent on the department plan, much of which is taken in trying to anticipate the likely effects of a recently issued expenditure review circular, of the possible promotion of a key member of the county staff, and of the staffing decision taken at the policy committee. Here Charles King acts very much as the director, setting out a tactical plan and positioning his staff to meet likely eventualities. Consideration of the agenda for the next social services committee meeting takes up 31 minutes. A number of reports for that committee are called over, some are lined up for later meetings ("We need a considered report not a weekend job"), others are routed through working parties and the remainder are put forward for the committee. At other times in the meeting the director feeds in brief assessments of the political implications of items under discussion,

"Confidentiality of files and the members... sticky ground that gets weaker as it is pressed on."

or seeks information about the state of a particular project or policy matter,

"Is the creche policy well established?"

The management group meeting is controlled by the director (who chairs the session) in a manner designed to despatch business efficiently, but the process is sufficiently flexible to allow for the introduction of 'one-off matters, two of which are subsequently acted upon by the director. The assistant director (field services) complains that the date of a planning meeting has been brought forward by county hall to an inconvenient time without adequate consultation. The director immediately asks "Shall I take it up?" and later writes a note of complaint to the chief executive. At another stage, immediately after agreeing to route a report to a working party the director asks the representative on that working party "what happened when you raised our dissatisfaction with it?" There is general agreement that 'it' needs a new chairman and this becomes the subject of subsequent negotiation.

Two isolated incidents during the meeting illustrate problems associated with information gathering and decision making under pressure. Charles King reports that by accident both he and the deputy have prepared material for a committee. They were each on leave in successive weeks and had worked from different drafts "... doing a big tidying up job. It needs looking at again". Later on Frank Field asks the director for a copy of the white paper on intermediate treatment, only to be told, "Z left it on your desk ten days ago." Not unnaturally this state of affairs inspires some pointed suggestions to the observers.

Meanwhile, in a sub-sector office... (sector director)

The sub-sector team meeting is in progress: Carol Clarke, the team leader is going over information provided at a previous sector management meeting and the sector director intervenes to clarify a point about the availability of holiday grant funds:

"I've got nearly 300, actually..."

He asks for more supporting information to enable him to judge between applicants.

More enquiries are directed to Neil about funds for the blind, applicants for telephones, and staff shortages. In general, however, Carol runs the discussion and Neil plays no part in several items except as a recipient not only of oral communication generally but also of glances from individuals putting points to Carol and approval-seeking body language.

One of the topics illustrates some of the problems of information-seeking: a social worker describes how he has been investigating the procedures for recalling a boy to Borstal training. He says that he has discovered three different procedures for achieving this, one of which is best for the department in terms of the work involved. In order to get this information he had approached the court, the probation service and the department's own specialists. His team leader, Carol, comments:

"We had a lot of trouble getting this information - none of the probation officers had gone through the procedure of recall. Getting the information took over two days - it is important that we get it down."

Neil asks for a note on the methods so that it can go into the next issue of the sector newsletter. The follow-up interview revealed that he didn't get it.

Other topics upon which Neil is asked for information or which he introduces into the discussion include: the effect upon foster-parents of paying client's fines; the case of a child subject to a 'place-of-safety' order; the additional hours available for home helps; accommodation for the sub-sector office; the structure of the local health office; and the need for holiday replacement for Carol.

After the meeting Neil chats for a while with Carol and one of the social workers and then heads back to his base, where he has a scheduled meeting with a group of social workers affected by night duties.

On arrival Neil first checks on the absentees from the meeting and then works his way through the director's memo around which the meeting has been called. He explains the alternative solutions to the dispute and their implications for department staffing and manpower. The reaction he receives when he calls for a vote is hesitant - a full NALGO meeting has been held and it has been resolved that it is not for social worker staff members to comment to management except through their union.

Despite Neil's pleas the only statement to be greeted by assent is, "So the decision of this sector is to make no comment?" Then, to his comment that on a purely informal basis he thinks they would like to choose a particular option which he then specifies, there is complete silence. He says,

"Would I be wrong then? This situation is bewildering. I've seen it brewing for a long time. When I started we weren't paid at all for night duty, then we got some trivial amount, and finally we got the present payment scheme, which at the time was thought to be the answer. Could you tell me though? It's not a question of money, is it? It's unpleasant to have to do night duty at all, and this night duty team might be the best solution. Where do we go from here?"

Most reluctantly, several comments are drawn out. These are obviously made because of the team's respect for the sector director. One senior says,

"I think we all feel like pawns, I think we do want the option you mentioned, but it brings up the question of whether night duty should be an emergency service, or a continuation of day duty."

Another senior, at hearing this, says,

"I think I agree, but I still would prefer that management would discuss it through NALGO, and that we shouldn't comment here."

A third senior social worker adds,

"At least since last week the two sides are willing to come together, even though they are polarised. It is unfortunate, but the dispute does seem to me to be centred on the wrong issue. It's not the money really."

On this inconclusive note, the meeting is adjourned.

Supervision session (social worker)

Janet goes to her supervision session in the office next to her own at 4.00 p.m. This is led by the team leader of the long term team, a senior social worker. Client B and his brother and two sisters are discussed in turn. The children's foster homes are discussed, (the other children are together in a different foster home from client B), and then their school and health records. The senior draws Janet out about her ideas on the future prospects of these children. Afterwards the case of Client D is introduced and the senior agrees with Janet's view that the boy will probably be sent to an assessment centre.

Evening work (zone director)

Ann South's first scheduled visit of the week to a residential establishment is to a children's reception centre, and is slotted in during the hour between leaving the office and attending an evening meeting nearby. She has enjoyed a long-standing working relationship with the warden and matron of this centre and the encounter takes the form of a very relaxed discussion over tea about the centre and the children there. The zone director knows several of the children, and talks with them as the matron gives a guided tour of the building for the benefit of the observer. She intimates that she would probably have had tea with the children if she had had more time and the observer had not been present.

7.00 p.m.

At an evening meeting the zone director is observed in her role as representative of the department on the executive committee of a voluntary association. The aim of the association is to provide accommodation for single mothers and their children. Her roles in this context appear to embrace those of liaison officer and professional adviser; she is asked for news of progress at national level about the recommendations of the Finer committee on one-parent families, and is consulted about two cases. The first, a young girl client of the department, is causing concern to the association's voluntary workers, who have unsuccessfully sought a visit by the girl's social worker.

The zone director notes the social worker's name and promises to pursue the matter with the appropriate sector officer. (Any follow-up of this does not occur during observation.) The second case involves a mother and child not known to the department. Here the zone director is able to inform the volunteer of the appropriate sector office, to which she advises referral be made as soon as possible.


Home Page | Contents Page | Day 4