Day One

This day begins on -

Sunday Evening: a minor emergency (social worker) A social worker in south zone is responding to an urgent problem.

During Sunday afternoon a landlady, at whose flat two clients (Mr and Mrs A) have been living, telephones the social worker (Janet Wilson). She learns that the mother, Mrs A, has allegedly injured her baby to get her own back at Mr A.

Shortly afterwards Mr A also rings giving similar details. Mrs Wilson is not on duty and tells her client to take his son to hospital to be admitted for a physical examination. She then telephones the duty officer to pass on these details. Later the duty officer calls her to say that the son has been admitted and has a slight injury only.

Monday Morning

Sorting the mail (director; sector director)

8.30 a.m. Charles King, the director is already at his desk in a large office containing a conference table, bookshelves, and an expanse of 'prestige-bestowing' carpet. The sun is shining through the row of windows along one wall and the temperature has already reduced both subject and observer to shirt sleeve order. Normal access to this office is through the secretariat office and the intervening door is open (and remains so except during meetings or confidential discussions). The observer has taken up a position at the head of the conference table, providing an adequate view of the director's desk, but for the next hour, which is spent on a concentrated mail session, he changes position to allow ready access to the subject's out tray at the left of the desk.

When welcoming the observer, Charles King had explained that he was trying to clear up mail in the morning and to catch up on events occurring in his absence on leave the previous week. He explained that incoming mail is initially sorted by the deputy director into three categories - urgent, non-urgent and "I muse over this stuff". Throughout the week Charles King will work on mail in short but intensive spells before or between meetings. He will spend little time on other reading in his office and he will usually stand up when looking at newspapers or journals (almost as though to protect himself against getting too heavily immersed in them).

During the opening post session and at other appropriate times the director makes occasional comments to his observer:

"Social security stuff. I route this to the librarian to put in the newsletter".

The first mail session accounts for 18 letters and 8 other items in 24 minutes. Elsewhere in the department mail sorting is again the dominant theme.

In the western sector Neil West, the sector director's day begins at about 8.45 when he collects mail from the reception office and takes it to his own office. He then skims the mail quickly, picking out items of special interest to himself -

8.55 Neil selects an item of post to read more closely - it concerns the suspension of a girl from school. The letter is from the education department and had been sent, originally, to the wrong sector.

and roughly dividing the remainder according to which team is involved: long term, intake, or sub-office. He is joined by the team leaders John, Pete and Brenda and the four sort over the mail, picking out items of interest and talking casually. Occasionally an item is the focus of discussion:

8.59 The team leaders arrive and Neil raises the matter of the girl's suspension from school - he notes that the school governors have refused to take the girl back and the four discuss how to resolve the issue.

Neil also uses this period to convey information on meetings held in the previous week and on telephone calls received from others.

The whole session, which lasts about half-an-hour is characterised by a relatively easy atmosphere. Neil West is an approachable individual with a conscientious attitude to the information exchange aspects of his job, which obviously has the approval of his colleagues.

One of the activities that engages Neil's attention throughout the week is his responsibility for admissions to residential homes for the elderly. Typical of events is the following:

9.14 A social worker telephones to enquire about moving an elderly person from one home to another. This will involve another sector director, who Neil will be seeing at a meeting later today. He agrees to take the matter up.

The telephone call serves to remind Neil of the meeting this afternoon and he collects together the forms and other materials necessary.

A problem develops (social worker)

Janet Wilson (the social worker involved with Sunday's incident) arrives at the western sector office at 9.35 and busies herself writing in her diary, making continual references to her notebook. Much of her day will be spent working on behalf of client family A. She telephones the hospital to enquire after the baby's health. Full tests have not been completed but the ward sister thinks that there is cause for concern. When the duty officer arrives he greets Janet with the news that Mr A is asking for his child to be taken into care. Janet Wilson then continues writing up the details in the running record of the case file. She looks for the departmental non-accidental injury report forms and decides to consult her team leader.

A new procedure in relation to suspected child abuse, including an 'at risk' register, has recently been introduced, and a folder of guidance notes compiled. Janet is reading these guidance notes when the team leader appears with the post and she tells him of the weekend incident. They decide to initiate the departmental procedure, which includes visits and notification forms for various individuals. Whilst Janet is preparing the forms, the team leader returns to speak to her more fully about the required procedure. This involves police notification, calling a case conference, notifying the sector immediately, etc. Neither appears to feel that the incident is particularly serious, but they agree that the situation could quickly wor sen.

Coincidentally the 'A Family' health visitor rings to say that she has found out the baby's birth weight and he is underweight for his age. Janet outlines the latest development and the health visitor asks to be kept informed.

Mrs Wilson follows this telephone call by making one herself to the police, who say that they will instigate their internal procedure for suspected non-accidental injury cases. Reception rings immediately afterwards to say that Mrs A is in the office. The observer is excluded whilst Janet attempts to obtain her side of the story. Mrs A asks for her son to be taken into care.

Mr A arrives at the office too and is interviewed separately, to confirm his story. Having completed these lengthy interviews, Mrs Wilson consults her principal social worker and expands the account of the incident with information gained from these latest reports. The team leader is rather concerned because the sector director is not due back until this afternoon, and his authority is required for them to be able to take any action.

As a preliminary, Janet is advised to ring the non-accidental injury section at county headquarters. This she does after she has completed the previously mentioned forms and had them checked by the team leader. The NAI section take the details, but insist that only the sector director can initiate the procedure officially. The officer to whom she speaks will have to visit the sector.

News that Mrs A is in the office is then received. Once again she says that she wants her son to be taken into care. Janet promises to visit her to talk about it as soon as possible. She returns to continue reading over the case details to the typist to enable her to complete the official forms rapidly.

Catching up (director)

On completing his mail session the director announces that "I often wander round different assistant directors at this time of day" and fits his action to the words by indulging in a lightning tour of the building. The topics discussed are:

8.56 am [assistant director, residential, his office] 
Funding a social development centre for the mentally handicapped (subject (S) (the director) gives advice)>4 mins
Staff problem at an old people's home ((S) receives report)4 mins
Assaults on superintendents and the effect on recruiting ((S) receives report)3 mins
Leave cover arrangements ((S) approves arrangements)2 mins
Breach of contract by a trainee member of staff ((S) receives statement)1 min
Development of a new assessment centre (S) sets up a meeting)6 mins
Residential review (S) alerts AD about future discussion)1 min
Home for the elderly conversion (discussion)1 min
9.18 [training officer, in the library] 
Breach of contract by the trainee (above) ((S) makes comment)2 mins.
9.20 [librarian, library] 
Home Office Research Unit report. Referred to training officer ((S) seeks)1 min.
9.21 [assistant director (research)] 
New public expenditure document (S) seeks comment)2 mins
Meeting on elderly ((S) arranges to convene)2 mins
9.27 [research officer, his office] 
Policies review work ((S) receives report)1 min
Funding study of mentally handicapped ((S) receives report)1 min
Home Office Research Unit report. ((S) referred to sector director)1 min

Immediately on his return he is joined by the deputy director for a de-briefing session:

9.36 [deputy director, subject's office] 
General feedback on deputy's period of absence which preceded S's own week of leave.1 min
Programme planning (discussion)9 mins
[Secretary interrupts] 1 min
Development of assessment centre (above) ((S) notifies about meeting)1 min
Social development centre ((S) tells deputy about additional staff "for your list", later used in staffing negotiations)1 min
Policies review meeting date ((S) receives)1 min
Interview ((S) told arrangements)4 mins
Policy committee & Chief Officers' lunch (agree on attendance)2 mins
Authority personnel appointment (((S) told)1 min
[Telephone interrupts]6 mins
Leave dates (agreed between them)1 min
Trade union problem ((S) told of developments)2 mins
Procedure for missing children ((S) comments on need for instruction)1 min
Report for working party (crossed lines, both have prepared a paper)8 mins
Finance report ((S) receives comment)1 min
White paper on Children and young persons act ((S) seeks comment, agrees to obtain more copies)1 min

Fortunately for the observer, the director does not continue to encounter new topics at quite this rate, but many of these themes recur during the week. For example, both the union problem and the procedure for dealing with missing children will receive substantial attention later.

The morning unfolds (AD fieldwork, sector director)

Later in the morning Frank Field the assistant director (fieIdwork) attends a pre-arranged meeting with the chairman of the social services committee in county hall. They discuss a report being prepared for a special social services working party to be held one evening later in the week, and fix a date for a steering committee to discuss the internal planning review, a matter of current concern within the department.

Frank has a lot of contact with councillors, and especially the social services committee chairman. Their main communications are about such issues as those already discussed and the vacancy control panel. Meanwhile Neil West has dealt with a number of letters, visits from subordinates and telephone calls and now turns to seeking information over the telephone from the department's child care adviser. He is giving a talk this evening and wants statistics on the number of children in care. Putting down the 'phone after noting down the information, he comments:

"It looks good, it gives us a good slice of the action".

Immediately after this Neil leaves the office for a prearranged meeting with a hospital social worker in a local hospital. He checks out in the reception office telling the clerk that he will be back after lunch.

Monday afternoon/evening

Funding for voluntary work (director)

The remainder of Charles King's morning and early afternoon is to be taken up with mail and occasional telephone calls, apart from nine minutes spent with a specialist adviser and encounters in a pub with a sector director and, separately, with three mernbers of the county management planning team.

Half way through the afternoon post session the specialist adviser for community work calls in for a scheduled pre-meeting discussion about the department's attitude to funding a voluntary agency. This meeting takes place in the director's office half an hour later. It is attended by three representatives of the voluntary body, a spokesman from the county management planning section, the adviser and the director. Before this meeting starts the observer withdraws from his vantage point at the end of the conference table but the director chairs the meeting from the opposite end of the table and the other participants occupy the 'middle ground' so he resumes his position.

The meeting lasts for an hour. The agency provides pre-school nurseries within the county and conducts neighbourhood-level community work using the nurseries as a starting point for contacts. Most of the agency's funds come from the county council which gives high priority to nursery provision but rates neighbourhood work by voluntary bodies as less vital. The possibility of the county council taking over the nursery provision is discussed and there are detailed questions, led by the director, on the financial affairs of the agency.

At the pre-meeting briefing the subject told the adviser how he would conduct the meeting and they agreed that the director would lead on the financial aspects of the agency. Nevertheless, the manner in which Charles King dominates the last part of this meeting and presses the agency spokesman on such matters as hiving off their agency work (for the county) and likely sources of funding, is surprising. King's detailed understanding of the workings of the agency leads the observer to speculate about his 'inside-knowledge', and this is succinctly confirmed immediately afterwards:

"What was unspoken is that they know I'm closely connected with their parent body, I know damned well they could get money."

The return of Mrs A (social worker)

Just as she returns from lunch, reception phones Mrs Wilson to say that Mrs A has come to see her yet again. However, a quick check in her diary reminds Janet that she has not yet made a telephone call about client B's children. (The outcome of this call is an appointment to take them to their mother's new home on Thursday of that week).

Mrs Wilson then sees Mrs A and finds her very unhappy, as her husband, she says, has now decided that their son should not be taken into care. Her husband is at this moment visiting him in hospital. Concerned that Mr A might discharge his son, Janet Wilson leaves for the hospital immediately.

Mr A has not in fact reversed his earlier request for the child to be taken into care. (If the mother's fears had proved to be true, Janet had decided to apply for a 'place of safety order' on the baby.) Whilst Janet is out Mrs A waits at the main office. She seems confused to hear that her husband has not changed his mind. (Janet later reports her suspicion that Mrs A only came to the office because she could not get into the flat until her husband returned).

Taking a quick and much delayed tea-break in the main office kitchen, Janet has the opportunity to talk to Neil West about client family A. Her senior has completed the required forms for her so that they are available for Neil West to sign on his return from the allocation meeting.

An incident involving a colleague causes great comment this afternoon. In attempting to contact the relevant sector team in the social services department of another county, five separate phone calls are required. The county headquarters reports that no local team is based in the area and refers Janet's colleague to a district council headquarters. The district council reports that they do not deal with the geographical area involved, and refers her to another district council. The second district council refers her to an area team, but inappropriately. This office finally refers her to the appropriate office. The overall time taken by the calls is around twenty minutes and the actual contact only five minutes at the most.

Occupation centres (sector director)

Neil West returns from lunch at about five past two and, after a brief discussion in the reception office on administrative matters, spends the next ten minutes signing forms, reading minutes of meetings and letters, including two which please him since they are from relatives of old people in a home which is to be closed. The relatives are expressing appreciation at having their views sought on which home the old person should be transferred to:

"Matron didn't think this was necessary - but then she doesn't like the idea of the home closing. I'm glad we did it - it's good P.R."

Another letter from the housing department also refers to someone in the home. Neil describes it as 'evasive' and makes a note for his part-time secretary to send a copy to the matron. He then gets into his car and drives to one of the department's day training centres.

Before the meeting he has brief discussions with two other members of the department, the zone occupational therapy organizer (OTO) and another sector director to whom he passes on a message from the probation service in a neighbouring county.

The meeting is concerned with the allocation of suitable cases of handicapped people to occupation centres. Those present include the managers of three centres (one of them run by a voluntary group), the zone OTO, and the other sector director.

Before the main part of the meeting, discussion takes place on the state of vacancies; the activities of the head of a special school who is promising places in training centres without the authority to do so; a call for names of people suitable for one day per week training from the zone OTO; a review of the previous allocation session; and the need for follow-up on people leaving training centres.

The main business of the meeting is the allocation of clients to places. Each client had a form X42: a rather complex form with full medical and psychological reports and, in many cases, with further reports and letters on the client attached. (Subject: "These X42s get on my wick actually.") The procedure for allocation is: (1) the chairman reads selectively from the X42 of each client, (2) by general consent, the form is assigned to one of two piles representing the two local authority centres, (3) the piles are reviewed to make a final decision. This often means re-reading parts of the X42 or the attached material. Fewer than a dozen cases are dealt with in the 66 minutes of this part of tlie meeting.

Following the allocation part of the meeting a centre manager raises the question of clients leaving one of the centres and the need for provision for them. The zone OTO picks this up and describes a case which will come up at the next meeting which involves a family with three children all of whom suffer from muscular dystrophy. He comments on the lack of familv information:

"These people are not letting us know soon enough when they are coming out."

Upon his return to the sector Neil West has face-to-face discussions with several individuals on topics such as Mr and Mrs A, the return of a homeless family to Birmingham, a potential visitor from the Local Government Training Board, and procedural aspects of cases which will be discussed at a sub-committee of the social services committee. He also scans a copy of Social Services and reads an item on the HMSO publication, Foster care: a guide to practice. He marks it with a view to getting a copy.

Policy committee evening meeting... (director)

When the director looked at the agenda for the policy committee meeting, which is being held this evening, he commented:

"The agenda is not very interesting. The sub-committee does much of the work now. It may not go on until 2 a.m."

So it proves, but the meeting does last for four and a half hours. One decision taken at this meeting is to have repercussions throughout the remainder of the observation week and beyond. After considering the government White paper on Public expenditure to 1979-80 it is resolved:

"That this committee... agree to temporarily hold the ceiling at the present level of staff-in-post of approximately June 1975 plus 40 staff, until the Council have considered the estimated out-turn of expenditure for 1976/77."

This motion has the effect of reducing the department staffing ceiling by thirty posts and results from a report that:

"Some posts cleared for filling under the existing control procedure had not in fact been cleared for many months..."

References to the policy committee from the social services committee go through 'on the nod'; the most important of these being a recommendation that joint funding be sought with the area health authority to develop a disused hospital as an area facility for the mentally handicapped.

... foster parents... (zone director)

An evening meeting attended by zone director Ann South is an informal get-together for a group of registered foster parents in the zone. Ann South regards it as "a valuable opportunity to meet foster-parents in a face-to-face situation and to get direct feedback from them." She is surprised and concerned to leam at this meeting that foster parents are not receiving written details or adequate advice from social workers on additional and special allowances to which they might be entitled, and this leads her to question whether the social workers themselves are fully informed on this subject. In addition, foster parents express dissatisfaction with recent administrative changes in the method of paying allowances for clothing. Strong preference is expressed for the old system, and the zone director promises to pursue this matter with her administrative colleagues in the department.

...and a young wives group (sector director)

This evening Neil West too is busy addressing a young wives group at a local Methodist church. The topic is 'Children in care in the county'.

The event itself is not observed but Neil thinks it will last about an hour. He favours the job, seeing it as being of benefit to the department:

"I'll see if we can get any foster mums out of this group. It's an opportunity to tell them about various things... I may recruit some voluntary helpers for old people's Christmas parties, etc. One or two may respond."

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