Day Two

Tuesday Morning

Trying to keep up with the paper (assistant director, fieldwork)

Tuesday is one of the rare days when Frank Field finds the time to sit down and read his post, consisting of fourteen items, first thing in the morning. He enters his office to find the observer examining his mail baskets (with prior permission) to see what types of post he receives. He immediately goes out to collect the day's mail which he sits down and reads. (This choice of action may have been influenced by the observer's activity).

The sorts of items which Frank Field receives include requests for references, requests for authorisation of certain payments, application forms for vacant posts, meeting agendas and minutes (for the management group, a neighbouring area review committee, policy committee and social services internal planning working party), and memos from his colleagues. As he works through the mail, he comments on the occasional item, for instance, on a report issued by the DHSS on Community homes with education on the premises, "I don't read this sort of thing - it's not possible to read everything, so I don't."

The most significant influence on Frank Field's activity is the number of meetings arranged, both inside the department and out of it, leaving very little time for office work . The assistant director rarely has time to sit at his desk and pursue such activities as report writing or reading. He comments, "The difficulty in field services is getting work done between meetings... you can rarely work alone, you need consultation... I usually work through the backlog of work from the week on a Sunday, because of lack of time during the week to deal with correspondence; or maybe one evening if it has to be done in a hurry." He says this is his "major administrative problem" and gesturing at his cluttered desk, "I just hope I can pick out the stuff that needs dealing with on the day it comes in."

Paperwork and meetings (zone director)

Just before 9 a.m. zone director, Ann South, arrives by car at the zone headquarters. She sits down briefly at her desk and looks through the morning's post and other matters requiring her attention. Amongst the documents received are a batch of application forms for a specialized social work post, a case conference report, a questionnaire on emergency stand-by duty produced. and circulated within a sector office, an agenda, a draft procedural form, and a report on community work.

The pattern of the zone director's working day and information habits depends very much on scheduled meetings. Today she is heavily committed but as the early part of the morning is free she attempts to deal with incoming mail and dictation to her secretary. All items of post are opened by the zone administrative officer and sorted into folders for the individual members of the zone staff.

The zone director's personal system of dealing with correspondence and other items of written information centres around a series of labelled brown folders, kept in her 'in' basket, into which her secretary puts all incoming mail, messages, letters for signature and other items. This system ensures that, as far as possible, items are not put loose on her desk, and hence avoids items going astray or being covered up:

Occasionally people leave messages or notes lying around loose on my desk, but most of them know that they should be given to Margaret. She will bring a message in to me if it's an urgent matter or channel it in via the brown folders.

Ms. South makes a point of looking at the contents of these folders as frequently as possible (specifically in the morning, and in the late afternoon if she is in the office) so that any urgent items of mail or messages are not overlooked. She is concerned that only documents and folders which she has left on her desk should be left there, and in her desk she keeps a series of folders containing items pending, to be read or acted upon, or which she will need for forthcoming meetings.

This morning she is soon off again on a pre-arranged visit, lasting an hour and a half, to a sector office. A senior social worker is acting as sector director and Ms. South advises him about certain troublesome cases and policy issues arising in the sector. Two social workers and the other senior social worker in the team join the discussion on specific items to provide more detailed information. Ann South's role here is largely supportive, as this sector has been without a director for some months and the two seniors have had to shoulder a lot of extra responsibility. The subject estimates that she is spending an extra six hours a week with this team because of its lack of a leader. In fact interviews for the post will be held next week and the subject tells the seniors when that appointment is likely to be made. The acting sector director has been planning to leave her post, but has delayed leaving in the interests of the team and the subject does not feel she will stay much longer. This incident exemplifies the subject's responsibility for staffing, which is exercised on many other occasions during the week.

The sector management meeting (sector director)

It's a busy morning for Neil West as time approaches for the sector management meeting. First, however, he has to deal with a number of problems, including insurance problems of social workers using cars on departmental business, a petition from a community group for 24 hour telephone service sent in by the warden of a centre, and payment of a telephone bill for a chronically-sick client.

These topics have arisen and have been discussed as the senior social workers arrive in Neil's office for the meeting, which finally gets under way with Neil acting as chairman. The functions of the meeting rapidly become apparent: they are, to report to the sector management team the discussions that have taken place in other meetings (such as the departmental fieldwork management meeting); to review previous discussions and resultant progress; and to call forth suggestions on issues which should be dealt with or reactions to environmental pressures (such as the petition for a 24 hour warden service at the community centre).

The kinds of issues that are raised include: a suggestion that the department should offer insurance policies to foster parents as one of the allowances; a potential problem in relation to the union, arising out of the responsibility for accidents of home helps under the Working environment health and safety act; and (at Neil's suggestion) the role of the sector in relation to play groups.

The meeting ends at coffee time, during which Neil discusses client problems with a number of social workers.

Non-accidental injury conference (A D fieldwork)

Travelling by bus Frank Field arrives at a local hospital at 10.30 am for a conference on non-accidental injury. Over sixty people from many different agencies and professions are present. It is a broad introduction to the topic and there are three speakers; a consultant paediatrician giving the medical view, the assistant director to describe social services involvement, and a representative from the county legal department. In questions that follow Frank Field bears the brunt of criticism about the social services department for failing to provide an out of hours service and support, and for providing no means of contacting social workers if required after 5.00 pm. He later comments that his main purpose in attending the meeting was to be seen there as a representative of the social services department, rather than merely as a speaker, so that other agencies would not offer the department as a scapegoat.

Following the conference Frank visits the social workers' office in the hospital, where the main topic of discussion is staffing. One social worker says that she is changing her post and asks when her old post can be re-advertised. The assistant director's visit to this office appears to be mainly supportive, to show them that they are part of the team and are not being neglected.

Sector office visit (zone director)

The zone director has gone on to another sector office, which has recently been moved out from the zone headquarters. She wants to see for herself some of the problems being reported by staff in their new accommodation, resulting from the adaptations carried out to this former school building. These problems include poor ventilation and overheating where large rooms have been subdivided and poor ventilation and soundproofing of senior social workers' rooms and of interview cubicles.

Ann first inspects the interview cubicles, then explores the rest of the building, looking in on two senior social workers to discuss problems of accommodation. The unscheduled visit does not seem to cause surprise and the reception is a warm one. She is a friendly middle aged woman and takes the job of maintaining personal contact with her staff seriously. During the tour various people are told about the memo being sent that day by administration to the estates department seeking attention to the ventilation and soundproofing problems.

During these encounters Ann South is involved in informal discussion of two client cases, and asks for information from a social worker about a memorandum and questionnaire (on the emergency stand-by scheme) which was circulated to social work staff within the sector. Further discussion on this matter and the accommodation problems takes up a forty-five minute encounter with the sector's senior social workers.

Before leaving the sector office, the subject spends half an hour of relaxed informality over a sandwich lunch with a number of social work and clerical staff, discussing their feelings about the new work environment and its teething troubles. She is interested to know of activities in the local community and comments upon several items displayed on the notice boards. She leaves to attend another working lunch (is social work fattening?) at a pub near the zone headquarters. This working lunch is with the chairman of the senior social workers' group. Ann South reviews the main items which have arisen in recent zone management meetings and the current situation on topics of importance. She passes information 'down the line' and indicates what she feels should be noted or acted upon by the seniors' group. For instance, she asks the chairman to 'sound out' his group's reactions to more democratic representation at staff appointment interviews, seniors are not included in appointment interviews for new seniors. The zone director also requires feedback from the seniors on their use of the departmental newsletter, and asks if she can attend the next seniors' meeting to discuss the internal planning review with them.

Thou shalt not appoint staff: chief officers' meeting and debriefing: (director)

By now director Charles King's week has settled into a pattern of meetings (mostly held in his own office) punctuated by mail sessions and phone calls. The full implications of the previous night's decision about holding back staffing levels haven't yet been discovered. Charles King and his social services committee chairman have both assumed that it does not affect the way in which their department clears its residential homes posts. There is very rapid turnover of staff in this part of the work with the result that following advertisement of a particular vacancy a person may be appointed to another more pressing post. Naturally this process leaves some vacancies unfilled for longer periods than others.

The sword falls at a confidential meeting between the directors of housing and social services (who work closely together) and the chief executive before the chief officers' meeting this morning. In an unobserved discussion (the observer joined the group soon afterwards) the chief executive gives his opinion that the motion passed does apply to residential homes appointments. They go on to discuss trades union relations within the authority before adjourning to a county hall committee room where they are joined by their colleagues from other departments.

In the early part of this meeting (which Charles King leaves after two hours) the chief executive appears preoccupied by a decision taken the previous night "with totally inadequate information". The director gives his support. They then discuss sector level co-ordination including the problems created by the use of different boundaries by agencies operating in the same sectors. The director reports that his staff are unhappy because "They feel that sector co-ordination has low priority compared with co-operation with housing." He does not share their view, feeling that it should have high priority whatever his staff feel, and that complacency should constantly be challenged. The debate appears to meander somewhat, with various cautious statements but no direct opposition. "There's little support, which raises the question whether we are on the right track on co-ordination". The next agenda item relates to the staffing decision and gives the director an opportunity to challenge the unrealistic position:

"My major problem is recruitment to childrens' homes and old people's day centres. As staff come in, in response to advertisements, we put them where they will fit and where the priorities are... There's an illusion that recruitment is easy generally, but this is not true... Our house-parents turnover is tremendous... last time there were seventy vacancies - this is usual. One or two vacancies per home is normal which means that prior clearance (of posts) is needed. We have reported on this... We are threatening the viability of childrens' homes."

He suggests that the department's report, offering a simpler method of clearance of posts using a 'pool' system, be implemented. After lengthy discussion the chief executive (who is chairing the meeting) calls for information from the departments involved on the current position within a week and agrees to pursue the matter with the council leader afterwards.

They go on to discuss "trouble with the union" over another issue and the director leaves soon afterwards.

Morning in a fieldwork team (social worker)

The long-term team of which Janet Wilson is a member is not based in the main office building housing the administrative office, the sector director and the intake team. Her team occupies the first floor of a building around the corner from that office, on the main road and about 200 yards distant. This building was formerly two dwellinghouses, but has been converted into offices. The ground floor occupant is an architect's practice.

Eight people occupy the team room, with four desks arranged in face-to-face pairs in each half of the room. In Janet Wilson's half sit four social workers and in the other half are two part-time clerk typists and another two social workers. There are seven telephones in the office, but one is out of order. This causes the social workers to circulate around the room to find an unoccupied phone. The telephones have a direct outside line.

On arriving at work, after recording the events of the previous day in her diary, Janet phones the authority's legal department and the DHSS to organize a meeting. The intention is to prevent a client (Client C), who has a large family, being evicted from his council home. She is partly motivated by the awesome prospect of attempting to re-house them all This action is now urgent because the previous day's emergency has delayed the negotiations.

Other sundry contacts of the morning include the head of a residential establishment who has a son of Client C in care. The residential social worker telephones to find out about the potential eviction which the boy has mentioned.

In advising a colleague on a matter relating to a fostering placement, Janet finds it necessary to refer to the authority's Boarding out regulations. She cannot trace her own copy, and borrows one from a colleague, and, having used it, decides to get a replacement copy for herself. This she obtains from the sector administrative officer, and it is put in a folder in her desk.

She makes several unsuccessful attempts at telephoning various individuals. First she rings another social services department to check when to bring down the currently fostered children of a former client (Client B) now settled there. Then she wants to contact an education welfare officer about the latest developments relating to an adolescent offender recently diagnosed by a school medical officer as physically delicate. Janet reads a school report on another boy, one of a family of four in the authority's care. The boy wants permission to visit France with a school party. She then departs to visit Client C before lunch to tell him of the meeting which has been arranged and to ensure that he attends.

Tuesday Afternoon

More meetings (director)

Immediately after lunch the director is involved in a debriefing meeting with his deputy and two senior administrative staff. The director relays the gist of the discussion. Far from adopting a defensive stance on the staffing issue all four participants treat the embargo as an opportunity to press for the simplified pooling system. The deputy outlines a strategy which involves freezing a limited number of posts in exchange for freedom to appoint to the remainder without individual clearances. She agrees to check on "the .rules of the game" and to ensure that the appropriate report is prepared speedily.

(The pooling system will eventually be adopted). Charles King's ability to concentrate his attention on successive topics of quite different character is soon illustrated again when he spends twenty minutes with the community work adviser. With his observer still reeling under the weight of data on the staffing front, the director clears a batch of mail before the meeting.

[Some tension is detectable during this meeting. They discuss a local voluntary agency created to find jobs for young people, which is not operating effectively. Since the agency depends heavily on official support the director decides that it is a matter for discussion with the chief executive. A meeting has been arranged for Thursday to air some problems on the community work front and to seek ways forward. The community work adviser is assured that "I won't be talking about your job at all... I'm envisaging a document that will be the department strategy plan." The source of the tension appears to lie in this matter but nothing is said directly on either side.

Charles King asks about the state of a document, being prepared unofficially by department community workers, in response to an earlier report on community work activities prepared in the corporate planning unit. The answers appear somewhat evasive and the community work adviser's ambiguous role may have something to do with this. He has no line management responsibility and is reluctant to act as a spokesman for the other community workers, who come under the aegis of the assistant director for fieldwork. After briefly touching on progress over a young people's centre and an adult literacy scheme the meeting is rounded off.]

Talking through some problems (zone director)

Elsewhere in the county Ann South is at the south sector office at the request of the sector director, who wants some advice on a particularly complex client case her team is handling. Discussion of this alone takes an hour and a half, and they then go on to discuss other items, such as likely candidates for a recent senior post, the internal planning review as it relates to this team, projects that one of the community workers is involved in and the problems of payment of volunteers. Volunteers receive payment but do not always declare it, and the situation gets difficult if they are also claiming supplementary benefit. This has led to the DHSS questioning the department. The subject feels that it is unfair to employ volunteers without protection, and has sent out a letter of instruction to them about this situation. It is a topic over which the subject shows a lot of concern. It is 6.20 pm before she leaves this office to return to zone headquarters.

Visiting clients (social worker)

Janet Wilson visits Family A at home briefly, to tell them that departmental processes have been set in motion to investigate the affairs of the weekend and to have their son received into care. The atmosphere in the flat is acrimonious and Janet leaves feeling that the couple's relationship will not survive this incident. As she leaves, she tells them that she will call again when she has more news. Meanwhile their son is to stay in hospital.

Most of the rest of the afternoon is spent in tracing and reading a file on a boy (client D) charged with theft, in order to prepare a court report. She makes notes from this file and from a second on another boy (client E), also being charged with the same offence. Spotting an anomaly on the charge sheets relating to the number of people involved in the theft, Janet attempts to contact a police detective to sort out this problem. He is in court and cannot be contacted.

Other events include two questions from another social worker on the preparation of court reports. The receptionist telephones to ask who is on duty that night, and a peer asks for a copy of a parliamentary act which Janet does not possess. She spends some time searching through an out-of-date telephone directory for the telephone number of the garage man who repairs the sector's cars quickly and at short notice, to help out a colleague. These incidents are typical of the sorts of enquiries addressed to Janet Wilson because of her long service in the authority.

At about 4.15 pm Janet Wilson visits the home of Client E. The boy has not come straight home from school, however, so she talks with his mother. The mother reports that her son is "unrepentant". After spending some time waiting Janet asks the boy's mother to tell him to be home the following evening at this time, when she will call again.

The police juvenile liaison meeting (sector director)

In mid-afternoon Neil West drives to zone headquarters for a meeting of the police juvenile liaison committee for the zone. These meetings occur at six-monthly intervals and involve social services staff, probation officers, a chief inspector of police and several police juvenile liaison officers. They provide a forum for the exchange of information among the various agencies involved with young offenders and offer an opportunity to discuss problems arising out of the differing policies and procedures followed by these agencies. Neil has come prepared with notes of four issues he wishes to raise:

  • Saturday opening times of attendance centres;
  • the right of a person having parental rights to be present when a child is being questioned by the police;
  • the finger-printing of a 13-year old child; and
  • the fact that sometimes parents do not know that a child is coming before the court.

Neil makes brief notes on the replies he receives or on the discussion that results.

This meeting appears to have no formal agenda, nor are minutes of the previous meeting available. A probation officer, joining the meeting late, saw the observer writing and asked if official minutes were being taken, in which case he would welcome a copy. He was quickly disabused!

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