Day Four

Thursday Morning

Fieldwork management meeting (A D fieldwork; zone director)

Before the fieldwork management meeting, which takes up most of the morning, Frank Field looks through various staffing applications received during the week, so that they can be discussed at the meeting. People present at the fieldwork management meeting, which he chairs, include the zone directors and the advisers in the fieldwork section of headquarters. (On alternate weeks the sector directors also attend, but not this week). The meeting sticks fairly strictly to the agenda, and, despite this, there is barely sufficient time to complete all the business. A lot of points from the management group meeting are passed on. Of particular interest to the zone directors is the issue of better representation on the panel of interviewers for sector director and senior social worker appointments. They want the teams to be represented by sector staff as well as by the subject and zone director and question the position of councillors in these interviews. Frank agrees to pursue this issue further. He makes decisions about certain policy issues as they arise. One of these is that teams in one sector have been asked to give social work support to elderly clients in a short stay rehabilitation home about to be opened. The zone directors feel that it is a misuse of their resources, as the home's staff will be providing some support, but Frank Field argues that they should provide this support. Another issue arises because of the lack of clear departmental policy over the provision of telephones to elderly clients in a new sheltered housing scheme. Social workers are adopting different strategies and Frank suggests that no further telephones should be installed or transferred, and that he will look into the possible provision of a telephone on each floor of the building, for shared use. The vacancy control situation is discussed again, and the participants express interest, or lack of it, in some of the applications received that week.

There is a complaint from two advisers that neither has received draft copies of some forms referred to. It appears that copies have been circulated only to the zone and sector directors, and from the former come complaints that they do not have copies with them, as they were unaware that this item was on the agenda, A later item concerning a document on Financial assistance to luncheon clubs , circulated to the group by an adviser some "weeks" earlier, gives "rise to similar problems; some members, including Frank Field, cannot recall having received the document and others who do recall it have not brought it with them. Again they were unaware that. it was on the agenda.

The problems highlighted by these items lead to suggestions for a new procedure for agendas. It is agreed that in future agendas will be sent out by post prior to the meeting. Frank Field inserts the proviso that members accept that no items can be submitted after the Tuesday prior to the meeting in order to allow time for typing and despatch.

When attending the various meetings during the week, Frank Field carries a briefcase round with him containing relevant papers and reports. He also carries his diary, which is essential with so many appointments. He takes the Guardian newspaper, which is usually kept in his briefcase. The only time that the observer notices him reading it during the day is whilst standing waiting at bus stops, when he glances at the cricket scores.

Talking to people (social worker)

Janet Wilson's first act of the morning is to contact the police detective she had failed to speak to on Tuesday. The apparent anomaly is clarified - not five, but six or seven individuals are involved in the thefts and more are being implicated as time goes on. She works for a few minutes on a court report, then puts it aside to contact a health visitor over Client A. The woman says that, though she has no direct evidence of negligence, the baby concerned is underweight for his age. Both express concern because they do not want the child 'ping-ponging' in and out of care.

Sector staff meeting (sector director; social worker)

The sector staff meeting is attended by a depleted complement of staff because of various people's absence on electoral duty. The chief item on the agenda involves the possible use of volunteers by the social services department. Zone headquarters has requested sector opinions and the sector director has invited various 'experts' along, including a senior probation officer and the organizer of the local council for voluntary service.

It seems that Janet is making special efforts to contribute questions and offer opinion, as though she were the long term team representative. Afterwards she tells the observer that she was conscious that her team was 'thin on the ground'. This meeting continues from shortly after 10.00 am until lunch-time. The observer can see no evidence of anyone, except the team leader, taking notes at this meeting. Janet later comments that it was a fairly typical meeting, and adds, "I always come out of these meetings feeling rattled!" She hints to the observer that this is partly because of poor chairmanship by the sector director and partly because the contributions of individual colleagues are so predictable and irritating to her. Again she expresses a general dislike for spending a lot of valuable time in meetings.

Education liaison meeting (director)

Following a short meeting in his office with the local police liaison officer the director adjourns to a meeting room to chair a liaison meeting with the education department. Present at the meeting, which is one of a regular series, are six education representatives, ranging from the education director through the youth officer and chief education welfare officer to the local careers officer, who does not normally attend. The three other department staff present are the intermediate treatment officer and the advisers on community work and children.

Several areas of common ground between education and social services are explored at the meeting. A report on progress in establishing an educational support centre, for a nucleus of 'difficult kids' and a balance of 'ordinary' children is offered by the education representatives. The director responds by emphasising that,

"We need to take [the centre] very seriously. We are doing a major review of the residential children's service... if we divert some of our present residential resources into intermediate treatment, will we get as good results? Often kids are in care because of educational breakdown or non-attendance..."

This last statement causes some surprise but is supported by the other department staff who go on to ask questions about reception arrangements for the centre. Several specific procedural points are discussed, but the director concentrates on his department's strategy.

"We're making more provision at the older end and less at the younger end... The county has resolved to close nurseries, we want to redeploy the money... we're enthusiastic about the idea of [the centre]... we would like to be involved and this would possibly msan some redistribution of resources."

Having made clear his department's interest in the centre, attention is turned to review arrangements for co-operation over children affected by supervision orders. On this item the director is content to let his subordinates express the department's view, weighing in with occasional support. Discussion moves on to the white paper on the Children and young persons act and in particular the proposal that where the main cause of concern is failure to attend school, supervision should be carried out by education welfare officers, "A simple device which I admire". Present arrangements for admitting external welfare workers to the department's case review committee are outlined and some extension of these arrangements towards education welfare officers engaged in such work are generally welcomed.

A joint report on the relationship between the education welfare service and social services on supervision orders, due to be prepared for that autumn, sparks off a discussion of the diplomacy surrounding the autonomous committee structure leading towards "... a social services committee meeting to which other members happen to cone. If they happen to be education advisory committee people..." A creative draft report on the development of services is to be prepared for the next liaison meeting.

The careers officer is attending the meeting specifically to appeal for co-operation with social services and two problems arise during discussion. Information about the careers service available to fieldwork teams is seen as patchy and variable, and there is some fear about breach of client confidentiality in passing on information to careers staff.

Arrangements are made for the officer to address various meetings in the department and to prepare a brief statement for department staff. Following on from his previous discussion with the community work adviser about the local agency offering short-term employment for young people, the director asks the careers officer about his experience with the agency. A general discussion ensued and Charles King undertakes to pass on the points made to the chief executive.

Other matters raised at the meeting are the difficulties of placing children in schools on return from community homes, and 'rubber stamp use' of school facilities for holiday play facilities (resulting in the appointment of the IT officer to the appropriate co-ordinating group). On the strength of this single meeting it is obvious that education and social services have many areas of overlap and that this form of liaison, allied to less formal arrangements can be made to work. The meeting generally is remarkable for the amount of factual information and informed opinion exchanged and for the apparently high level of mutual relevance in the matters discussed.

The director returns to his office half an hour late for a forty-three minute review session with two of his staff, one of whom was involved with a client whose problems fell "between professional disciplines and geographical boundaries". In preparing his report on the case Mr King traces the sequence of events, seeking clarification as he goes along. This procedure results in his asking sixty-three questions and making twenty four separate comments, one of which is that "we need to review the general placements position".

Thursday Afternoon/Evening

Talking about paper (A D fieldwork)

After lunch Frank Field is office based, a rare event for him. This enables him to think about the report for the internal planning committee and discuss it with the senior research officer.

The issue of most importance to the assistant director during that afternoon is the discovery of a memo from the chief executive, that the new policy committee decision has been made creating a temporary halt in filling all vacancies, unless the post has actually been offered to a candidate. As he is due to interview for a sector director post in the next week and has to clear a number of posts at the vacancy control panel that week, he is naturally very concerned.

For the rest of the afternoon, the assistant director holds a meeting with one of the members of the special social services working party, (a deputy superintendent of a reception centre), to discuss the papers being put forward. Frank Field comments that "It's better to air any points prior to the meeting so we are pursuing the same line." Since this superintendent has not received the necessary papers for the meeting, to be held that evening, he has to call in to headquarters to get copies made.

Client visits (social worker)

After lunch, in response to Janet Wilson's customary call to reception made after being absent from the office, she is told that the adult training centre head has tried to contact her.

She returns this call to find that the centre head is concerned about a sub-normal epileptic whose mother is going into hospital. The problem centres around the identity of a man with whom the client says he is going to live during his mother's hospitalisation. No-one at the training centre can vouch for this person's bona-fides, nor can Janet. To investigate further, she contacts the intake team senior to follow up these details and later notifies the centre head that she has done so.

Again she receives sundry questions from fellow social workers, such as "When am I on duty next?" and "Have you heard of a client called X?" Unusually, she can't answer the second question positively. The rest of the afternoon is taken up with client visits.

The first visit is to a client's mother. This woman, deserted by her husband, is bringing up a daughter and son alone. The daughter is rapidly becoming beyond her control and is staying away from home at night. During this visit, Janet acts as a sympathetic listener to this rather isolated woman and suggests some tactics for calming down her now aggressive relationship with the girl.

The second and third visits are to Clients D and E respectively. It seems that Client D's mother, who has always staunchly supported her elder son when he is in conflict with the law, is very shocked by her younger son's offence. This involves a large money theft from an ageing man. The mother would like to see her son 'atone for this misdeed' and his elder brother has painted him a far from rosy picture of remand centre life from his own first-hand experience.

At Client E's home the situation is rather different. The client seems to be, as his mother has reported, unconcerned about his position and equally unperturbed by his forthcoming court appearance. Nor does he seem visibly worried at the idea of being sent to a detention centre. One of a very large problem family, only two of his twelve brothers and sisters have no police record.

Zone management meeting (zone and sector directors)

At 2.00 pm Ann South chairs the weekly zone management meeting. The meeting of this group illustrates the zone director in her line management role, and in her relationships with the sector directors The agenda for this meeting was finalised and typed during the morning and is distributed at the beginning of the meeting by the zone director's secretary, who attends to take minutes of the proceedings.

The zone director opens the business by reporting briefly on several items arising from her attendance at the fieIdwork management meeting, held that morning. First on the official agenda is an item which concerns a new procedural referral form and top sheet. Discussion on this is rambling and prolonged, and the zone director, as chairman of the group, attempts to bring it to a close by suggesting a five-minute concluding discussion, but in fact it continues beyond this time limit. Later in the meeting there is discussion of the draft of an oinitial contact' letter which is to be sent to trainee social workers undergoing professional training and due to return to take up posts in the department in early Autumn. The draft has been circulated to members of the group by the personnel officer. A principal hospital social worker draws attention to the omission from the letter of any mention of employment in hospital social work, and it is agreed that amendments should be suggested in the draft to rectify this. These examples draw attention to the relatively recent (April 1974) 'marriage' of hospital social work and local authority social work and the seemingly slow acceptance of hospital social work as 'main-stream' social work. (Another instance observed elsewhere was that of a 'complete' staff telephone directory which omitted hospital social workers).

Ann South regards the zone management meetings as a very important direct channel of communication between herself and the members of the group. She uses it as an opportunity to:

reinforce something I have put in writing to them or intend to put in writing. It's to ensure they are aware of it, in case they haven't seen the memo or document, or it prompts them to look for it in incoming mail. They often grumble that it wastes time at meetings, but I think it's useful from my point of view, so I carry on doing it.

An example of this strategy in the meeting observed is Ann's inclusion of an item on the forthcoming in-service training course for welfare assistants. A memorandum about the course has been sent out to sector directors by the training officer, requesting names of applicants for the course virtually by return of post. Verbal complaints about the impossibly short notice are made by some sector directors, and the zone director agrees to take this up, at the same time voicing her enthusiasm about the course programme, which Las been drawn up in a short space of time, and urging the sector directors to give it as much support as possible:

This course is the best thing on paper I have seen emerge from the training section for a long time.

She receives a number of examples of problems relating to Part III accommodation, concerned mainly with difficulties resulting from differences of opinion by the social workers and the medical profession on responsibility for psycho-geriatric patients. Discussion on this point reveals examples of problems of communication between fieldwork staff, residential staff, and headquarters administrative staff concerned with residential services. At the same time general concern is expressed about the confusing role of principal assistants for residential services; the latter are based at zone offices, but have no line management responsibility. Part III accommodation being assigned using zone boundaries but not being managed or administered at zone level. Ann South notes all the points raised, and asks sector directors to send her reports on these problems and the amount of social work time spent on dealing with Part III accommodation cases, so that she can pursue the matter. The zone director then reports on the dissatisfactions expressed by foster parents, and asks the sector directors to ascertain at sector level the preferences of all foster parents regarding old and new systems of paying allowances, and to report their findings in writing to her as soon as possible. On the question of the existence of printed information about special allowances, there is some confusion amongst the members of the group. One sector director thinks "a decision had been made some time ago that printed information should be produced and distributed to foster parents". Other sector directors cannot recall this.

On several occasions during the week in various encounters the zone director makes notes of some item she wishes to follow up or is required to pursue in scheduled meetings she usually writes these notes on the agenda paper or relevant document on other occasions on any scrap of paper she has to hand. In due course these find their way into action or pending folders on her desk and eventually, if relevant, to her personal filing system.

Community work review meeting (director)

Two and a quarter hours of the afternoon are spent in a wide-ranging discussion of community work priorities involving seven members of staff including the director and the adviser. At the end of the week the director comments:

["My most important activity this week was the community work priorities operation. It was worthwhile giving something a big shove in the direction I want it to go when it looks like wandering elsewhere".]

He dominates this discussion, initiating nearly all of the changes in focus during its course. Most of the other participants are considerably junior to the director but he encourages them to demonstrate their 'grass roots' knowledge in order to lead them towards his general goal.

[He obtains the agreement of those present to carry out a review of current activities and potential within the department. Not unnaturally this calls into question the role of the community work adviser and although the director side tracks any direct probing about this role considerable tension between the adviser and the director is evident. Is there a tacit assumption on the part of the community workers present that this review is being carried out in order to circumvent some kind of impasse? Certainly this seems to the observer to be an occasion when the information being processed by those present bears very little relationship to the information flowing at the meeting.

The director's enthusiasm for his plan of action is evident and is gradually communicated to the other participants. When he recaps on the main points of the meeting for the benefit of the intermediate treatment officer, who is a late arrival, these points appear to achieve more positive response from those present than they did first time round. The difference in perspective between the director and other department participants in this meeting is emphasised by the relative difference in staff levels between them. Even when discussing the same topic the director consistently relates it to an overall strategy whilst the others tend to dwell on the specific service. The final impressions left with the observer are that momentum for the review had been created but that the main motivation of the other participants in carrying it out is probably the director's own enthusiasm. Whether a further intervention will be required before the report back seems in some doubt.]

Evening work, (A D fieldwork)

At 6.15 pm Frank Field asks his observer to leave him alone for a while to read the papers for the special social services working party starting at 7.00 pm. The observer was given permission to attend this meeting, but has to promise not to reveal the business of the meeting outside it, or to take any notes.

7.00 pm

The working party consists of social service department representatives and elected members. Eleven people attend the meeting held in county hall (plus the observer, until 9.30 pm) and they discuss eight individual case reports in terms of policy, inter-agency co-operation and the benefits of different types of care. There is high emphasis on confidentiality of case material.

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