Day Five

Friday Morning

Vacancy control committee (AD fieldwork)

Friday morning starts for Frank Field at 9.0 am at an assessment centre, where the vacancy control committee meets to approve the vacancy list discussed by the management group on Wednesday. Apparently a different venue is used for each meeting. The deputy director, assistant director (residential), Frank and the assistant director (administration) represent the department. There are three councillors present, including the chairman of the social services committee. Frank asks if the field services vacancies can be dealt with first, as he has another meeting to attend. Most of the individual vacancies are agreed to, the chairman leads the discussion and wants to know why the posts are vacant, where people are going and, in one case, if the director of personnel has agreed to the appointment. The councillors are concerned that there should be places for those returning from secondment, and the subject assures them that there will be, as he and the deputy director have discussed this two weeks previously.

They also discuss those people about to be seconded. One of the criteria for secondment is length of service in the department, another is obviously attainment of a suitable place, which is not automatic. From the way the vacancy control situation was discussed by the senior management group the observer formed the impression that this will be a 'delicate' meeting, but it seems that on this occasion the councillors are just 'rubber stamping' decisions that have already been made. Frank leaves the meeting to return to HQ for the emergency staffing meeting.

The pre-management meeting (director; A D fieldwork)

The last morning of observation sees further action for the director on the staffing front. Before the regular pre-management group meeting six of the senior staff come together in the subject's office because "the assumption at policy and resources [committee] was that our own posts were outside the scope... the general view now is that all posts are included... Tactically I'm very reluctant to put posts up to the Leader to review unless its essential". Since staff appointment interviews are being held that afternoon, holding that position presented some danger of stalemate. Once more the director's concern with overall strategy asserts itself:

"Hold your horses on individual interviews next week... the members haven't thought this through... we must capitalize on this by extending and developing the present better arrangements. [The deputy] and I think we know ways of doing it."

With the other participants still in his office, (Frank Field having just arrived) the subject phones the chief executive in an attempt to clarify the position. He asks whether domestic (children's homes and day centres) posts are included in the embargo and receives an unequivocal ruling that they are. He warns the chief executive that details of two urgent posts are on the way over and abruptly changes the subject to the prevailing doubts about the agency providing local employment for young people which have been voiced at the education liaison meeting. He completes the phone call, no doubt ready to revert to the staffing theme, but by this time the pre-management meeting has begun, with the deputy refereeing, a battle royal between the assistant directors for research and for fieldwork. The director's immediate concern for the staffing issue may have contributed to his later expressed view of this exchange as "The least valuable discussion of the week". In any event this is an occasion where the director is not prepared to change tack at a moment's notice! Returning, after a space of eight minutes, to the staffing strategy, they agree that it should be discussed further at the following week's management group meeting before the next meeting between the social services committee chairman, the deputy and the director.

Discussion of the agenda for the next management group meeting continues through 22 topics in the space of 37 minutes, interrupted by a telephone call from the chairman of the social services committee. He feels that the action taken on staffing is a misinterpretation of the members' decision.

Before leaving the director a few brief remarks on his style of communication may be of interest.

Most telephone calls to 'outsiders' and one-to-one or small group meetings are preceded by a brief social chat, often jocular in tone; all major discussions end with a forcibly expressed summary of who is to do what. When reporting progress to him people often announce what action they propose to take next, almost automatically prompting an endorsement even if none is needed. During review sessions the director asks frequent questions and in strategy discussions tends to make trenchant position statements to encourage reactions from other participants.

Other matters call for the dictation of letters, reports or minutes to his secretary: these include tidying up the results of the allocation meeting earlier in the week; writing to a hospital social worker about one of the clients whose placing depends upon the results of a pregnancy test; writing to the foster-parent applicants on the success or failure of their applications', dictating reports on visits; and writing to other social services departments either in respect of clients who are moving to a different part of the country or in relation to applicants for advertised posts.

With telephone calls and personal visits from members of staff these matters consume virtually the entire day.

Supervision session (A D fieldwork)

At 12 noon Frank Field returns to his office for another meeting, with the county adoptions and fostering officer. This is in the form of a supervision session, where the latter brings up problems and queries and seeks the assistant director's advice and guidance. This is because the adoption officer is very new to the authority and has not yet found her feet. The assistant director spends about half an hour a week giving her support.

A lengthy visit (social worker)

The next client visit for Janet Wilson lasts for five hours in all and involves a visit to a girl client resident at a community home school fifty miles away, after picking up the girl's sister and niece. The time spent travelling in the car is used as an opportunity to discuss with the client's sister the client's progress at the school, her feelings towards her sister and her family, and to outline the implications of periods of weekend leave with her sister. These are discussed further with the client herself over an informal picnic lunch in the grounds of the school and Janet makes contact with school staff to find out about the girl's progress and about arrangements for weekend leave. In this encounter, the subject has a varied role, seeking and giving information, assessing the current situation of her client and setting the scene about new developments for her client and her family.

Friday Afternoon

Children's regional planning committee (A D fieldwork)

It is not possible for the observer to accompany the assistant director, fieldwork to a quarterly meeting of the children's regional planning committee, which involves lunch, and in the afternoon a business meeting. Frank Field attends on this occasion in place of the assistant director, (residential) who is going on leave, but on other occasions he attends in his own right. He is accompanying and providing transport for the deputy chairman of the social services committee and another councillor; his role is to advise and brief the elected members, and he does not contribute directly to the formal business meeting. When driving to the meeting, Frank briefs the elected members on the director's views and comments on some of the issues featured on the agenda.

In reporting on this meeting to the observer, Frank Field says that it is only when attempting to recall details of information events for the observer that he realises how much useful information activity he has been involved in during the course of the day. He found the lunch "a valuable opportunity to meet and exchange news informally with colleagues from other local authorities in the region," and on this occasion was involved in information exchange on two matters of particular current import; the operation of emergency stand-by systems in various authorities, and aspects of the implementation of the Children act, 1975.

Friday - Saturday

Another emergency (social worker; sector director)

Janet Wilson returns to the office at 4.45 p.m. to receive a phone message about Client F, a girl whose mother she saw earlier in the week. The message left is that her daughter has gone missing again overnight. She immediately rings the police to see if they have found her, but they have not. The education officer has also telephoned about Client F, and Janet follows this up. The outcome of this call is a decision to apply for the girl to be taken into care on a place of safety order.

The Client F situation is discussed with Neil West who confirms that they must apply for a place of safety order as soon as she is found. The social worker feels that this will probably not be until the Monday approaching, if the client 'runs to form'.

Another team member relays the news that one of his clients (Client G), a mother of three children, is showing signs of 'blowing up' again. Psychiatric consultation is being sought as soon as possible with a view to her being admitted to a unit. As Janet is on duty that night and the following evening it is necessary for her to be aware of the situation. The colleague says she will come along too if anything happens.

[Janet's duty evening proves to be uneventful, but not so the Saturday morning. At 7.00 am Mrs G has indeed 'blown up'. She, thankfully, has sent her children round to their aunt's. But she is still at home, tearing it apart and smashing windows, attracting a crowd of neighbours, the police and now Janet.

Janet enters the house in some trepidation but finds that Mrs G has spent her aggression and agrees to be admitted to the psychiatric unit which was alerted the previous day. The rest of the morning is taken up in transporting her the thirty miles to the unit, arranging for the children to remain with Mrs G's sister and filling in the necessary report forms.

Janet is accompanied initially by the colleague who has responsibility for Mrs G, but soon she tells him to go home. The client is no longer troublesome and there is no need for him to give up free time.

At about 3.00 p.m. Janet returns home for a late lunch, subsides into an armchair and to her relief is not contacted again during her duty period.]

Meanwhile the director is rounding off his week by talking to a regional conference on young offenders. And so to Monday...

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