I took up my team leader post in Southwark in 1974. Each newly appointed senior had come from one of the old disciplines mentioned earlier. This meant that we were supervising people who had far more experience of clients who were new to us in their previous posts.
It is important to understand the concept of supervision as I had learnt it. The supervisor did not have all the answers, but should have most of the questions required to draw out the supervisee, thus encouraging thought and perhaps alternative approaches. The forum for this should be regular weekly meetings for a set length of time, in private, and uninterrupted. I realise that this would be regarded as a luxury today. More’s the pity.
Sometimes a firm line should be taken to deal with unsatisfactory work, because the post does carry management authority which needs to be enforced when the worker will not or cannot change. I do have later experience of confronting bad work resulting in disciplinary procedures and even dismissal.
I, of course, needed to learn these new responsibilities fast. There were two sources of informative experience. These were my allocated social workers, and the clients I chose to take on.
One of my supervisees was a woman nearing retirement who had spent her working life in the Welfare Department with responsibility for assessing and giving practical help to elderly and/or disabled people. She told me in no uncertain terms that I had nothing to offer her. I responded by asking her to teach me about what she did and how she went about it. I don’t know whether I helped her at all, but I certainly learned about her job and the provision of aids to daily living which today’s workers can only dream about. In Jackie’s last post as the modern equivalent of such a provider all she could do was to offer price lists for her clients to buy their own recommended equipment.
One advantage of my position was that I could allocate cases to staff members, including the few I was able to select myself. Thus my clients included a family of small children of a personality disordered father and a mother with learning disabilities; a woman suffering from mental ill health; another with cerebral palsy; one with hearing difficulties; and a blind man. Each of these had something to offer me in return for my support for them. Although I did have to remove two boys from the first family, I was able to resist doing the same for the youngest. He had a large bruise on his forehead which brought vociferous pressure from other agencies for him to be placed in care. In fact he had run across the room in my presence, tripped on a mat, and bashed his head on the floor. It was probably likely that this little one would eventually join his brothers in the care system, but this was not the time.
I made some long forgotten attempts to learn sign language from the profoundly deaf woman and her mother.
One day a mother dumped two small children in our office. We had great difficulty in organising temporary care while workers went to track down their parents. I then realised that we had potential carers in the building, in the form of an elderly persons’ lunch club on the ground floor. Two female volunteers were immediately, easily, found. The next day, by which time the family had been reunited, three ladies presented themselves, wondering whether we had any more children for them to look after. This of course was in the days before compulsory CRB checks. It is now not permitted to work in child care in any form without a satisfactory result from the Criminal Records Bureau. Even that can now be done on line, and could take weeks to come through.