A Knight’s Tale (57: Learning The New Disciplines)

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.


  1. Such a fascinating insight into behind the scenes of these difficult situations. A demanding job, Derrick, in which you are required to constantly balance differing needs, but one I imagine, which gave great satisfaction on occasions.

  2. What a tale, And a tribute to you and all who are in positions to help in the care of those unable to do so for themselves or their families. I wonder how social workers, and their supervisors, keep a smile on their faces sometimes, seeing the brokenness of others daily. And I smiled at the ‘almost retired’ woman who said you had nothing to offer her. Good thing she was soon to retire, because as soon as we think we know it all, we are no good for anyone.

  3. One needs a certain depth of character and conviction to be a level headed supervisor in such challenging scenarios. My respect has since grown manifold for your calling in life.

  4. Things are done so differently today, and while some changes are undoubtedly for the better, there seems to be a loss of connection to individuals. I imagine those weekly, private meetings were invaluable–but mainly because of people like you. I can also imagine being trapped in a weekly meeting with someone who was not caring and who was not interested in learning or who harassed people. It sounds like you were very good at balancing the different aspects of your job.

  5. So very fascinating. Also, sad what a stingy society we have become. (Same is true in the U.S.) Some people need temporary assistance. Some people will need it all their lives. Why do we begrudge them basics that would make their lives ever so much better?

  6. Youโ€™ve had a very interesting and meaningful career as a counselor, {{{Derrick}}}. I hope youโ€™ve hD the wonderful opportunity to hear back from some of those clients whoโ€™ve told you how you changed their lives! ?

  7. It is so interesting to read about your career! I want to thank you for the good work you’ve done!
    Working with kids, parents, co-workers, etc., has it’s challenges. But, it has it’s rewards, too. ๐Ÿ™‚ I know from my career. ๐Ÿ™‚
    (((HUGS))) ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. You took me back to my first terrifying corporate promotion into team management. Worrying about how to go about it consumed far too much of my energy, but I got there in the end. I couldn’t have handled weekly sessions though. By the time I finished working, I had a reporting team of 45 scattered around Australia. But when I first came on board with that company, I did have a one on one with each of them. Luckily I remembered to keep the core discussion questions the same so I could compare and evaluate their history, needs, training requests and ambition or otherwise.

    1. Thanks very much, Gwen. I guess your one to ones worked the same way as ours. Thus I had 6 team members in those days, while I had one to ones with my boss and she had them with hers and so on up the line. So the ultimate Director didn’t have regular meetings with each staff member.

      1. Mmmm, nice thought. But I was still left with ten direct reports, including one each in Fremantle, Adelaide, Melbourne and Brisbane. But you are taking me back ๐Ÿ™‚ I remember now that part of my challenge was to develop the respective team leaders in the Sydney office up to a standard to understand how to develop those in their team. I’m afraid my predecessor had been something of a demi-God.

      2. Ooops. Hit enter too soon. And I reported to a lovely Japanese director who was on the outer in his “tribe” because apparently he wasn’t quite the right “colour”. And then I had oblique reporting to two other directors. One was in charge of Finance but shelfed me with responsibility for the area that created bad debts. The other was on his three year rotation to Australia (a serious demotion in the Japanese hierarchy), and I had to persuade him that calling in the Yakuza was not the way we dealt with those bad debts in Australia. Oh the joyous memories you are sparking!

  9. Such an interesting career! Using the elderly lunch club volunteers was a wonderful idea and opportunity. Apparently increase in red tape and decrease in resources is not limited to the US. Sigh.

  10. It is interesting to see how things were done then, and now. And you are right, one can learn something from both clients and employees. You were resourceful, and also had the foresight to try to do both. You are a rare gem of a human being, Derrick.

  11. “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.” WOW! That is a bit of brilliance in my mind, Derrick. You accepted her version of things and challenged her to show you why she was right. She had to respect that, and, likely, both of you learned something.

  12. I have a question about the “clients I chose to take on.” Did you really get to choose your clients? How did that work? I love the way you viewed the people you worked with – clients and coworkers – as your opportunity to learn. This is always the case.

  13. Hi Derrick, as always I enjoy your personal shares from the workdays because you have wisdom and then you also reference what might be different today.
    Very insightful
    Prior (Yvette)

      1. Hi – yes – this is a small local group we started here in my area – and I am not sure if we will keep it going after this year – but so far it is up and going for 2022 – and I was looking up some posts to share about work life balance and yours came up on my search –

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