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Organisations Social Work

Working in Organisations

The purpose of this assignment is to analyse the influence of management, funding etc within organisations and how this affects the way in which social work is delivered. This will be considered from my own observations and experiences whilst completing my 80 day practice placement in a voluntary organisation. In order to this I will discuss the wider social care sector and the policies that have impact upon this project in particular. I will discuss how the project is funded, the impact funding has upon the project and also analyse the management structure of the organisation,

Robins (1990) defines an organisation as “a consciously co-ordinated entity, with a relatively identifiable boundary, that functions on a relatively continuous basis to achieve a common goal or goals” (cited in Adams, Dominelli and Payne, p75 2002)

The organisation that I completed my 80 day practice placement was a voluntary, not-for-profit agency that responded to and provided ways of meeting identified community need. The overall purpose of the organisations was “to relieve the poverty and promote the benefits of the inhabitants of Lancashire and Cumbria with particular reference to those in the area know as the West End of Morecambe, without distinction of sex, sexual orientation, age, race or of political, religious or other opinions.” (Extract from S________ constitution cited in Annual Report 2006/07). “Voluntary action has been influential in achieving social change and developing innovative services for marginalised groups in ways unmatched by the statutory sector.” (Badham & Eadie p89 2004)

The organisations was multifunctional with many smaller projects scattered across Lancashire and Cumbria which provided direct service provision to service users such as travelling tots, farming and rural health project wellbeing in wellies, supported housing etc. Due to the complexity of the organisation I will focus upon one of the smaller projects where I was based which offered information, advice and family support.

The welfare sector in which the agency operated within was competitive with many other organisations in the local area offering family support. It was established in 2004 and was small in size with one project manager and one part-time family support worker. The project was situated in a local community setting, the socio demographic of the area was one of deprivation. A neighbourhood summary by the National Statistics office gave the area an indicator of “most total deprivation” which included indicators covering income, employment health, education and crime. 32% of working age people were claiming benefits in the local area, compared to 17% in Preston and 14% in England, and 7.1% of people in the neighbourhood were unemployed compared to 3.4% in Preston, and 3.4% in England. (National Statistics August 2005)

Policy

At the time of the Children Act 1989 the Conservative party had been in government since 1979. The Conservatives had sought to reduce the role of the state, so it is not surprising that the theme of the 1989 Act was that children are best looked after by the family therefore the state should not intervene in family life the unless absolutely necessary.

Political thinking at the time of the Act chose to locate the issue of child welfare at an individual level, rather than positioning the issue within the wider societal context, ignoring the large macro issues such as such housing, education, health and employment. Resources being central to the theme of supporting families, Holman writes “Children from low income homes are far more likely than others to enter care or to suffer disadvantages within their own families” (Holman et al p16 1999)

When the New Labour Government came to power in 1997 they inherited what O'Connor describes as a “mixed picture.” (O'Connor et al, p30 2006) The response from the New Labour government was to introduce many initiatives, regulations and pieces of legislative that impact upon children, young people and families and also those organisations delivering family support, amongst these were, Supporting Families: A Consultation Document Green Paper, (Home Office 1998) which outlined how the government intended to support families, in particular those families living in disadvantaged circumstances. The white paper Modernizing Social Services (DoH, 1998) which sets out key themes of services for children of “protection, quality of care, improving life changes” (DoH, 1998, p40) The White Paper also introduced the Sure Start programmes intended to target deprived areas and brought together health, early education and family support. “Quality Protects” (DoH, 1998) was a policy initiative aimed at looked after children, to improve quality of care and promote partnership working between local authorities and other agencies.

The most significant changes to child welfare policies have arisen from the inquiry into the death of Victoria Climbie. The Laming Report (2003) was critical of the way in which professionals work together and as a result the Every Child Matters (2003) Green Paper was published which states

“The aim of these reforms is to organise services around the needs of children and young people. Achieving this is a shared responsibility between national, regional and local government, partners in the voluntary community and private sector…” (HMSO p80, 2003)

The government has also made it clear that the voluntary sector has a significant role to play in the deliverance of the Every Child Matters: Change for Children (2004) and the Children Act (2004) “requires local authorities to lead on integrated delivery through multi-agency Children's Trusts to include health, education, voluntary and independent partnerships.” (Jowitt & O'Loughlin, p25 2005).

The Children Act 1989, Every Child Matters agenda and Children Act 2004 are the key pieces of legislation that have impacted upon this project. The Children Act 2004 is intended to promote the five outcomes of the Every Child Matters: Change for Children programme of, be healthy, stay safe, enjoy and achieve, make a positive contribution and achieve economic wellbeing; whilst also providing legislation to develop more efficient and accessible services to meet the needs of children, young people and their families. (Jowitt and O'Loughlin, 2005)

Family support work is delivered in relation to the Every Child Matters: Change for Children framework and I was directly involved in providing support to families who had been referred via a number of agencies, such as education, housing, local schools, Drugline, etc. However many of the families I worked with had been referred via the Group Intervention Panel (GRIP), as the project manager sat on the panel I believe there was a potential conflict of interests. From my observations the pressure to achieve external targets for funding had resulted in the project receiving referrals which were unnecessary. In practice this creates difficulties for the service user and the practitioner. It may not be in the best interests of the service user to received services from S_________ and another agency may suit their needs better, and the practitioner may experience coercion to support families were no provision is really required, as I did myself. There is an obviously tension between the service user, practitioner and project and Banks writes

“while, in theory, it may be possible to separate the pure encounter with the service user from the bureaucratic controls and procedures of the agency, in practice, it is the rules of the agency that define who is to be regarded as a service user.” (Banks, p95 2006)

Outcome drive agenda are suppose to ensure competition, which in turn will result in quality of service for the user, reduce costs and promote choice, (Lymbery 2004) however from my observations and experience whilst on placement I have found this not to be the case and the focus is on achieving targets no matter how they are attained.

Funding

The project's family support work was dependent upon funding from the local authority through the Children's Fund. The Children's Fund is “geared to achieving government determined goals.” (Badham & Eadie, p92 2004) it was established in November 2000 and is intended to bridge the gap between the Sure Start programme for children aged 0-4 years and Connexions for young people aged 13-19 years. It is intended to support children and young people who are at risk of social exclusion and has three fundamental principles “prevention, participation and partnership -to take responsibility at local level for the delivery of the Children's Fund involving partners from the statutory and voluntary sector,” (Children's Fund, 2005)The Children's fund clearly states that the voluntary sector has a significant role in the deliverance of the Every Child Matters agenda. The project's family support was designed around achieving the five outcomes of Every Child Matters as stated previously.

The project had a service level agreement with the local authority, which specifies the arrangements surrounding the services provided by the project which included the payment, termination and details of the service that would be provided. Hafford-Letchfield (2007) states “Since the introduction of the market economy in social care, the voluntary sector has become more dependent upon contracting with the LA” (p77). In addition, the organisation also bids for funds from various funding streams such as Big Lottery Fund and the Sure Start programme to provide family fun days and various activity days.

In any voluntary organisation the source of funds can be uncertain as monies are usually awarded for specific piece of work or for a period of time, then the organisation has to reapply. Within the project in question the funding was in place until March 2008. The project was in competition with other similar projects within the local area that are all fighting for the same funding streams. Applying for funding was a constant source of stress for the project manager who throughout my placement distance herself from direct work with service users, by the paper formalities of producing reports, either to justify the funding the agency had received, or to submit an application for further financial resources. “This can lead to the diversion of valuable VCS resources into bidding to retain contracts and away from delivering better services”. (H.M. Treasury p26 2002)

Lack of funds obviously created an insecure working environment as both the project manager and family support worker employment contracts were due to end in March 2008. The project was struggling to find funds to continue its work in the area and consequently my practice assessor could find herself without a job. Job insecurity was a daily reality, as she later told me she felt unable to compete for jobs with younger people due to her age and could be potentially be unemployed.

Due to an outcome and target driven strategy within the project we constantly had to monitor every letter, phone call, visit, etc this caused anxiety, and I believe led to unethical practices.

‘Fudging' of figures was common place, on one occasion myself and the other student ran a coffee morning and gave out 25 coffees with leaflets, although no direct work was undertaken, it was counted as such. If five people attended an event, eight would be counted. Leat writes “Compared with organisation in the public sector, voluntary organisations spending public money appear in some respects to be less accountable.” (1996, p76)

The organisation was also heavily reliant on students for funding and had taken nine UCLAN students and three Lancaster students, which obviously provided a substantial amount of funds. I believe this also contributed to creating a constant state of anxiety for the project manager where I was situated but also the organisation as a whole.

The project manager had social work students constantly arriving which she had to induct into the organisation, supervise and complete paperwork for. The students would obviously stay for a number of months before leaving and she would have to repeat the process all over again. The organisation was reliant on students in order to function. Without students some of the projects would be unable to exist, especially the project where I was based. I believe again this caused both the practice assessor and organisation an unease which they found difficult to manage and contributed to an unstable working environment for the staff.

Management Structure

The organisation was structured by what Weber termed a “bureaucracy” model. It was hierarchical in nature with power and control held at the top of the system; by the executive committee which included a chair, deputy chair, treasurer, and a board of trustees. The staff team consisted of a project director, who was responsible for the strategic overview of the organisation. She had various members of staff who were organized by “a hierarchy of ascending authority” (Hafford-Letchfield, p5 2007) these included two project coordinators, two project managers and various other members of staff. Attached to these positions were certain “rights, responsibilities and entitlement with mechanism in place to monitor and control.” (Hafford-Letchfield, p5 2007).

The managerial style displayed within the organisation was characteristic of “new public management” market systems which have been drawn from the private sector of “efficiency, effectiveness and economy“ (Gregory & Giddings p425 2000) that now operate within the voluntary sector.

The project director's managerial style was also typical of new public management that now embodies the provision of welfare in most public service delivery; autocratic in leadership and management was organised by a top-down approach. She asserted her authority with the implementation of many policies and procedures which staff had to comply with.

All forms and letters were standardized and held on a database, which all projects used. Gann writes “bureaucratic system dehumanize… at the heart of issues such as bureaucratization ‘lies the question of our faith in human nature and its potential, and the amount of external or internal control needed for decision and action to be good and just” (Gann, p58 1996) From my own observations this was enforced to gain more control of work practices in the smaller projects.

The day to day management of the project where I was based was undertaken by one of the project managers. Who again was dictatorial in her style of management and liked all the rules and regulations to be followed regardless of how nonsensical they were. She was an extremely controlling person and everything in the office had to be done in a certain way or she would correct it, this possibly stemmed from the fact she had little overall control and job insecurity. Her leadership style caused relations in the office to become strained and conflict arose.

I believe the business module of welfare that is currently being delivered by many voluntary organisations is at odds with social work practice and ethics. From my own observations whilst on placement I do not believe that service users receive greater choice or better quality services, and rather than services being ‘needs-led' services appeared to be drive by targets and outcomes. I would argue that market principles are in contradictions to a remedial relationship between service user and practitioner and actually create tensions between service users, practitioners and the organisation.

“Organisational agendas with demands for paperwork completion, speedy throughout of work, conformity and adherence to systems and reduced costs are in direct opposition….. The social worker is in the middle of this ‘tug-of-war', wrenched in one direction by professional knowledge, skills and values relating to the interpersonal, therapeutic and nurturing aspects of practice and hauled in the other by the economic, regulatory demands and bureaucratic controls of the organisation.” (Charles & Wilton, p181, 2004)

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