Wednesday, 19 November 2008

How to reduce the DOCS workload

DOCS in this case stands for the Department of Community Services - the mob that have to deal with child abuse etc.

I have been reading a bit more about this awful bloody case in the UK, and was struck by the fact that the family had been visited 60 times by case workers.

60 times.

I say again, 60 times.

When I was studying auditing, way back in the 1980's, we were taught this idea of the Audit Program. Let's say you are a big company, and you have 10 internal audit staff. They work 40 hours a week, get 4 weeks leave a year and are allowed 2 weeks of sick leave as well. They also get 2 weeks training per year.

So you essentially have them for 44 weeks of the year for 40 hours a week. Let's see, that's 1760 hours.

As a rule of thumb, I reckon that if you have a good worker working in a good environment, they'll be doing actual productive work about 60% of the time. The other 40% is taken up with going to the toilet, filling out administrative paperwork, attending meetings, performing evaluations, moving office, gossiping, going out for a coffee etc etc etc.

So out of our 1760 available hours that someone spends in the office each year, you actually get to really use 60% of them, or 1056 hours.

If you have 10 staff, you have 10,000 hours (rounding them down a bit). The idea of the Audit Program was to set down at the start of the year how you would spend those hours - so many hours checking the accounts payable system, so many hours spent counting petty cash, so many hours spent doing this, that and something else. The general idea was that you spend your hours where you will get most bang for your buck - in the high risk areas.

If you do your plan and find that you will actually need 12,000 hours to carry it out, you either need to employ a couple of contractors, authorise a pile of overtime or cut back on some audit activities.

Resources are finite. That was the lesson. Resources are finite. They must be used wisely.

Social workers are no different. Using the above numbers, and assuming that they spend a lot of time travelling between appointments, you might find that they only spend 500 hours per year in "face time" with "clients". That might in fact be a large over-estimate in some cases.

The problem that many managers have is that they look at their staff and imagine that they have them for 52 weeks of the year, 40 hours a week - ie, about 2000 hours per person, when in reality they might get 500 useable hours out of them.

Even in call centres, where staff are monitored more closely than battery hens and calls costs are calculated to the nearest cent, you still get a certain amount of wastage. It's a fact of life - the only thing that differs between companies and industries is the level of wastage.

So, back to the social workers. Let's just accept that they have a very limited amount of time to spend with their clients - maybe 10 hours a week of face time in some circumstances, especially if they have an idiot boss that puts all sorts of restrictions on their travel, wants them back in the office for endless meetings, and is manic about people attending diversity courses and the like.

That means on one side of the ledger, we have very limited resources. But on the other side, we have potentially limitless misery and suffering, and possibly a reasonable amount of death. Or even an unreasonable amount of death. If that's the case, then you need to be brutally efficient in the way you deal with the misery. You need to chop-chop-chop through it like a Toyota production line. There is no time to faff about, because the more time you spend faffing on one case, the less time you have to deal with all the other cases.

And that's how kids end up dying.

Let's go back to our social worker with the 500 hours of face time per year with clients - or 10 hours a week. 2 hours per day. Let's assume they have 20 clients on the go at any one time, and more coming onstream all the time. How do you spend your day? If you see each client every day, you can give them 6 minutes each.

Hmm, not a lot of time to really evaluate a situation, or help a family with a problem.

6 minutes. Many people spend longer on the toilet each morning doing a number 2.

We know that the family of Baby P was seen some 60 times. I imagine the same thing happening with many other cases, where the job of the social worker is to turn up each week and essentially determine that the children are still alive, tick a box and leave.

Yes, that's a rough way of putting it, but I am sure that is how some of them see their job - because they have no alternative.

There are three alternatives that I can think of when it comes to kids being abused:

  1. You leave the kid with the parents, who continue to shoot up smack on a daily basis, and utterly fail to improve their existance
  2. You leave the kids with the parents, who get a job, give up smack and become normal, white bread, middle class parents
  3. You take the kid away
How often does option 2 take place? In the movies, it happens all the time, but we know that most stuff that comes out of Hollywood is crap. Option 2 is probably a very rare event, something that is celebrated with champagne at the DOCS office when it occurs. And I bet if you searched the DOCS bins for a year, you would find very few champagne bottles.

Option 3 never seems to happen either. Very few people have the stomach for it. I imagine it would be terribly heart rending and awful to take a kid away from its parents, so people chicken out and take the soft option.

The soft option is choosing option 1, yet hoping and praying that option 2 is what will result.

Sounds a lot like "hope and change" to me.

If I ruled the planet, I'd give parents 3 chances. DOCS visits you once, twice, three times - and then the kids are taken away.

For good.

You lose all your child benefits and public housing and all that sort of crap.

If you come back a few years later and can show that you have been employed full time for a few years, have good references from your landlord and employer and can show a record of weekly drug free test results over a long period, then you can apply to have your kids back.

If you fail all of the above, and have another kid, we chop your balls off. Then we take that kid away too.

3 chances, or 3 strikes - that's it. Not 60 fucking strikes. Not 20 strikes. Not weekly visits by every man and his dog to check on how many broken bones your kid has this month.

3 strikes. 3.

DOCS would of course have to recruit a whole new generation of ruthless people. Utterly ruthless. Totally ruthless. Useless parents should live in mortal fear of DOCS. That knock on the door should cause useless parents to poo their pants.

Just harden the fuck up, people. Option 1 is a waste of space.

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