A few weeks ago a client had organised a meeting with their new workers from Families SA. When the client told them that I would be attending they told her that if I was present they would call the meeting off. My client was told that this was because the issues they were to discuss had nothing to do with me and was general access arrangements etc. On a couple of previous occasions my client had terrible experiences with FSA workers and was unsure as to how this meeting was to go regardless as to how benign it was to be.
My reason for being there was to ensure that any of the previous behaviours were not revisited and that my client was treated with respect and that she was heard. I had been told by the CE that the department didn’t have an issue with advocates being present during meetings with clients. I was bemused by the response of the supervisor in this instance because I had never met him and what I understood from my client he seemed more than reasonable. Up until this moment I was looking forward to meeting him.
I was son concerned about his response that I contacted a senior department officer and asked if he could intervene. He responded by telling me that if I wanted to be at the meeting then it was my decision. It has always been my policy to back out if the work I was doing interfered with the best possible outcome for the client. This was one of those moments where I was questioning the efficacy of my work. I discussed this issue with the client and left it for her to decide if I should be present for this meeting. Over the few days prior to the meeting I was confused as to whether I should be present or not. I spent considerable time briefing my client on what she should be asking and how she could present her case. She had researched her issues and was very prepared by the morning of the meeting.
By this time I had decided to attend, believing that it was in the best interest of my client for me to attend. I was a little curious as to the reasons why this person would not want me to attend a legitimate meeting of this kind. I had written an email to the department, made a phone call, and felt confident that by the time of the meeting the social workers would have known that I was going to be present.
The social workers were a little vague as to the exact time of the meeting. My client was told that it would be some time in the morning. I wondered how they would feel if they were told to be prepared for a meeting but not told what time it would be held. However, nothing within Families SA surprises me anymore.
Not knowing the exact time of the meeting was initially a problem for me but because I was still on leave I wasn’t inconvenienced. I arrived quite early for the meeting, quite understandable given that we didn’t have a time. After a nervous wait for an hour finally the supervisor and social worker arrived. As they walked in the door they noticed me and immediately commented that because I was present they had to leave. I told the supervisor that it was suggested by someone more superior to him that I could be present. I rang my contact and handed the phone to him. A long conversation took place while the social worker, the clients and I made small talk. The supervisor returned and told me that it was his decision and even though he didn’t’ make a comment one way or the other it was obvious that they were not going to leave. They had travelled a long way for the meeting and because this was the first opportunity to meet with the client it probably didn’t make sense to turn around and go home. I think a lot could be said for meetings that occur out of the office. If I was present within their setting I am sure that I would have been asked to leave.
What I wanted to report was that the meeting that followed was the most amazing and respectful experience I have ever encountered. The supervisor, listened, explained his position respectfully, didn’t bully or denigrate the client. Agreed that some of the decisions made by the department could have been made differently. He acted like a Social Worker. This man who didn’t want me at the meeting was the best practicing social worker I have ever met.
For the first time in four years my client felt heard and understood and more importantly, believed. I left the meeting wondering why all this other stuff was present in the first place. Why did they make this about me? I still don’t understand how such competent social workers can make and assessment of someone they haven’t met and be so disrespectful of me and my position and relationship with the client but have such well defined ethics and skills when working with the client.
Again, there is nothing that surprises me but a lot I still wonder about.