Master of Social Work 2001
Why social work? I successfully passed a Law degree, and went back to law school to study for the Law Society finals. About half-way through, I realised that becoming a lawyer was a mistake for me. I decided that what I wanted to do was to be able to communicate with people who were multi-dimensional, without losing my sense of self. Other issues persuaded me to stop and change direction. At the time of my training, there were less and less law firms prepared to take on legal aid work. Legal aid was designed to give access to the law to those people who would not normally be able to see lawyers because they could not afford the fees; legal aid helped to pay those expenses. Changes to the legal aid system meant that less money was being given to lawyers and consequently, many law firms were opting out of work with poorer clients. The law was becoming the preserve of the few. I also felt increasingly uneasy about the way in which the law appeared to symbolise the unequal power relationship between the client and the lawyer. The quality of the lawyer-client relationship was, I felt, limited to the details of the problem presented and the charge to the client of a solicitor’s time per hour. Life moved on. I began working at my old university as part of the multi-faith centre team. My main job was to promote understanding of difference between people who belonged to different faith traditions and cultures. I began to discover that I was able to talk with and develop relationships with all sorts of people, young and old, and people of all colours. I learned two important things about myself: that I could build relationships with others and that I have a mind and an empathic awareness that can contribute to people’s self-understanding. These were the factors which led me to consider social work - the concept of change alongside people. I wanted to be in a place where I could support a person whose circumstances were uncertain, to work towards a more concrete set of circumstances. I felt that I could draw upon my own difficult childhood experiences in helping people in the process of change.
My time at Edinburgh was one of intellectual and personal growth. Not all the experiences were easy, and some were very testing indeed. But what the experiences gave me was a developing confidence that I took into the work place and into others areas of my life. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge, respected the values of my personal tutor and my last placement in the Scottish Borders.
Once I graduated from Edinburgh, I spent five years as a youth justice work spending my time between Glasgow and Edinburgh. In 2005, I moved to Cumbria and rose to become the Head of Youth Justice service for the county. I left in 2012; most of my time there was magical. Since 2012, I have been working on a similar position in Oxfordshire. The over-riding contribution Edinburgh has made to my development is a concern for intellectual rigour and not to shy away from the difficult tasks or conversations. Be that professionally or privately.
Looking ahead? I am currently undertaking a PhD within Social Work at The University of Edinburgh. I think social work education as well as social work more broadly is at a pivotal moment in its history. The role of education I believe is to equip social workers with the resilience and intellectual frameworks to help students understand that they shape the profession for good or ill. My advice to students?: Be prepared, social work is not just a job, it’s a vocation. Be prepared to be emotionally, intellectually and physically challenged every day. Be prepared to have your values tested. If you want to help people rather than help them to become empowered, get rich and become a philanthropist. But if you do want to become a social worker, you will be rewarded in ways that make your heart sing, your mind alive with possibily and you will feel deep down that have you contributed a little good to this world.
Source: own contribution; the first section is an abbreviated part of a chapter written some years ago for a book called Becoming a Social Worker, edited by Viv Cree and published by Routledge in 2003.