Master of Social Work 2004
I graduated in 2000 with a Degree in Geography with Gender. Whilst I really loved the subject and have been interested in women’s issues ever since, I was not very sure what career it was going to lead me in to! I worked as an administrator and volunteered in various women’s organisations. I was working in a call centre for an organisation which supported people to access government funding for central heating when I answered a call from an older woman who had suffered a stroke and could not speak easily. I slowly worked out she had already called a number of times. The call handlers had hung up on her because they could not understand her. I was very upset that she had been treated that way and did everything I could to help her. That was when I decided to do social work.
My background in gender studies meant that I quickly became the resident feminist of our course and it was a theme throughout my studies. I really enjoyed my placement in Saheliya, a mental health organisation for black and minority ethnic women. By the end of my course I was considering how social work engages with men and my dissertation was entitled ‘engaging with fathers and the welfare and protection of children.’
Our course had very enthusiastic and passionate people on it – there were lots of debates and discussions (and more than a few heated arguments). We were a close group and my arranging of parties and Christmas celebrations made me think I could have had a career as an events’ organiser. I am still in touch with a number of people from the course and close friendships were formed in those two years.
The course was challenging – not just intellectually, but emotionally. Social work forces you to look at yourself and your past. It was important to know what settings or client groups may ‘push our buttons’. My mother died when I was a child, and I remember being particularly affected emotionally when working in a community care placement with a 60 year old woman who lived with her 90 year old mother. My practice teacher was very supportive and everything was used to help us learn and grow.
Both my parents were social workers, so maybe it was in my genes, but the course helped me take my natural ability to communicate with people and refine it with theory and reflection. I remember thinking I could talk to and appreciate all types of people – it was very liberating.
Following my social work studies, I began to think about the importance of engaging with men who abuse in order to increase the safety of women and children. I worked in criminal justice social work as a Women’s Service Worker at the Domestic Violence Probation Project in Edinburgh for five years. This provided me so many opportunities I am grateful for, and the people I met are some of my closest friends today. I co-authored the Caledonian System Women’s Service Manual. The Caledonian System works with men convicted of domestic abuse related offences on a programme to reduce their re-offending while offering integrated services to women and children. In 2009 I began a secondment to the Equality Unit in the Scottish Government to manage the roll out and training for the Caledonian Women’s and Children’s Services across Scotland. Since 2012, I have been employed as Domestic Abuse Lead Officer for Edinburgh’s Public Protection Partnership with the remit to help coordinate domestic abuse services across the council, police, health and the voluntary sector.
I have led a number of initiatives in Edinburgh to improve systemic responses, not only to adult and child victims, but to domestic abuse perpetrators; including the development of service pathways, policies and training. One of the initiatives I am most proud of is introducing the Safe and Together model to the UK. It is a field tested best practice model designed to improve competencies and cross system collaboration related to the intersection of domestic abuse and child maltreatment. It provides a framework for partnering with domestic abuse survivors and intervening with domestic abuse perpetrators in order to enhance the safety and wellbeing of children.
I think I can trace the roots of my interest in the model back to my social work masters dissertation on engaging with fathers!
The social work profession needs to think about how we can use our social work skills with different groups of people and understand when our practice can reinforce discrimination. The issues of engaging with men who abuse is still one which challenges social work, particularly when we are working with mothers and children.
I have been lucky in my career to have had the opportunity to change the systems that disadvantage families affected by domestic abuse. This has included looking critically at social work practice and not being afraid to question how we do things. My advice to the next generation of students is to be radical – nurture the roots of social work as being a vehicle to fight disadvantage and empower people. If you are the only person in a group of people saying something, it doesn’t mean you are wrong. Speak truth to power. Never forget your social work values and anti-oppressive practice. Look after yourselves. Let your life speak.
Source: own contribution.