Master of Social Work 2003
I had previously completed a degree in Philosophy at the University, graduating in 1999. Both my parents were social workers, my father primarily in residential childcare and my mother practice team social work. I came out of my first degree completely resolved not to follow in their footsteps! However, I had already been employed in care work to fund my undergraduate years and found myself in a job at Women’s Aid a few months after graduating! After a few years of unqualified work in a number of settings in Edinburgh including mental health services and drop in provision for homeless adults I decided I may as well be qualified and get on with it!
If I came back to University with doubts about whether social work was the right path for me, they were dispersed by my first placement which we went into very quickly after starting the course. My Practice Teacher John Holligan was fantastic, I loved the work and the team and I went on to work there for almost 10 years after graduation, managed by my original Practice Teacher. I had a great experience and also learnt a lot on my second placement with Barnardo’s, which led me to conclude that I wanted to work with children and families. I had no idea up until then how much I would like working with and trying to communicate with children and young people but I knew by the time I left University that this was the area for me. Despite the fact that during my first placement I communicated so effectively with a mother I was working with that she threw my Social Background Report across the room at me when I went round for a chat about it!
The very best thing about my time at University was the people. I made some really strong friendships with fellow students, which endure to this day, and which supported me through the course and thee early days of life as a qualified social worker. One of my friends from the course is godmother to my second daughter and I do feel that the colleagues you meet in social work make the job. There are some wonderful people in the profession who really support one another and are committed to doing the best.
I trained with Autumn, who is now Dr Roesch-Marsh and teaches at the University, and I remember we had to share the Marjory Brown Memorial Award the year we graduated as our overall marks were the same. Autumn has been a great mentor and friend in my return to studying for a PhD in Social Work.
So after graduating there were some specific ‘integration’ jobs around due to government funding, which involved multi-disciplinary teams, and I was successful in getting one of these jobs in a nearby local authority on graduating. I loved the work but felt I really wanted a broader experience and a social work trained manager to help develop my skills, so approached the local authority team I had been placed in during my training. At this point there were numerous vacancies in social work, and really it was possible to get a job almost anywhere you wanted to, so I was lucky enough to be able to move there fairly quickly and begin my practice team social work career in Craigmillar Children and Families Team, now part of East Neighbourhood in Edinburgh. I worked with some extraordinary young people and families in Craigmillar and was so well supported by my manager and colleagues. Although of course there were some stressful times and I have a good friend who I worked beside in an office for many years who recounts my many sighs on putting the phone down!
What was lovely in those early days is that a group of us from the MSW course met up regularly and were able to support one another with the challenges of being newly qualified, feeling out of our depth at times, and with working really very hard to try to improve things for the families we worked with. A group of us also did the Child Protection Certificate together and could help one another with essays and exam preparation, just as we had on the qualifying course, and that meant we got through and learnt a lot from each other.
When I had my first daughter in 2008 I had the space from work to think about what I wanted to do next in my career. I had begun doing some freelance assessment work for a fostering agency, and in 2008 I was fortunate to gain freelance contract with Scottish Adoption, initially undertaking ‘Form F ‘assessments of prospective adopters. My relationship with Scottish Adoption continued and has been another important plank of my social work career. Again, wonderful management and colleagues allowed me to extend my skills and experience. I worked part-time for Scottish Adoption 2014-2015 leading on their Chancec4Change project for birth mothers and loved being involved in such innovative and challenging work.
However, alongside all of this had been a desire to go back to higher education and I recall saying to Janice McGhee at our graduation drinks in 2003 that I would really like to do the PhD and her encouraging me to consider it. By 2010, heavily pregnant with my second daughter, I was back at the University for a meeting with Janice to discuss applying for the PhD, the department now having moved to the shiny new Chrystal Macmillan Building, and out of the little offices on Buccleuch Place. I was able to secure ESRC funding to undertake the PhD and in 2011 returned from maternity leave to begin studying again at Edinburgh, this time for the Research Masters and then the PhD. Since then my career has been a very busy mix of social work practice, research and teaching. I have also been able to get involved in Infant and Maternal Health research, and learn from the health perspective.
I have been so lucky to be able to become involved in social work education as a tutor and guest lecturer at Edinburgh. I love working with undergraduate students and seeing their understanding grow over tutorial weeks and to be able to talk about social work and all the positive aspects of the profession. I feel that there is so much more we can do to connect research, practice and social work education in future, and that there are many creative ways of doing that. I continue to feel that peer learning is crucial, since I have always benefitted so much from colleagues and fellow students, and that we need to respond positively to the dynamic shifts in social work that occur as funding and government structures shift and change, as they always will. Social workers are so hard working and committed and I would like to see more ongoing professional support and development for qualified workers as well as good preparation for new entrants who have to hit the ground running.
Source: own contribution (10.9.2017)