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David Mitchell

David Mitchell

Certificate in Psychiatric Social Work 1969

Graduated: 1969

The website invitation is to "-----tell us your stories of your learning, your friendships, your achievements,and most of all what you think of social work education then and now". My immediate reaction was to think, "how can I begin to describe a process which was to have such an influence on my life ? " What follows is my attempt to do so.

Social Work was for me a "change of career " profession. My first qualification was for a career in accountancy. Beginning at 16 years of age and complying with family expectations, I served the required five years of articles of apprenticeship in a small firm of chartered accountants in Lancashire and successfully passed the required examinations in order in order to become a Chartered Accountant in England and Wales. However, my heart lay elsewhere and once the
accountancy qualification was accomplished, I soon enrolled at Hull University for the 1962 intake for the two year Diploma in Social Studies course, with the long term goal of becoming a Psychiatric Social Worker. After completion of the course 1964 in I worked for four years as an unqualified social worker in three settings in Lancashire and in Edinburgh in order to acquire the relevant experience required by the Association of Psychiatric Social Workers beforebeing allowed to undertake professional training. I then undertook the Course in Psychiatric Social Work at the University of Edinburgh for the academic year 1968/1969.

In the late 1960s, the three professional social work courses for the separate social work professions of Psychiatric Social Work, Medical Social Work, and Child Care, were led by Megan Browne, Vivienne Lawson ( later to become Triseliotis), and John Triseliotis, respectively. Our "bible" was Social Casework - A Psycho-Social Therapy by Florence Hollis, occasionally referred to irreverently by us as "Florrie Hollie ". Preliminary reading had been what was then a
much respected text "The Casework Relationship" by Father Biestek.

These texts may no longer be familiar to those embarking on Social Work courses today. I am reminded of an intensive social casework group tutorial with Megan Browne in which I caused some mirth by asking how would we cope if in 30 to 40 years' time we were to find that these perspectives were considered to wholly irrelevant? Never one to sidestep serious issues Megan replied that this might well happen and she suggested that this would not necessarily matter. Each generation of social workers would evolve approaches which were sensitive to the changing needs of society. I assume that sums up where we are now. At the time it was recognised that undertaking the course could be personally challenging. It was considered essential to be aware of (and if necessary to explore) how one's personal past and present life experiences might affect one's assessment and approach to the issues being presented by the client.

I successfully completed the course and gained the Certificate in Psychiatric Social Work in 1969.My first job was a social work post with the West Lothian Council which at that time had a Childrens Department with its Childrens Officer; Welfare Department with its Chief Welfare Officer; Probation Department, with its head of department (the title of which eludes me), and a Health Department with its "County Psychiatric Social Worker, Miss M Napier, M. B. E" . This was of course at a significant time in the development of community based social work in Scotland. The Social Work Scotland Act 1968, came into force in the autumn of 1969, two months after the start of my employment with the West Lothian Council. Consequently, although assigned to work in the offices of the Children's Department, I was free to deal with referrals from all four departments - quite a privilege. This enabled me to apply the common frame of reference that was fundamental to the PSW course at Edinburgh. Whatever the setting, it helped me to see the relevance of working alongside the client in defining the nature of the problems they were facing, and together to work out how to attempt to resolve them. I had the opportunity to complete social enguiry reports ( SERs ) for the sheriff, to supervise someone who had been placed on probation, to try to support vulnerable families and older people, and to learn what skills were required when it was necessary to enforce compulsory psychiatric care. This enabled me to appreciate the potential strength of unification of the separate departments. As time went on, this level of unification, with a social worker carrying such a generic caseload, could not be maintained because of the disparate legal requirements for implementation of the legislation in each of these spheres. This lead to the creation of the separate sections that we have today. With hindsight, one now recognises the lack of staff preparation for the new responsibilities which were to be assumed across the whole range of client groups. This was a serious omission, and I was to witness adoption reports couched in the format that had previously been used for the preparation of SERs. I recognise now that my contact with the client placed on probation would have been judged by the Court to have been too superficial. I was also able to witness the transition in the way young offenders were handled in Scotland and the establishment of the Childrens' Hearings.

In Scotland, there never had been "juvenile courts", as in England. Young offenders were dealt with by the local sheriff court. I participated in what would be one of the final referrals to the local sheriff court and completed social enguiry reports on three teenagers who were guilty of minor vandalism. They were required to appear before the sheriff. A gesture to informality by the sheriff was the removal of his wig although he would still adorn himself in his formal black robes. Also young offenders were not required to appear in the large courtroom. Instead they had to appear with their fathers (no women involved were involved ! ) in the sheriff's austere Edwardian style office. They were instructed to stand side by side, with their fathers standing behind them. They were welcomed by the sheriff's clerk with the order "hands out of your pockets ! " Another gesture to informality on the part of the sheriff when he entered the room, was to stand by the grand fireplace, before he quickly placed each of them on a year's probation. There was no discussion with the fathers. My first social work task after the sheriff's departure was to allow "ventilation of feeling" by each of the fathers at the way they had been treated, and of course it was difficult to begin to discuss constructively how they could help their sons.

Happily this woeful state of affairs was to change quickly with the creation of the Childrens Hearings system based on the Scandinvian family court model that we had heard about on our social work training and with which we are now so familiar. My recollection is that initially the responsibility for all aspects of the establishment and operation of the "Childrens' Panels" rested with each local authority, and local social workers were sometimes involved with their training. Having helped to compile a background report I was able to attend an early Hearing with colleagues, and afterwards one of the Childrens' Panel members was to ask us "how did we do?" I doubt whether such a question would be asked today!

After spending eighteen months in the West Lothian Social Work Department, I then took up a social work post in the Haddington office of the Midlothian, East Lothian and Peebles Social Work Department where I eventually became the department's training officer until the creation of the Lothian Social Work Department when I became member of a small team of social work training officers based in the Social Work Department headquarters at Shrubhill House Leith Walk. In 1976 I was appointed to the small team of Social Work Education Advisors in the Edinburgh office of the recently established Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW). The Edinburgh office was then managed by David Haxby, who had been General Secretary of The National Association of Probation Officers. For three years we had oversight of all social work courses in Scotland and Northern Ireland. A Northern Ireland office was established in 19 I was with CCETSW until 1992 when I accepted an opportunity to take early retirement. In 1995 I was appointed to a half time the post of Community Development Officer with Midlothian Council Social Work Department with responsibility for the development of community based support for people for people with dementia.

Following our move to Elgin I became a volunteer tutor for fifteen years with the Adult Basic Education section of the Community Education Department of Moray Council (eventually to be renamed "Essential Skills"). During the compulsory induction training for all new volunteer tutors I was to discover that the fundamental value position of the service was the same as my professional social work training on the PSW course at Edinburgh. We were encouraged to see ourselves as working alongside the "learner", in defining the specific areas to be covered in relation to basic reading and/or numeracy skills.

To conclude, I feel an immense sense of gratitude both to The University of Edinburgh and to the staff who guided us. It has been a pleasure to have had the opportunity to share personal experiences both as a student and social worker and to reflect on the relevance and significance of my professional education.

Source: own contribution (26.8.2016)