Diploma in Social Administration 1972
I grew up in Cirencester and went to Exeter University to read philosophy. I had no idea what I wanted to do for a career until I did some hard thinking in my third year. I decided on social work because (a) it felt like a good use of my abilities and (b) it looked a developing profession where I would not be struggling against centuries of male, upper class privilege. I chose Edinburgh because I wanted to see more of the UK and the city is beautiful (sadly, its high intellectual standard did not influence me).
I had excellent placements in the summer vacations either side of the academic year that I was at Edinburgh. Both were near my home in Cirencester, one in a general hospital and the other in a therapeutic community. My memories of the university were of very large groups at lectures that were fairly dull followed by small classes that were very good.
I joined the debating society and got booed for 5 minutes when I said ‘we in England’. I have never made that mistake again.
My time at Edinburgh was marred by the sudden death of my father at Xmas and I did my second year of social work training at Southampton University in order be within week-ending distance of my mother.
After qualifying as a social worker, I worked in medical social work in London for a year, then in Leicestershire social services for 18 months before moving back to London where I took at job as a psychiatric social worker at the Maudsley hospital. This was full of learning opportunities and I had a very satisfying career for 4 years. On getting pregnant, I reviewed my career plans and decided to take the opportunity to change direction. I was fascinated by the arguments between different types of psychiatrists on what counted as ‘scientific’ so returned to philosophy to study the philosophy of science and social science part-time over 2 years. I then had twins and started a PhD, supervised by a philosopher and a social worker on the role of scientific methods in social work. This took me some time to complete – it was, fortunately, in the days before the RAE or REF and so universities were not so bothered about keeping you to a strict deadline. I began teaching part time at the LSE then became a research fellow and then a lecturer.
My subsequent research has had a central focus on how we can reason and claim to know anything in social work. The choice of child protection as the practice area was serendipitous.
In 2010 I had a surprising phonecall from a Tory MP asking me if I would chair a review of child protection if the Tories were elected that year. I said "yes" thinking they would not win. When the coalition government was formed, the review went ahead. It was an amazing experience and I feel very lucky to have been able to do it.*
Since then, I have had the opportunity to see if my recommendations work by working with Andrew Turnell and Terry Murphy helping ten English local authorities to implement Signs of Safety as the practice framework and aligning the whole organisation to support this way of engaging with families. It’s a long process but progress is good.
Source: Own contribution.
* Read the review report and other documentation here.