Diploma in Social Study 1959, Certificate in Child Care 1963
I was born in Jerusalem because my father was a colonial servant in the Palestine Mandate, so spent the first 16 years of my life in Palestine. It was this experience that inspired me to do social work. There was so much poverty and injustice. In addition, one of the things that has always helped me in my career has been my international background, particularly the education I received from a French Order, Notre Dame de Scion,. The well-educated nuns helped me recognise the importance of having a sense of responsibility to the community especially as we were encouraged to become leaders of the community.
I applied to Edinburgh University when I left school to do a degree but was turned down. I was asked to set up and run a coffee shop that was part of the Ogilvie Bookshop in Dundee. I then went to work for Edinburgh Corporation in their so called ‘ wartime’ nurseries (1949-55). I had my own class of children with learning difficulties. After six years as a qualified nursery nurse, I moved out of child care into a biscuit factory in Leith, as a welfare officer (1955-56). There were two of us running the welfare department with a part-tme a qualified doctor. We had to learn about industrial law. One of my tasks was to walk round the factory and talk with the young workers, some as young as 14. On my first week I was called to an emergency when a young girl caught her fingers in a chocolate machine. It was a tragic experience as she lost her fingers. I learnt a lot about the ways of industry in that job, including the dangers and harsh expectations placed on the workers. I moved from there to be Organising Secretary in the Catholic Adoption Society for a year (1956-7).
In 1957, I managed to get into the university as a mature student at the age of 28 to do the Social Studies Diploma. After that, I went back to Dundee and took a post as a school welfare officer for just over a year. During that time, I learnt a lot about the impact of children’s behaviour on parents and the extraordinary resilience of tired women, suffering continuing ill health, who were living in poverty and appalling housing. At that time the local RSPCC played an important role in supporting families, in spite of being known as ‘the Cruelty”. This time taught me a lot about the importance of co-operation between departments.
In 1962, I went back to the university to do the child care certificate. I well remember Megan Browne’s first lecture, which was riveting. Megan convinced me that social casework could solve the world’s troubles. She spoke about Robert Louis Stevenson, saying he would have been a happier man and would have written much more if he had been helped by a professionally trained caseworker! I had an outstanding placement In Glamorgan Children Department in Wales. I learnt a lot about good practice and how a department should be run. The Children’s Officer was Beti Jones who was later the Chief Social Work Inspector for Scotland. I also did a placement in Stockport in a residential centre for mothers who had committed a criminal offence, described as ‘delinquent mothers’. That is where I first learnt about mental health problems. My final placement was at Stratheden Hospital in Cupar, Fife. Working with two excellent professionals, a child psychiatrist and a psychiatric social worker, I learnt a lot by doing home visits.
After completing my social work course, my first job as a senior social worker was with the Catholic child care office in Glasgow, trying to improve the quality of care in the many children’s homes co-ordinated by the organisation. I was frustrated because I could not change things as quickly as I wanted. So I moved in 1965 to Scottish Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child, with the unfortunate acronym of SCUMC. This was the first time a social worker had been appointed and was due to the intelligence and forward thinking of a volunteer Veronica Crabbie CBE, who had a great influence on the development of services for single parents. Veronica was chair of the Claremont Park mother and baby home in Leith. She was close to the raw world of single parenthood, including stigma and unfair inheritance laws. Unfortunately, my actual role seemed worlds apart from social work. All I did initially was write minutes for committee meetings and ensure that the wartime soldiers who had fathered children paid their dues. In 1967, I was appointed Director of SCUMC, where I stayed until my retirement in 1988. This post gave me the opportunity to take forward services for single parents.
As Director, I made it my business to talk to range of professionals of various relevant departments that included housing, health and schools, as well as people representing the voluntary sector and the local authority Children’s Officer. It became obvious we needed more evidence to make the case for the needs of single parents and their children and how these might be met. With the help of a grant from the Sainsbury family, we were able to do an important piece of research, undertaken by Angela Hopkinson, published as Single Mothers the First Year. I was able to use Angela’s research to legitimise the needs of single parents and the value of including support from fathers. We made an accompanying video with the help of Edinburgh University to disseminate the findings further. Some influential people in other agencies responded to this evidence. Janet Lusk, at that time Director of the Guild of Service (latterly Family Care) was pivotal in changing practice including the involvement of fathers. Another good example was the gathering and collating information by a dedicated worker in the Episcopal Church collaborating with SCUMC to provide evidence to the local authority about the number of children requiring foster or adoptive homes. This information helped agencies placing children to change their practices and speed up placements. We also showed that the financial support to single parents was money well spent.
One of my main roles was to make things happen in the different services which would benefit disadvantaged parents. We contributed to the setting up of committees that blossomed into services, such as the Sitter Service, which offered babysitting. We helped to set up the first scheme of Walpole Housing Association flats for single parent families in Glasgow, providing independent living with support. And championed the development of family centres. Such developments were not without criticism. Some said we were prioritising the housing needs of single parent s over other families.
I could not have achieved the things I did without the help and expertise of others. I was awarded an OBE in 1978 for services to children and families. This would never have happened without a team of people around me. The honour is as much theirs as mine.
Looking forward, social work students still need to have an understanding of human nature at its best and worst and be prepared to take decisions that may be contrary to their own advancement. Social workers need a hunger for learning and need to remain true to their ethics and principles. They must be committed and caring and have a sense of humour. Social workers need to recognise they are enablers of others. In their role, they could do no better than to follow the words of Julian of Norwich: ‘ All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.
Source: Interview with Julie-Ann by Jane Aldgate, February 2017.