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mary mitchell

Mary Mitchell

Master of Social Work 1998

Graduated: 1998

Originally from Australia, my first job in Scotland was working as a youth worker for Pilton Youth and Children’s Project (formally known as Pilton Youth Project, or PYP), providing social work and community based support to young people. This was a great job - I loved working with the young people involved in the project and my colleagues in this small, but creative, voluntary sector organisation. After about 6 years working for PYP I successfully applied for a Voluntary Sector Scholarship to support my studying an MSW and Dip SW at the University of Edinburgh. The arrangement was similar to being on secondment, so I could return to my post after completing my qualification.

I remember my time on the MSW course being both personally and intellectually rewarding.  It was a time of great change in my life and I remember the debates in class, as well as in the pub afterwards, were stimulating and fun. Passing my Masters felt like a huge achievement for me. My first year placement was at the Royal Edinburgh Hospital in the Alcohol Problems Clinic. This was a great placement and gave me a good grounding on the important partnership role social work has to play within health services. I had an experienced supervisor who taught me a lot about social work ethics in practice. My second placement was at Hawthorne Child and Family Centre. I enjoyed this placement and in retrospect I think it was hugely influential in my later career choices. I enjoyed working with the very skilled nursery workers at the centre, the children in the nursery and their parents – I felt this placement gave a good sense of what community social work could be when it was underpinned by relationship based practice. The placement also gave me an understanding of the agency and purpose small children have, which is often very different to their parent’s!

Since 1998 I have worked in a number of social work and community work settings in both Australia and Scotland, with a particular focus on work with children, young people and families. I have also taught community education, social work and childhood practice at a number of academic institutions. In recent years, I have been part of the GIRFEC implementation team, and later led on the implementation the redesign of the Edinburgh Young People’s Participation Strategy and Young Edinburgh Action, for the City of Edinburgh Council. In addition, I have undertaken further postgraduate studies culminating in my gaining an ESRC collaborative award to study towards a PhD in Social Policy at The University of Edinburgh. My PhD focus is on outcomes for looked after children and their families who have been involved in Family Group Conferencing in Scotland. I’m hoping to submit my PhD within the next few weeks.  I have recently taken up a part time Teaching Fellow (Social Work) post at the University of Edinburgh.

Looking ahead, the involvement of service users, carers and practitioners in the development of social work policy, practice, education and research seem to me to be a vital ingredient to ensuring the quality of services that meet the needs of those who are involved in social work. This is more easily said than done but is, in my opinion, crucial if we want to achieve social justice and change through our work.

My advice to new social workers is to listen, question and reflect on your practice, be humble in your interactions with people and value yourself and your colleagues because the work you do is important. Strive for social change through good working relationships.

Source: own contribution