Master of Social Work 2002
Why Edinburgh? On completing my first degree in Sociology I was torn between teacher training, community education and social work. I decided on social work based on the breadth of opportunities I felt it could offer, and my work experience as a part time care assistant with adults with learning disabilities. I had been involved in supporting people over the move from a large institutional setting – a ‘learning disability hospital’ –to their own homes and had found the work undertaken by the social workers on care planning and person centred planning fascinating and inspiring. My father had also been a social worker of some years standing so I was aware of the profession and some of the different types of social work. I chose Edinburgh based on geography really – I lived nearby and didn’t’ want to move too far away at that point – I wasn’t expecting to be offered a place on my ‘first go’ and was delighted when I was!
I completed my social work Masters between 2000 and 2002, following a first degree in Sociology. I was very young – 21 when I started, though had a fair amount of voluntary and paid work experience under my belt already. My father, who had been a social worker for a number of years before his retirement, told me I would ‘"see more of life in six months in that job then some people see in a lifetime"….I don’t know about that, but certainly I do recall feeling like a very different person when I completed my training than I had at the outset! My first placement was a very intense child protection placement, which was possibly the steepest learning curve I have yet been on in any setting. However, I learned some fundamental truths from my practice teacher during that placement that I have carried with me through every piece of work I’ve done since. The importance of language and how we use it, the power we have to challenge discrimination and stigma by really thinking about the words we use; and the importance of critical attention to power relations in practice. I was delighted, due to my special interest in the area, to find that my second placement was within a community mental health team, where I learned from another wonderful practice teacher and mentor that it was possible to develop a therapeutic relationship with people we work with even when organisational and bureaucratic restraints were upon us. I’m still in touch with several of my fellow students from that time, and I suspect that will continue for many years to come.
Currently I am dividing my time between a four day per week secondment to the Uni, co-ordinating the Mental Health Officers (MHO) training, and MHO practice for City of Edinburgh Council. I started work for Edinburgh shortly after qualification, working in a generic community care team for a few years then achieving my goal of undertaking MHO training. I qualified as an MHO in 2005, and have pretty much worked full time in that role ever since. During that time I have qualified as a Practice Educator myself, and was also supported to undertake a counselling qualification part time. Although in the past fifteen years I have already seen several departmental restructurings, and the significant impact of political and economic changes on the people I work with, the thing that keeps me going is the opportunity to build supportive relationships in the most trying and complex of circumstances. It’s a privilege to have that kind of window into people’s lives, and it’s also a privilege for me now to be in the position of taking a lead role in providing and developing training in an aspect of social work I am passionate about.
My thoughts looking ahead? Social work is not an easy profession to enter - it requires a great deal of emotional resilience and self-care to survive and remain effective in this profession and I am really heartened to find that there is much more attention to development of these skills now within social work education than there was when I completed my training. Times are tough, for social workers in all sectors, and it can be difficult to remember at times the values that led us into the profession, when we are constrained by financial burdens, increasing degrees of regulation and ‘blame culture’ that impact on our ability to practice flexibly and to be brave enough to take positive risks for and with the people we work with. I think it is important to undertake social work training with ‘eyes open’ to these issues, and with an emphasis on emotional intelligence and relationship based practice that allows the possibility of remembering what ultimately brings most people to this profession. I usually advise students just qualifying to enjoy the breadth of choices that are available to those with a social work qualification and to really take their time to find somewhere they can practice safely and well. More than ever, as a profession, we need to ensure we support each other and remember we have a responsibility to speak out about political and social changes that affect the quality of life and opportunity of those we work with.