Diploma in Social Work/CQSW 1981, PhD in Social Work 1993
Like many staff members, I am also an alumni of the University of Edinburgh - twice over! After graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews in 1975, I trained as a youth and community worker in Glasgow and worked in Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire for two years before coming to Edinburgh in 1978 to work for Lothian Regional Council as a youth worker in Muirhouse, a council housing estate on the north of the city. The Muirhouse project was run as a Social Education or 'Intermediate Treatment' (IT) centre - it was set up to be an alternative to custody or residential care and, as such, was in the vanguard of new ideas about how best to deal with troubled young people who were causing concern and getting into difficulties at home, school and with the police. (John Pratt wrote an interesting critique of IT in 1987, exploring prevention, justice, welfare and care and control.)
I applied for the one-year, post-graduate Diploma in Social Work/CQSW (1980-81) - a course designed specially for those with relevant degrees and practice experience. I was lucky enough to be seconded onto it by Lothian Region as a trainee social worker; this was a generous act on the part of the senior training officer, given that technically, I was already qualified to do the job I was doing at the time. The course was a whistle-stop of concurrent placements and academic learning. There was a strong feeling when I began that there had been a recent sea-change, a move away from a psychodynamic approach, to what was then described as a 'systems approach'. Some staff were excited about this; others felt that something important was being discarded. I did a six-week stint in a home for older people in East Lothian before starting the course, and within four weeks of beginning my studies, I was on placement at Broxburn Area Office, learning how to be a generic social worker. My final placement was at the Sick Children's Hospital in Edinburgh in a child psychiatric unit, working in the Scarth team, with the eminent and (fortunately) not too scary psychiatrist Dr Les Scarth. I learned about the value of play therapy, of co-working, of observation and of the use of one-way screens in therapeutic encounters. This was the final year of the one-year course at Edinburgh; it was felt that there was insufficient time to teach and learn all that needed to be achieved in a year, and one-year courses across the UK ended around this time.
I returned to Muirhouse for another year, and thereafter went as a social worker to Family Care, a then-prominent third sector children and families' agency. I worked there with a staff-team of gifted and able social workers, under the leadership of the formidable Janet Lusk. (Everyone called her "Miss Lusk" until they got to know her as "Janet"!) I began working with single parents and their children, and set up (with a colleague, Marion MacDonald), a project for women and children in Muirhouse in the mid 1980s, and, around the same time, a group for teenage mothers at the Westerhailes Education Centre (WHEC) with a teacher. The Muirhouse project ran as a successful community resource for 10 years before closing with the demise of Family Care as an independent entity. I also supervised social work students who were on placement at Family Care - the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) paid for a student unit at Family Care until the late 1980's - and when the full-time practice teacher retired, I applied for and was given her post, along with the title senior social worker.
I returned to the university part-time initially and then full-time, undertaking a PhD in Social Work, which was completed in 1992, the same year I started work as a lecturer in social work. My PhD was a history of Family Care, which had begun its life as the National Vigilance Association (Eastern Division), saving women and girls from 'the perils and evils of the white slave trade'. The PhD allowed me to pursue three loves in my life - sociology, history and hearing people's stories - I interviewed 84 people for the PhD, alongside archival work and documentary analysis.
Since then, I have written and researched extensively on social work, higher education and doing research with children. I was awarded a personal Chair in Social Work in 2005.
As a long-standing staff member, I have lived and worked through what has felt, at times, like almost constant change – the rise and fall of CCETSW; black perspectives and feminism; anti-racist practice and anti-disciminatory practice; the service user movement; and the ever-growing reach of neo-liberalism in the academy and in social work in particular. The constant throughout this time has been the students – every new generation of social work students keen to change society and at the same time help those most in need. This tension – between the individual and society – is one that each of us struggles with in our own way. I have also thoroughly enjoyed engaging with learning – mine and others – and much of my activity in writing and in doing research has been driven by my need to learn more and in doing so, to improve social work practice.
Post-script I am retiring on 30th September 2018 - after almost 26 years at the uni. I reflect on something of what this has meant to me in a recent interview now presented as an Iriss podcast. I hope you enjoy it!
Source: own contribution, revised 10th August 2018.