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Timeline :: Sheffield - Social Work education begins

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The Department of Sociological Studies has its deepest roots in Social Work education. In 1949 the forerunner to the Department, the School of Social Studies, offered two programmes of study, a two-year non-graduate Certificate and a two-year Postgraduate Diploma to qualify as a social worker. As a subject, Social Work in the UK has drawn eclectically on other academic disciplines, most notably sociology and psychology, but also social policy, politics, economics and law. The original Social Work syllabus in 1949 reflected such an eclectic approach covering Social Administration, Social History, Social Philosophy and Ethics, Theories of Personality, Social Medicine, Social Casework, Economic Theory and History, and Public Administration. Interdisciplinarity was underlined by the fact that Public Administration was taught by the Department of Politics, while the original School of Social Studies also employed a Lecturer in Psychology. As with the current MA in Social Work programme, in both years there was also Fieldwork Practice and a Dissertation in the Second Year of the course.

From this inception through to its current incarnation, Social Work education in the Department of Sociological Studies has been guided by the following underlying principled goals:

* to address social inequality and injustice should be addressed through effective social work practice;

* to engage with the local community around the University in order to make a positive difference;

* to bridge the theory/research /practice divides and inform the development of a stronger research base for social work practice; and

* to promote social work as a respected field of practice and intellectual endeavour.

Social Work in Department of Sociological Studies has been host to staff members who have had significant impact on social work practice through their work. Amongst those to have done so was Ellinor Black, the first Director of the School of Social Studies in 1949. Formerly Head of the Social Science Department of the University of Liverpool, Black had particular interests in the welfare of older adults and developed a reputation nationally and internationally in the field, being closely connected with the Social Welfare Committee of the League of Nations, and the International Committee of Schools of Social Work.

Eric Sainsbury worked as a probation officer and social worker before joining the Department as a Teaching Case Worker in 1961 – a joint appointment with Sheffield City Council, emphasising the links between research, teaching and social work practice within the university and local area. Sainsbury went on to publish widely within the social work field, particularly in the area of service response to families in need. Perhaps his best-known publication Social Work with Families (1975) considered clients’ reasons for engagement with a family support service in Sheffield and was part of a movement which started to establish the importance of service user perspectives within social work research and practice. Sainsbury continued to publish in the field of social work into the 1990s.

Peter Marsh worked as a social worker in London before arriving in the Department under another joint appointment in 1980 between Sheffield City Council and the University of Sheffield as a lecturer/practitioner part-based in a community-based team. Marsh’s work focussed on developing a stronger evidence base for social work intervention. His study, with John Triseliotis at the University of Edinburgh, of social work student training and the first year in social work practice, Readiness to Practise (1996), remains influential, and has renewed relevance in light of the establishment of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) for newly qualified social work practitioners.

Jan Horwath, Emeritus Professor, worked as a social worker, social work manager and trainer before taking up a Lectureship in the Department in mid-1990s. Horwath’s work on assessment and neglect, particularly around the Assessment Framework (The Child’s World, 2007) has been significant in terms of social work practice nationally and internationally.

Sue White, Professor of Social Work, joined the Department in October 2016. She has undertaken a number of detailed ethnographic studies of everyday institutional practices and professional decision-making, principally in child and family health and welfare. More recently, she has also been researching the uses of neuroscience and epigenetics in child and family welfare policy. Sue has published extensively on socio-technical systems design, with attention to human, social and interactional factors in enhancing safety, particularly in children’s safeguarding. Her recent book Blinded by Science: Social Implications of Neuroscience and Epigenetics is to be published with Policy Press.

Kate Morris, Professor of Social Work and current Head of Department, qualified as a social worker, and joined the University of Sheffield in 2015. Kate's most recent book Re-Imaging Child Protection: Towards humane social work with families challenges a child protection culture that has become mired in muscular authoritarianism and calls for family-minded humane practice where children are understood as relational beings, parents are recognized as people with needs and hopes and families as carrying extraordinary capacities for care and protection.

Alongside such individual contributions, the Department continues to provide high quality social work education to students, as it has continuously for close to 68 years, during which time thousands of social workers have been trained. Graduates from the different social work courses have gone on to practice as social workers, social work managers, social work educators and researchers. Most recently the Department became one of four early adopters in the Teaching Partnership scheme and now works closely with Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley, Doncaster and Lincolnshire. We have also successfully developed the post-qualifying Masters in Professional Practice with Children and their Families (MAPP) programme for child-care practitioners, in response to identified needs within child and family social work for better professional development for frontline practitioners. It is one of only two such courses in the Yorkshire region.

Since 1949, the Department of Sociological Studies has developed, alongside Social Work, a wide range of teaching and research activities in Sociology and Social Policy. The threads binding the three disciplinary fields together are a focus on teaching and research directed towards not only understanding the world around us but making positive changes to it, a belief that academic study should make a difference to students’ lives, and an approach to social science that is research-led and evidence -based. In this environment, our Social Work students benefit from a stimulating intellectual atmosphere - with the research and practice interests of staff ranging from childhood to ageing and the end of life - and access to staff who are undertaking cutting-edge research. Each year a number of our Sociology and Social Policy graduates enter the post-graduate qualifying Masters in Social Work programme. Beyond that, a number of doctoral research students either come from Social Work practice or are undertaking research into issues directly connected to Social Work policy and practice.

Source: Dr Jadwiga Leigh, Lecturer in Social Work.