Class of ′78: Dave Ely

By Dave Ely

| 19 March 2019

I was an unusual student for an undergraduate social work degree. I was just 25, just married, had worked five years in life insurance pensions, followed by three years as a psychiatric nurse during which time I did three A-levels by correspondence course.

At my interview it was clear that "unusual pathways" to the course were welcomed but with no concessions to academic standards. These were just the messages I needed and wanted.

Bradford seemed to attract excellent staff who were creatively designing social work education for a new profession, assisted by excellent input from general social science courses. All within the post-war still-optimistic social and economic ethos.

I still carry from Bradford the ideas of the centrality of values, skilled and compassionate relationships, responsible use of power, use of wide and often differing perspectives, a holistic framework and social justice - it helped me develop my own vision for social work. A core message was social work works in direct practice and the wider systemic drivers. An "also/and" - not an "either/or" approach.

The course gave me confidence to think creatively and respond positively to the opportunities that changing contexts offered over 40 years. The above "social justice" framework has not dated for me, and, has assisted me respond constructively to massive ongoing change in social work over 40 years.

After seven years essential experience in three social services teams I moved to the voluntary and community sector (VCS) in 1985 until retirement (and beyond) largely in roles that involved close partnership working with children's services but also in the wider small charity sector.

The VCS attracted me initially as we had a local Children's Society project whose value and practice base fitted with me. I liked the degree of creative options, values base, and chance to innovate. I felt a greater degree of autonomy, opportunities and responsibility. In a sense I felt that in the VCS one is more in control of one's own work destiny.

In the VCS you need to work hard to be understood and to get credibility as to your role, standards and competence. I enjoy this challenge and the chance to create new work and construct respectful relationships with stakeholders.

Practice and policy influence are both important in the VCS. I valued the role of assisting vulnerable children, young people and parents to share their experiences to policymakers and politicians in a meaningful, respectful way.

In one post I managed a highly rated large national charity multidisciplinary family centre jointly local authority-funded that combined safeguarding, family support, therapy, and more while creatively using our "independent" label. Those of us who worked there feel it was a pivotal career experience.

One innovation project was to work with a "high risk" community on a safe behaviours initiative initially on child sexual abuse risks. This project grew between 1994 and 2004 at which point we set it up as an independent charity and which still operates across Brighton as Safety Net. I remain a trustee.

I am not well placed to offer detailed comments on current social work and social work education. Impressions in my largely retired social work peer group are that the current role is more constricted and with more paperwork in comparison with our experience. From the perspective of a small charity, social work placements are more prescriptive in comparison with others like psychology.

In my view social work remains a key component of achieving social justice.

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