Class of ′78: Francis Woodward

By Francis Woodward

| 19 March 2019

I think our cohort were fortunate to grow up in the post-war one nation society that then existed.

We had, generally, good and free education including university even! I felt privileged and, with youthful idealism, motivated to contribute back to society.

Moreover, public service pay was similar to jobs in commerce or industry and social work was then held in public respect.

Well that has changed and our subsequent comparators may be drawn to rather better-paid professions.

The course was stimulating and challenging. Like any good undergraduate course we learned critical analysis. I remember the question "how do we know that?" in order to get us to avoid assumptions and check the source material. We learned how to consider social work and family problems in a societal context as the course moved away from its former psychoanalytical individual emphasis.

I do however remember feeling that the course had not prepared me to be a social worker once I started work and that we had to learn "on the job". With the perspective of years that is unfair as the course developed the emotional and intellectual framework underpinning the job that I hope enabled me to come to work with compassion and clarity.

We set off on our careers at a time of expansion and opportunity to diversify, and for those with the ability and ambition, promotion. I feel a frisson of pride whenever I hear former students being interviewed by the media! As long as they are making sense of course!

The 70s were relatively naive professional days. I remember actually debating if a teenage girl was exercising her free will before taking her into care when she kept going to spend evenings with a group of Asian men. Grooming vulnerable children is nothing new. We had no cohesive working arrangements with the police or paediatricians. I could not for example enlist police or paediatric support to investigate a boy whose mother was, I suspected, prostituting him. We work with co-operation and more knowledge now but there will always be surprises.

I left social work to look after my children while my wife carried on social working.

I returned just as the 1989 Children Act was being introduced. It is seminal legislation that altered the parenting terms of reference but above all primarily stated children should not suffer harm. Child protection structures were vastly improved.

After working in six local authority social work teams I was invited to be a children's guardian at the end of 1994. That suited me so well I did that job for the next 20 years until I retired. Why? I liked the independence, the requirement for forensic and analytical assessment and immediate accountability to children and their families, social work colleagues and being tested in the courts.

It was clear, honest and guess what? It reflected what we learned at university.

Children's work is hard and seems to take many more hours than it did in the 70s and 80s. I have a high regard for the child protection social workers who work on. We do make a difference and, generally, when we can't we keep children safe.

blog comments powered by Disqus