“Class of ′78: David Behan ”

By David Behan

| 19 March 2019

I was born into a proud, working class Catholic family in Blackburn; of Irish extraction and some mystery - illegitimacy and a grandfather who was a "foundling".

My family was full of unconditional love and the strong values of pride, honesty, integrity. Hard work, with the subtext of "do well and you will not have to work shifts in a textile mill" existed alongside the gospel value of "treating others as you would treat yourself". Voluntary work with single homeless people while in sixth form led me to recognise the inherent dignity of each individual and to make a contribution to a more equal and socially just society - in short to "make a difference".
Selection for the course was both on academic ability and values. I joined a hugely talented and impressive group of students and academic staff who help me begin to understand how society worked; how to use oneself to affect change in individuals, groups and communities; and about the nature of power and authority. The course balanced an understanding of social policy with how institutions and systems operated with the social work methods of psychoanalytic case work, therapeutic group work and community development.

The beauty of the Bradford course was that it went beyond theory. I learned much about the harsh reality of social work from my excellent practice teachers.

The course did prepare me for the world of work. That said, on graduation I did not feel I had all the skills required to practice as a social worker in a statutory social services department. There were gaps in my knowledge and skills and I learned much from inspirational colleagues and managers. 

The enduring legacy the course gave me was a lifelong interest in learning and a constant curiosity that has served me well for my whole career. There is not a week that passes where I do not draw on the learning which began all those years ago such as: how do systems work? How do you use yourself as a resource to effect change?

Surprisingly, I do not recall any direct teaching on equality and diversity, management nor on politics. However, the learning on the importance of relationships and interpersonal influence has been a foundation stone on which much of my career has been built. In leadership positions, just as in social work, the key tool of change is oneself. The ability to successfully inspire and motivate people is common to both.

How did the course in 1974-78 compare with today? I think that the role of a social worker is more difficult today: society is faster paced, more diverse, volatile and uncertain and so the role is more complex. The 1970s was a period of optimism in social work and it was seen as one of the building blocks of building a better society. That optimism diminished during the 80 and 90s as social work became over-identified with statutory social services departments with the consequent adverse impact on its image and reputation. I still hold the opinion that great social work transforms lives.

In the first week at Bradford I recall a talk by the vice chancellor, where he provided the wise advice to all the new undergraduates to "maximise your serendipity......"
I feel incredibly proud to have started my career at Bradford University and immensely lucky and privileged to undertake some of the most interesting and exciting jobs in social work, health and care. I learned how to be a social worker and, possibly more importantly, I grew and matured as a person learning the lifelong skills of how to continuously learn, grow and improve.
Probably more importantly than any of those thing it is where I met Alison, my wife and best friend, also a Bradford graduate. Whatever I have gone on to achieve throughout my career my greatest achievement is my marriage to Alison and our two sons Patrick and Sean.