October 2002 was a busy month, I can tell because I hardly got out on my bike at all during the whole of the month. It may not have been a typical month but, in between the meetings, administration and daily routine of a University Department, there were some significant things happened which highlighted both the bits I love, and dread, about my job.
The month started with a trip to a conference in Wolverhampton, England. Although I was born in England, I have lived most of my life in Scotland and consider myself a naturalized Scot. Since Scotland has a separate legislative basis for child and youth care work, the two systems are very different and a colleague and I puzzled over some of the differences on our train journey down from Glasgow. We also shared our anxieties about our presentations and rehearsed what we were going to say. Only for so long, though, and then we played Railroad Tycoon on my laptop (well, it seemed appropriate!). The conference, "Staff Skills in Residential Child Care – The Route to Good Practice" was organized by the Social Care Association for residential child care workers. The positive feeling of the conference was striking, and it emphasised the importance of opportunities for front-line residential workers to come together to network, to debate issues of concern and to affirm positive practice. My presentation discussed developments in Scotland, not least the Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care that was set up to co-ordinate the education and training of residential child care workers. The Institute, building on the work of the Centre for Residential Child Care, is playing an important role in providing a focus for residential child care workers to network, exchange ideas, and address ongoing issues.
A chunk of the middle of October was taken up preparing a research proposal to evaluate the outcomes of secure care. There have been major policy initiatives in Scotland focused on persistent young offenders. These have seen, among other things, the development of community alternatives to secure care, but also an increase in the number of places in secure provision.
The research proposal was a collaborative bid involving colleagues from the Social Work Research Centre at Stirling University, the Centre for the Child and Society at Glasgow University as well as Strathclyde University. As normal with such proposals, which have to be prepared to tight time deadlines, there were some frantic phone calls and emails to iron out the details. In this case, all the effort was worthwhile and we were successful in our bid. The research is now under way and we are have started research visits across Scotland.
I was then lucky enough to head off to North Carolina, USA, for a week. The Department of Social Work at Strathclyde University has a student exchange scheme with the Department of Social Work at the University of North Carolina Greensboro which has been running for a number of years. This year, however, we have started a programme of staff exchanges. I was partnered with Dan Beerman who heads up the Child Welfare programme at UNCG. Dan had set up a number of visits to child welfare agencies in North Carolina which were fascinating in comparing the differences and similarities in the work with children and young people in the two countries. I was able to sit in with students in the Department in some very informative sessions, as well as contributing a presentation of my own, outlining the policy and practice developments that are going on in Scotland. While Dan and I worked hard in developing a paper to compare and contrast the issues affecting child welfare in the USA and Scotland, there was still time to sample the hospitality and friendship of colleagues in North Carolina. I am looking forward to offering Dan the same hospitality when he visits Scotland in May.
Finally, the last week of October saw the arrival of the first issue of the Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care from the printers. As editor of the journal, this had taken up a fair amount of my time over the previous months. Right up to the last minute I was worried that something might go wrong (like, all the pages falling out of the copies!). But we were really pleased with the finished product, both in terms of the content of the journal and the way it looked. The journal aims to provide a forum for residential child care staff and other professionals to reflect on policy, practice, training and research in the field of residential child care. Although we have called it the Scottish Journal, I am keen to get contributions from practitioners and researchers from around the world. We need to find out about best practice from a wide range of residential contexts, traditions and settings, to improve the lives and experience of children and young people we care for and care about. [Visit the first issue on this web site]
I suppose the common theme across the aspects of my work that I have highlighted here is the importance of learning from each other. We need to grasp the opportunities to discuss, debate and evaluate the work we are all doing. And I wish you well in the work that you are doing with children and young people.