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Mark Smith

Location: University of Edinburgh, Scotland
 
Biography
I left St Andrews University in 1981 with a degree in Modern History. Later that year I got a job as a temporary residential social worker in what was then called a List D School, the name applied to what used to be approved schools. I stayed there until 1990 at which point I moved to be assistant head at another such school, located, like the first one, on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I stayed there for less than two years, at which point I was asked to fill in as Principal of the local secure unit, at a point where residential services were being reorganised. After several months there I moved to open what was called a close support unit, a small unit dealing with children on the verge of secure accommodation. Again I only did this for a couple of years before moving back to a newly built secure unit, finishing up as Principal of secure accommodation. In 2000 I took up an academic post at the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow where I was responsible for developing and teaching a Masters degree in residential child care. In 2005 I moved back to the University of Edinburgh, where I teach social work with a particular interest in residential child care.

How I came to be in this field
My mum and dad both went into teaching later in life and I was minded to follow them in that direction. History teachers, though, were ten-a-penny when I graduated so I worked in a bar for a while. I then responded to a job advert for a temporary residential social worker. I think the school needed some younger legs for its football team, which was run by an aging though still mad keen Head of Education. So I got taken on and as so often happens, I stayed. During my time there I took time out to do social work training at the University of Stirling, where I came across Leon Fulcher, who was Director of Social Work Education there. Fifteen years or so later Leon, who by that stage had moved to New Zealand, was responsible for putting me in touch with Thom Garfat, who has nagged me ever since to produce a monthly column for CYC-Online.

A favorite saying

We may never see the end results, but that is the
difference between the master builder and the worker.
We are workers, not master builders, ministers, not
messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

From Archbishop Oscar Romero, the martyred Bishop of El Salvador’s poem Prophets of a Future Not Our Own
I think it says something about child and youth care.

A few thoughts about child and youth care

I’m a lifelong Hibs supporter (one of the two professional football teams in Edinburgh. This is John Collins a former manager holding up the CIS Cup, which they won in 2007. Hibs supporters don’t get too many opportunities to show-off silverware I’m afraid.  

Favourite cyc experience
I’ve had a few. In 1990 a couple of colleagues and myself took a group of boys to the World cup in Italy. Overall that probably rates as my favourite experience. I wrote about it in one of my CYC-Online columns: see www.cyc-net.org/cycol-0608-smith.html

A few thoughts for those starting out

A recommended CYC reading link
www.cyc-net.org/cyc-online/cycol-0902-caring.html

My favourite CYC-relevant link and why
www.goodenoughcaring.com/Home.aspx?cpid=1

This is an online site set up by and for those who work with children. It presents a challenge to the bureaucratic and managerial ways of working that have come to dominate in recent decades. Charles Sharpe who runs the site regularly posts on the CYC-Net discussion boards so there is a good cross-fertilisation between the two sites.

A writing of my own
Here’s one from the goodenoughcaring site:
www.goodenoughcaring.com/JournalArticle.aspx?cpid=52

Influences on my work
Initially, my mum and dad both of whom, through economic necessity and social expectation, left school at 15 but later went on to University and became teachers. I think I inherited an educational ideal from their experiences.

My early family experiences and values have been reinforced by my wife Maura and my kids, Niamh, Ruairidh and Aidan. The unpronounceable names reflect Maura’s Irish background.

I was brought up and remain a Catholic and have encountered enough good priests along the way to keep me clinging to the Church’s social teaching if not always other aspects of Catholicism.

The De La Salle Brothers, with whom I worked for 8 years provided my formative experiences in child and youth care. Frank Rochford, the Head of Education and part-time football team manager mentioned above, was the wisest boss and colleague. Eddie McCabe and Onanda Randall, both sadly now dead, are the most charismatic figures I have come across – they touched lives.

Leon Fulcher introduced me to the literature on child and youth care and has been immensely supportive ever since. Through Leon I have become part of the wider child and youth care community. I remember one memorable night in Ireland drinking Guinness with Leon, Thom Garfat and Jack Phelan and a group of Irish practitioners.

I have been blessed with intelligent and supportive colleagues wherever I have worked.

Students on the MSc in Residential child care at the University of Strathclyde helped me form or reinforce my views on residential care.

Anything else
This can be the best job in the world – and teaching about it is almost as good, even if the laughs aren’t quite as good.
 
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If you would like to read more of Mark Smith's CYC-Online writings, you can find them here

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