Not just any day

March 18 was World Social Work Day. David Orr gives his account of how CYCJ joined the celebrations, and why for him it was well-timed…

Well, hasn’t it been quite the time for celebration? As a social worker of Irish extraction I had not one but two reasons to be cheerful last week with a Monday-Tuesday double header of St. Patrick’s Day, followed by World Social Work Day on March 18! Understandably enough this post will focus on the latter, as it might be deemed an abuse of privileges if I were simply to wax stereotypically about the Emerald Isle, Guinness, Leprechauns, Pots of Gold and Six Nations Victory.

So, how did I spend World Social Work Day? By attending the Scottish Social Services Expo and Conference 2014 held at Edinburgh International Conference Centre (EICC) along with my CYCJ colleagues. We hosted a CYCJ stall in the main exhibition area where we had the chance to engage with practitioners on the hot youth justice topics of the day: from detention of juveniles through to what makes a persuasive Criminal Justice Social Work Report (CJSWR). Our research team also had a poster for the conference accepted which outlined some of the work that has been undertaken with young people in Polmont looking at their experiences and perceptions of education. Based on a review of 125 psychological case files and 11 in-depth interviews, the research highlights these young men’s sense of rejection in having been excluded from educational establishments, as well as the significance of transitional periods in their lives which negatively affected educational outcomes. On a more positive note, almost all the young people identified some aspect of their educational experience which had been enjoyable, particularly when teaching was delivered in an alternative environment to the traditional classroom setting.

Finally, Fiona Dyer and Leanne Gregory had the chance to raise awareness about the work of the Centre’s recently re-branded Interventions with Vulnerable Youth (IVY) Clinic, which since September 2013 has been providing professionals with an environment in which to thoroughly examine and unpack ‘clinically complex’ cases. The intention of the clinic is to support professionals to assess, manage and work with risks and needs in a safe and strengths-based fashion.   Common case presentations include attachment difficulties, abuse histories and in some instances, definable mental disorder.

This snapshot summarises the CYCJ Expo offering but we were merely one among many. As a delegate, I felt something that is no doubt familiar to most social workers, a sense of there being so much to do and so little time to do it in. The programme was jam-packed with interesting, innovative and at times unusual content, and it was only possible to sample a smattering of what was going on.

In between exhibition stand duties I managed to fit in a number of sessions. At the start of the day we got to hear from the various social work high heid yins of the day who kept the tone broadly positive and aspirational. After that it was an input from the Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC), exploring practitioners’ perceptions of the usefulness (or otherwise) of the registration process. This session also touched on the current and extremely important SSSC-led review of Social Work Education in Scotland. It seems more critical than ever that practitioners and academics work together on this review to ensure that Scotland comes up with something substantially better than the Narey Report, a piece of work that seemed far away from the realities of practice.

To me, there is a real strength in Scotland’s model of generic social work training and one need only look at the proposed carve up and privatisation of the Probation Service and the introduction of Frontline south of the border to see what could lie ahead if we do not get the review right in Scotland. All that said, one of the highlights of the SSSC session for me was the use of the interactive tool (Poll Everywhere) which allowed participants to interact with presenters via their i-Phones in real time throughout.  I sense we might be stealing the idea for our own Youth Justice conference this June!

I also attended a presentation by the Scottish Association of Social Work (SASW) which reviewed developments in the criminal justice sector as well as catching Professor James Mitchell’s thought-provoking insights on public sector reform (not least the ongoing challenges we face trying to undertake meaningful evaluation and to distinguish a target from an outcome!)

At the end of what was a fairly busy day I ended up cramming our remaining loot and banners into a taxi to get it all home. As ever, this allowed the wondrous opportunity to partake of some taxi driver banter (after the standard tram griping). Wisdom was as ever in no short supply. On hearing I had been attending World Social Work Day, my driver commented on how hard done by he feels that there is no World Taxi Driver Day. A few moments later, he changed his tune. He reckoned the reason that no such day exists for our friends in the black cabs is that they could not be trusted to honour the tradition. He surmised that for every driver who would take the day off to commemorate it, there would be two more working double shifts to pick up the extra customers. A cynical view for sure! Fortunately, I think the social work profession is in a fitter state of health and I came away from the day with a sense that there remains a real energy and positivity in the workforce.

About our blogger

David Orr is a National Development Consultant with CYCJ’s practice team, seconded from Edinburgh Youth Offending Service (YOS). His specialisms include managing high risk offenders and restorative justice, particularly its application in the aftermath of serious harm. Read more about David.