the best and worst decision I ever made
Turn to academia has re-energised me
Trish Hafford-Letchfield is a senior lecturer at the Centre for Excellence in Mental Health and Social Work at Middlesex University
One of the best decisions I made was to leave a council after 18 years of social work practice and go into higher education for six years. I had always been sceptical about academics but also curious about what they did all day, suspecting they were largely out of touch and ideological.
I had had a long career in different areas of social work and social work management. After working in learning and development, it was suggested that I might step up to the role of human resources manager. It was then that I realised I was moving too far away from my roots as a social worker and went into academia.
Now I really love the variety of my job as a teacher, writer, researcher, and, most of all, working alongside a range of interesting people from different agencies and disciplines. I love visiting students on placement, finding out what’s going on in the services they work in. I now know more about the sector than I ever did in practice. I also have a lot of fun working with service users in different education projects. Besides which, when I published my first academic book I was able to dedicate it to my parents who were more proud than I was.
I have made many “not so good” work decisions over the past 24 years but the one memory that still makes me really cringe is an incident from when I was a newly qualified social worker. I had to remove five children from their family using what was then a place of safety order. It was a tense situation and I felt really frightened, nervous and upset. I went to collect the children from school at home time. Thinking I was being very discreet, I parked my car opposite a bollard. I came out of the school with the children to find I had virtually blocked the narrow road. The traffic was in chaos. The police were directing all the traffic around my vehicle so everyone saw us coming out.
In those days, we “worked the patch” so all the local people on the small estate where the school was knew exactly what was happening and gathered to stare. I felt really ashamed I was humiliating the children and the oldest was very angry with me.
When I was first practising I was naïve and this is why I try to be sensitive with my students.
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