Dr Steve Rogowski: social work versus academia – a tough decision

Dr Steve Rogowski is a children and families social worker at a local authority in north west England

The best

One of best decisions I made was to become a social worker. Having graduated in law at Leeds University in 1972, I decided against a career in the subject, instead becoming an employment adviser in the then Department of Employment.

“Claimants”, the unemployed (or jobseekers and customers, as they are now called), enlightened me about the problems that many faced: physical and mental health difficulties, for example, as well as simply the lack of meaningful employment.

Some were keen to opt out of “the system”. They squatted in communes in unoccupied property, existing on benefits and anything else from which they could make money. Some saw themselves as harbingers of alternative, more egalitarian forms of living. They challenged conventional, capitalist society.

From all this I wanted to do more about addressing the social problems and issues that I saw on a daily basis. This is where social work came in, and I went on to qualify at Lancaster University.

Over the past three decades, mainly as a children’s and families social worker, I have enjoyed working with clients/service users (but not, I hasten to add, customers). Most of these people can be seen as essentially the casualties of an unjust economic and political system, namely neo-liberalism or global capitalism.

It is satisfying to meet people, often after many years, who are keen to say how social work has helped them and made a genuine difference to their lives.

The worst

Perhaps the worst decision I made was not to go into academia during the 1980s.

I have long had an interest in this area and toyed with the idea for some time. Continued reading and some writing kept me in touch with the “frontier” of social work, as one professor put it. But I was wary of the criticism that academics rarely get their hands dirty in the real world of gritty, down-to-earth practice.

Despite my reservations, a couple of applications for lectureships were made and I did have an unsuccessful but overall enjoyable interview at what was then Newcastle Polytechnic.

I was also supposed to go to Preston Polytechnic for another interview but bad weather prevented me making the journey, and someone else was offered the job. (Incidentally, the point about bad weather is true, though it might say something about my determination and commitment to a part-change of career!)

The interest in academia was maintained by subsequent PhD studies at Manchester Metropolitan University during the late 1990s-early 2000s. This involved researching the views of young offenders about their experience of offending and the youth justice system. More thinking and writing ensued so, perhaps, as it turned out, the academic bent and thinking was not totally lost.

Published in 27 August 2009 Community Care under heading Law degree proved academic

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