A Knight’s Tale (55: After Training)

Following the introduction of the Seebohm report I returned to Kingston Children’s Department in possession of certificates of qualification as both a Child Care Officer and as a Social Worker. Like Local Authority Welfare Officers and those of other similar agencies I was, in 1971, absorbed into the new Social Services Department.

I cannot imagine that it was Lord Seebohm’s intention that we should all become generic social workers overnight. The report had called for the departments to carry generic responsibility in order to improve coordination. What generally happened was that staff like me who had concentrated on children and families were to become individually responsible for older people and those suffering mental or physical ill-health or disabilities. We were led by people who had come from just one discipline. Although at Croydon I had resisted being termed a Social Worker and insisted that I would always be a Child Care Officer I soon became grateful for the foresight of Wolf Blomfield and his team who equipped me better than most who were not trained in the generic mode.

Keen to apply some of the principles I had learnt, I introduced innovations like office interviews where appropriate, thus encouraging client self motivation; respectful time keeping, and reliable appointment times. I demonstrated that if someone knew when to expect you on a home visit they would be less likely to create emergencies. Since we had no allocated office interviewing rooms I needed to be quite inventive in finding available space and keeping it private for the duration of office meetings. The Children’s Officer, John Riley, was most accommodating of this young upstart who still thought he could change the world.

It was in the joint departmental preparation meetings that I first met Giles Darvill, who remains my longest standing friend.


  1. Am I right in inferring that Social Work was a relatively new profession then and that the the department was feeling its way around? Anyway, sounds as though you received excellent training, and that you were certainly the right person for the job.

  2. Newly qualified, we tend to be regarded as ‘young upstarts’ ready to change the world. The challenge is to remain focused, enthusiastic and not – in our turn – regard others in this way. Rather to learn from them, mentor them, and embrace what we both have to offer.

  3. The generic mode training makes sense to me. It would seem that serving one population in need of services frequently intersects with the needs of other populations, particuarly when families are involved.

  4. I think you were very well suited to your chosen profession – new ideas and enthusiasm often create improvements and efficiency.

    I took a module in child welfare when I was at university (as a mature adult) I found it sad but also a fascinating subject. We were told the details of some of the very well known cases of child abuse and we also learnt about the so-called ‘orphans’ that were shipped off to Canada and Australia and the abuse that so many of them had to endure when they arrived there.

    All part of the Teaching and Learning degree and became one of my favourite modules alongside IT.

    1. Sue, in 2009 our then Prime Minister issued the National Apology to Forgotten Australians and former child migrants. You can read more about that here. https://www.nma.gov.au/defining-moments/resources/national-apology-to-forgotten-australians-and-former-child-migrants.
      A book and film on the efforts to reunite those children with their original families is Oranges and Sunshine (also published as Empty Cradles) by Margaret Humphries.

  5. Your enthusiasm for your new profession is quite admirable and must’ve impressed your supervisors. I entered the convent in 1971 thinking that I could change my small world. The naiveté of youth!

  6. It’s very interesting to me that you made two dear, lifelong friends very quickly in your career. I suppose talking about feelings and troubles and generally being a caring person at work would lead to such friendships.

  7. The memory of a woman from the Child Welfare Department arriving unannounced and then marching around my flat as if she owned the place, opening and closing cupboards, inspecting my baby and his clothing and living conditions will never leave me. I never learned, and will never understand, why I came to her attention beyond not being married when I brought my baby home from hospital. As the Department who had originally invented legal adoption (around 1927) maybe they were after the one that got away (albeit temporarily). It was rare even in 1972 not to be persuaded to sign adoption papers (now called the Forced Adoption Era in Australia).
    It had been renamed the Department of Child Welfare and Social Welfare in 1970, two years earlier than this inspection, so maybe it went through a similar evolution as you describe, and this woman had not yet been trained in any “social welfare” aspect of her role.

    1. I am so very sorry you had to go through that Unfortunately in many respects we seem to have returned to such punitive attitudes. Thank you for adding this perspective, Gwen

      1. I appreciate that Derrick. It’s also quite hair raising, and factually incorrect, what another wrote on her report to the court to justify why my toddler should be approved for adoption. Of course, never anticipating that anyone outside the system would get the chance to read it, much less the mother of the child.
        Sigh. Well, I guess I just had to vent that 🙂
        Notwithstanding, in my later volunteer role with the Post Adoption Resource Centre – set up when our adoption secrecy laws were lifted – I met many social workers of that era who were actively and compassionately trying to reverse the process, reunite families, and nurse them through the search and reunion emotional hurdles.
        And I note Ireland is currently undergoing a similar process.

  8. I’m glad the transition went well. I was concerned that department bureaucracy might get in the way which I experienced in the late 1980s, when I worked for a county social service department for a brief time. Later, in the counseling agency I worked for, bureaucracy and paperwork became overwhelming at times as the agency grew. The best counselors got way behind on paperwork.

      1. My pleasure, Derrick. In my school, I conducted monthly parenting classes, attendance mandatory for parents of our students, with subsequent individual interviews. Just like your office interviews, it was quite effective.

  9. I admire what you did and how you did it at this new-to-you job! Most places (and “older” workers) need that young upstart (“new blood”) to get things revitalized, share new ideas/innovations, share their enthusiasm, give their perspective, etc. ! The believing one can change the world attitude can go along way and help to make positives a reality. 🙂
    (((HUGS))) 🙂

  10. You were a dedicated child care officer, regardless of the designations ascribed to you, who put to practice methodologies deliberated in courseware and research papers. You have been much more than the catcher in the rye!

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