I am an applied social scientist dedicated to research that makes a difference. My research interests lie predominantly in two fields: substance use and youth justice – back in the midst of time I was an Intermediate Treatment Officer working with juvenile offenders.
The impact that often chaotic (though non-chaotic use can still be problematic), chronic and habitual drug and/or alcohol use and misuse can have on individuals and families is well documented, and the wider societal impact of such use, which often tends to be highly prevalent within socially and economically deprived communities, means that it is a pertinent issue, if not a tangible cause for concern for the helping professions, social work in particular.
The complexity of the ‘role’: the function of being agents of social control and change, community developers, and ‘caring’ professionals, in relation to individuals attempting to change their habits (often of a lifetime in certain cases) of drug and alcohol misuse, cannot be overstated.
Good social worker practice treats people with fairness, ensures equal opportunities and never rejects people for what or who they are. However, building a successful relationship with service users when their life is often chaotic and complex requires good communication and a willingness to listen coupled with dogged determinism and the ‘patience of a saint’. It isn’t easy and therein lays the challenge.
That complexity of role is mirrored in my work in youth justice. Youth Justice has been a contentious area of social policy for many years, and the contemporary situation is no different, with the national and local policy formulations posing particular considerations for social work within the values, ethics, skills, and methods which are so important to it, within a multi-professional and multi-agency setting. My work seeks to draw out the particular features of a system which contains within it a variety of identifiable views on the causes of youth offending, and various means to deal with the problems which the young people themselves might face, and problems which they may present to others.
Social work is a messy, unpredictable, complex and intangible activity. This is because it is tied up with human emotions and emotions are very difficult to explain, quantify, objectify or fit into neat boxes. Actively engaging and using the emotions involved, both in terms of the practitioner and service user, enables a deeper social work approach to take place and enables the forming of relationships. Such relationships can then be used as the tool themselves to bring about positive changes for children and families who are receiving intervention from youth justice social workers. Social workers working within the youth justice system know through their experience what is most likely to be effective in meeting the aims of the system – that is prevention of offending. To achieve this means real questions need to be asked about the effectiveness of the technical-rational risk focused approach of the current youth justice system in favour of a system which adopts the principles of Munro (2011) and empowers social workers to actively use critically reflective and reflexive practice and supports the use of self to build powerful social work relationships with the vulnerable children they work with.
I contribute to teaching on the BA (Hons) and MA/PGDip Social Work programmes, supervising dissertations and acting as social work tutor to students on placement. I also convene the specialist modules Social Work and Drug Use and Social Work with Young People on both the BA and the MA/PGDip.