A message from our new Chair, Jude Currie
New Scotland Committee Chair, Jude Currie, talks about what social work means to her and what she wants to achieve in her new role
For me, social work is all about relationships and how a person needs to feel about themselves to live well in this world. I first developed this curiosity for people and self-worth because of my Grandad John. He was a proud man, passing his days in the shipyards in Belfast, and in his old age losing his hearing then his sight to diabetes and the ill health that often arises from a life of hard physical graft – and too many fry ups. Despite my Grandad’s pride, I always noticed how he warmed to every effort that I made as a kid to lead him down paths, carry his stick, and make big printed guides to help him work his new mobile phone. He loved me, I loved him, and we were the better for it. This was the beginning.
The idea of becoming a social worker evolved when I was 22. I travelled to Washington DC to volunteer for one year with a local community project. I paid for a one-way ticket and earned my keep by working for free. This project that took me on provided support for adults to live safely in their community for longer. It did this by matching them with local young people who spent time with them and helped them maintain their homes. During this year I lived with 6 other volunteers between the edges of 20 and 60, who all worked in different non-profit organisations across the city. It was a tough, busy and exciting year. And it was a world away from the market town in Northern Ireland where I grew up. An unexpected bonus was getting to see first-hand the election of the first black President of the United States. More acutely I got to absorb for myself that conflict, violence, and the poverty of divisions were not just the legacy of my homeland. The people I met during this year had wildly different life experiences and areas of interest, but we shared the same curiosity for working with others and the same desire to build meaningful connections. This was the first time I fully appreciated that conflicting interests and ideas can form the basis for great relationships - albeit with hard work and a lot of honesty.
Three out of the seven volunteers that year decided to pursue a career in social work and all seven of us still keep in touch to this day. I was accepted onto an Edinburgh social work course and moved to the city. Finding myself caught between funding gaps, I worked three jobs during my studies to fund myself and finish the course. My time as a student social worker was financially difficult but also pushed me into areas of social work I didn’t previously see myself entering. I thought I would only want to support older adults but I became a children and families social worker. I thought I would remain in the voluntary sector but spent seven years with a Local Authority. As social workers we really are tasked with consistently questioning our assumptions. I’m grateful for the career experiences I’ve had so far. They have offered rich insight and the opportunity to meet and learn from so many amazing colleagues along the way.
More recently, I have taken up a new role as Children 1st Team Leader, which supports a project called Maximise! - a partnership between Children 1st and Community Help and Advice Initiative (CHAI), This role has deepened my commitment to efforts that reduce the impacts of poverty, loneliness and isolation, which are all growing priorities and challenges for social work policy and practice with whatever age group or sector. Reflecting on my experience so far, I have pursued roles where I could not only lend my energy and enthusiasm but that also required me to stay on my toes, stay curious, listen, and again and again, cross boundaries and make connections. My decision to apply for Chair of the SASW Committee was no different.
I hope to bring the same effort and curiosity to this new role and will listen to anyone who wishes to share their views with us. I believe that social workers contribute so much to the fabric of Scottish life by seeking to build meaningful relationships in our communities. In order to continue doing this in testing times, we need a supported workforce and a strong voice that represents the dilemmas we face and the diversity of our skills and experiences we bring.