Freshly Squeezed: Iona Colvin

Iriss.fm, Episode 200
Published on 12 Jun 2018

Welcome to the first episode in a new series, Freshly Squeezed, which aims to 'squeeze' information and inspiration from key influencers in social services in Scotland. 

We hear how and why they are working in social services, what motivates them, and the people, books and music that inspire them. They also offer some golden nuggets of advice.

To kick the series off, Michelle Drumm spoke to Iona Colvin, Chief Social Work Adviser for Scotland.

Michelle Drumm and Iona Colvin
Michelle Drumm and Iona Colvin
Date of recording
Audio transcript

Welcome to the first episode in a new series, Freshly Squeezed, which aims to 'squeeze' information and inspiration from key influencers in social services in Scotland. We hear how and why they are working in social services, what motivates them, and the people, books and music that inspire them. They also offer some golden nuggets of advice. To kick the series off, Michelle Drumm spoke to Iona Colvin, Chief Social Work Adviser for Scotland.

You're listening to Iriss.fm Scotland's Social Services podcast.

MD Hello and welcome to this first episode of freshly squeezed, a new Iriss.fm series that aims to squeeze information and inspiration from key influencers in social services in Scotland. To kick the series off, I'm speaking to Iona Colvin, Chief Social Work Advisor for Scotland. The advisor works with policy teams leading up major programmes including integration of health and social care, adult social care, implementation of self-direct support, getting it right for every child and community justice reform. Iona has spent more than 30 years working in local government and her previous posts include, Director of Health and Social Care, and integrated joint board chief officer at North Ayrshire and Director of South West Glasgow Community Health and Care Partnership. While Iona is a committed and compassionate social worker, she has a particular interest in developing integrated approaches to improve outcomes for children, young people and adults. Iona, welcome to Freshly Squeezed.

IC Thank you very much.

MD You're very brave agreeing to take part in this, to be first up to be interviewed. So, you've got 30 years of experience working in social services sector, tell me: did you always want to work in social services?

IC Yeah, well think 30 years is 30 years plus, I just didn't want to give too muc.
away. Yes, I suppose I did. My dad was a social worker and so, I was brought up knowing about social work and in those days, and something we probably are returning to, it was very kind of you gave of yourself much more I think than at times and by that I mean your personal life and so we used to do things like go on holiday with the local children's home and things like so we lived in the grounds of Croughton Royal Hospital when he was a psychiatric social worker for example. So, I've grown up in social work all my life, when I got to leave home and go away and study which was a great opportunity I thought, cos I'm the oldest of 5 so I wanted to get away from them all, then go and do for 4 years ... it turned out to be 5 because I spent a year as being president of the students association, a great opportunity and I had a great time at Paisley and I studies Social Science and I kind of hit a bit I think where I rebelled because as far as my dad was concerned I was born to be a social worker so, he always thought I should be. Anyway, I didn't study social work at Paisley, I studied Social Sciences, really enjoyed it and I rebelled a bit but ended up of course working in the sector anyway and I worked in the addictions field for really nearly ... more than 10 years, before I went off to do my social work qualification at the post graduate qualification at Glasgow University. So, that's a long way of saying, yes and I worked in it for many years and then I decided I need to be a qualified social worker but probably I was always going to do that.

MD What were the qualities that your father saw in you that he thought would make you a really good social worker?

IC Yeah, I'm not convinced that he saw any particular qualities. I think he just was determined somebody should follow after him and in our family, we're split pretty evenly between those who have artistic ability, my mother is an artist, and those who don't and, I'm one of those who don't. But I suppose what I was brought up with was really a complete sense of striving for social justice, was always a big thing in my family for my mother as well as my father and that belief that we lived in an unequal society and actually what we needed to do was to change the way that things were and that we should always strive to improve that things are and that we should strive for a social justice. So, that's something that I was brought up with and I guess I inherited from my dad as did all my brothers and sisters, even the ones who are artists, but that's something that I believe in and I believed in all my life and I suppose he believed in too.

MD Brilliant, better a social worker than (... unclear) to the nunnery or the priesthood. That was the way it went in Ireland ...

IC Yeah, yeah, not so much in Scotland.

MD What really motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

IC Well I think like most social workers you're motivated by making a difference. I mean and we all say that and we all believe it and to some lesser or more extent you do do that, I think most social workers do. So, I suppose it's about getting up in the morning to actually go and make a difference in whatever job you're doing and that for me has been a main motivator over the years.

MD You work with policy teams and work across the major programmes which is integration of health and social care as an example. What does a typical day look like for you, or may be there's 2 typical types of days, or maybe there's never a typical type of day?

IC So, I work right across government, so, basically can meet with the policy teams who are working on both the policy statements but also the legislation, just in one day I can be doing something like I'm chairing for example the stream of work that's reporting the prisons Health and Social Care Board about looking at the new model of care within prisons, so, that's very much working with the colleagues in justice section and thinking about all the things around criminal justice and community justice and working with colleagues in Social Work Scotland and elsewhere around criminal justice and then maybe in the afternoon, you're actually looking at something around children and families. So, I'm chairing at a group that's reviewing just now the allowances that are paid to foster carers, kinship carers and adopters or I'm very heavily involved with my colleagues in Health and Social Care in developing the first National Health and Social Care Workforce Plan and leading on the part 2, which is about the Social Care Workforce Plan and thinking about that mainly in the context of adult services. So, that's the kind of things that you could be doing in any one day, thankfully I don't usually do those 3 meetings all in the one day but maybe in the one week and then working with colleagues across the government basically to look at, a lot of the implications of some of this and particularly the implications across cutting implications.
MD Are there any particular areas of those pieces of work that you're particularly interested in?

IC Well they're all very interesting and they've all touched on, you know I've done stuff over my career that's related to them in one way or another, I find that actually I remember much more about the justice side than I thought I would. It's very interesting to look at prisons, the last time I was really heavily involved in working with prisons was when I led the partnership in Glasgow City on addictions where there's obviously a clearly a huge interface between services, drug and alcohol services and prison services and justice in general and it doesn't seem like much has actually changed. I think a lot has changed for women involved in the justice system but not so much for men, having said that we've made huge strides in youth justice as well. So, a lot of it's really interesting, I've always had an interest in the workforce and obviously we are the sponsor organisation or body for SSSC as well so it's very • to me, there's a lot needs to be done around the workforce so, it's all quite interesting, it's varied, you're never bored in this job and there's always something happens every day that makes you laugh.

MD Well that's a good thing isn't it?

IC Yes.

MD If you don't laugh, you'll probably cry.

IC Yes, probably.

MD Okay, do you have a motto for life?

IC I suppose my motto for life is get on with it.

MD Get on with it?

IC Somebody gave me a mug that says on it, Get On With It.

MD I like it, I like it.

IC Stop moaning, get on with it. I guess my motto for life is kind of like • basically we've only got one life and you might as well get on with it and do what you think you need to do and if you sit around worrying about it too much then you probably won't achieve what you want to.

MD Very good points I think. So, there's a lot of information and knowledge out there in the world, if you were to pick a book or a blog or a publication that you would recommend to listeners, what would that be?

IC Going back to the earlier theme about social justice and thinking about social justice and as I grew up that being kind of imbued in our family, also when I ... and this will give my age away, when I was younger we studied for our Higher English, believe it or not, Cry the Beloved Country, which basically is a book about South Africa. And at the same time I remember also seeing the programme on television, which I watched with my dad actually about apartheid and the impact of apartheid in South Africa and I suppose that kind of spurred me on in terms of thinking about social justice and how you improve things and I've always been interested in ... most of the books that I read, tend to read on my holidays these days, are about some form of social justice, thinking about the impact of major events on peoples lives.

MD People gravitate to music in their own way, what would be your music for motivation, either in your work or in your life? Some people might like the Star Wars theme for example but is there any kind of music that you really appreciate and that would inspire you in your life?

IC Well, there is a ... now usually when I say this, people look at me very blankly and go, "Who?", so, there's a guy called Damien Dempsey who's an Irish singer ...

MD I know Damien.

IC ... I know you will, yeah. So, I think he's great and I love his music and I've been to see him several times. So, I think it was his last album or last but one, Soulsun, is brilliant and what I like about Damien Dempsey is not just that he is coming from the perspective, always comes he's very much about injustice and about dealing with injustice but it's that he sings about the things that other people really don't often sing about. Particularly he has a track record in singing about mental ill health and about the impact on young people and I always find him really inspiring and I've been to see him many times, including in Vicar Street in Dublin •

MD Oh, good.

IC • and I think he's great and a lot of what he says and what he sings about really kind of talks to me but also I think particularly it's good to see at the moment the See Me campaign getting such high profile and actually young people now really talking about mental health and wellbeing and I think Damien Dempsey reflects a lot of that change that we've seen in society where it is beginning to be okay to talk about mental health and wellbeing and a lot of his songs do actually talk about mental health and wellbeing.

MD Who or what are your inspirations in your career, so, it might be presentation or a project or a person? There might be a couple that you'd like to highlight.

IC Well, I suppose my dad obviously has been really important and unfortunately, he passed away just about 18 months ago.

MD I'm sorry to hear that.

IC Yeah but I suppose my dad has always been there in the background in terms of an influence and in inspiration and my dad was involved with the '68 act, he worked in the probation service and then went onto work in psychiatric services in Croughton Royal and then he joined the Children and Families or I think by that point was called the Family Welfare Unit in Paisley and I knew a lot of his friends as well so they were the kind of old guard and I suppose for younger people these days, they won't know who these people are but it's interesting and I meet a lot of people who, still meet a lot of people who knew my dad and worked with him and I think there was a real sense in Scotland at that time of forging something different and something new and they did, they changed things hugely. I think social work's come through a lot of changes since then, we've been through integration although it's not finished, we're talking about GIRFEC and community justice partnerships so, I've worked with some really, really amazing people in the health service as well who are just people who care and want to make a difference. One person in particular is Tom Divers, who used to be chief exec. Of Greater Glasgow and Clyde Health Board who was very inspiring guy to work with because it was all about change and about how you made a difference really and I suppose where I started before I qualified as a social worker, I was working in the addictions field with people who had alcohol problems, I went to work in a residential unit for women with alcohol problems and then I moved into a day centre and after that I started to work for Strathclyde Region and worked in setting up community projects for people with alcohol problems and then the drug problem really hit Glasgow massively at that point and I began to work with people with drug problems as well and I suppose the things about working in drugs and alcohol is you see huge levels of change very quickly when people decide that that's what they want to do and it's always felt to me a great privilege to work alongside people and work with them in terms of making that difference to their lives and beginning to deal with their drug and alcohol problems and beginning to actually recover from drug and alcohol use and I've met very many inspirational people who have really come through really difficult times in their lives and actually changed all of that around and made a huge difference to themselves and their children and their families and I don't think we should under estimate what that takes to be able to do that.

MD Absolutely. What one piece of advice would you give to those working or considering working with in social services?

IC I think social services is still a really good place to work and I think there's a couple of things, one is that if you want to make a difference, if you want to do a job where you make a difference to people and to their communities and Scotland then social services is the job to do because if you do it and you do it properly and you work with people then you will make a difference. I think it's important to be true to yourself as well though, to make sure that you always pay attention to your gut feelings, to the way that you believe in things and to that integrity which we all have in terms of how we practice and to be guided by your integrity as well as anything else and I know that's quite difficult just now because a lot of people are working under enormous pressure because we're working in a system where there is less resource and more demand and I suppose I reflect over the years the changing practice particularly in children's services and think about some of the things that maybe we've done in the past that, even at the time, I felt wasn't right, I'm thinking here particularly about separation of siblings for example but didn't actually have enough courage to say, "no, we shouldn't do that." At the time, now I believe we shouldn't do it. Did always ask a lot of questions, I'm sure I drove the social workers absolutely nuts before I signed those things but actually do you know what I think we should have been reflecting a lot more a lot earlier and there's a number of things in social work practice that happened in the past, the people probably now, younger practitioners are wondering, "how on earth did that happen." So, all I would say is pay attention to those inner voices and pay attention to your sense of integrity and ask questions as well as practice in the best possible way working with people.

MD The final question then, what's the one thing, if you were cast away on a desert island ...

IC Yes.

MD ... tomorrow, what's the one thing that you couldn't live without?

IC The thing is, there's quite a lot you know, really frivolous things but I suppose in the end of the day the one thing that I couldn't live without apart from obviously a picture of daughter is the radio, particularly talk radio, I mean like Radio 4 or Radio Scotland. I love talk radio, because it challenges you, it makes you think about things that you wouldn't otherwise think about and it distracts you from everything else that's going on so I think I would really struggle without either Radio 4 or Radio Scotland.

MD Alright, excellent and hopefully Iriss.fm soon too.

IC And Iriss.fm of course.

MD So, just one last really light question, this series is called Freshly Squeezed ...

IC Yeah.

MD ... your juice, how do you like it? Smooth or with juicy bits?

IC Oh, I think it has to be with juicy bits.

MD With juicy bits, great stuff. Iona, you've been freshly squeezed, it's been a pleasure. Thank you for your time.

IC Thank you very much.

Collection