Transcript: Freshly Squeezed: Kathryn Lindsay

An interview with Kathryn Lindsay, Chief Social Work Officer for Angus Council and President of Social Work Scotland.

Podcast Episode: Freshly Squeezed: Kathryn Lindsay

Category: Freshly Squeezed 



What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

MD - Michelle Drumm
KL - Kathryn Lindsay

MD Hello and welcome to ‘Freshly Squeezed’, an Iriss podcast which aims to squeeze information and inspiration from key influencers in social services in Scotland. Today I’m speaking to Kathryn Lindsay. Kathryn is the Director of Children, Families & Justice, and Chief Social Work Officer for Angus Council. She is also the President of Social Work Scotland. Since qualifying as a social worker in 2000, Kathryn worked as a practitioner across Angus and Dundee City Council justice services, and in residential services at Rossie Young People’s Trust. She held senior posts in Dundee City and Angus Council in both children’s and justice services, before becoming Chief Social Work Officer in 2016. She has a Master’s in both practice and leadership based subjects, and a particular interest in developing the workforce, promoting relationship based practice, and public protection. Kathryn, welcome to ‘Freshly Squeezed’.

KL Hello.

MD It’s a real pleasure to speak to you today.

KL Thank you.

MD First off, tell me, did you always want to work in social services or social work?

KL Not that I realised. I had actually thought that I’d go to college and be a panel beater and spray painter. Mmmhmm.

MD Oh that was an interesting one!

KL So nobody in my family had ever been to university and the application happened just because the forms were getting filled out in class one day, and I didn’t to be honest know what UCAS was. Anyway, I got into Dundee University through their clearing process into a degree on politics.

MD Right, okay.

KL And I thought I’d better take it. So that’s how I ended up at university. A little bit by accident to be honest. Even at the point that I started the MA in social work. So once I’d kind of decided social work was what I was going to do academically, I didn’t even really understand what social work was.

MD Mmmhmm. Mmmhmm. That comes out quite a lot actually.

KL Mmmhmm.

MD People who’ve done social work, they originally don’t really understand what it is.

KL Yeah and I think it’s quite a difficult thing to acknowledge actually, you know, but I think I need to acknowledge that because I didn’t grow up knowing what social work was, and to be honest I’d never really understood that such a thing was necessary.

MD Mmmhmm. And how did you make the move then from politics into social work? What was the connection?

KL Well so the MA that I embarked on involved different courses. So you’d to do a little bit of politics, then psychology, then English, and like most university qualifications at that time you then sort of refined what you were interested in as the years went by, and after first year I took a year out and I went down and worked in London, did a bit of nannying.

MD Mmm.

KL And when I came back I got the choice options for second year. I had a look at those and I thought, “Oh, that looks really interesting. That’s kind of politics and it’s also a bit about psychology and it’s a bit about how people work”, and thought, “That sounds really interesting.” Didn’t actually understand again at that point that that was embarking on a career pathway, and I suppose that when I realised that the course offered both the vocational social work diploma as it was at the time, and the academic qualification, my brain said, “Two for the price of one”, and the rest as they say is history!

MD Yeah, yeah.

KL So it’s not probably a typical story in terms of how people came to be a social worker, but it’s honest.

MD Yeah ‘cause a lot of people speak about I suppose some of the, that they’re interested in I suppose improving people’s lives and relationships.

KL Mmmhmm. And there’s definitely a bit about that, and at the recent Social Work Scotland conference one of the things that I was saying is actually, you know, I - probably if I look back - was always destined to work with people, and was brought up with a very strong sense of justice or injustice, and a wish to do something about that.

MD Mmmhmm.

KL But didn’t know that social work as a career was a place that you could do that, and so that part, the choice about being a social worker, was accidental.

MD Mmmhmm.

KL And I thought, “Well I can either be working in pubs or shops”, which is what I was doing at the time, as well as some sessional work. So I could either keep doing that sort of thing with a degree in politics, or I could look at a vocational qualification that really gave me jobs to apply for.

MD Sure.

KL And that was the trigger really for going into the final two years of the social work qualifying course.

MD So back then when you were qualifying sort of social work, did you see yourself being President of Social Work Scotland and then Chief Officer of a council many years on?

KL Not in a million years, and in fact, none of those things have happened through a particular plan. So again I suppose I’ve been in the right place at the right time, or the wrong place at the wrong time, whichever day you’re feeling like, and opportunities have been there and I’ve been in a lucky position to be able to take them. So I mean I think looking back, when I went into studying as a social worker, one of my placements was in Fife Criminal Justice Services, and I remember the local authority being quite a male dominated environment and a lot of men in suits, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I do remember a really powerful moment when Jane Martin, who’s the Chief Social Work Officer in Dundee, she was the Head of Criminal Justice Services in Fife at the time and she’d had an all-staff engagement event, and I remember seeing Jane, you know, young woman, commanding the whole room, really engaged, and in a clear position of leadership …

MD Sure.

KL … and thinking, “Hmm, that’s different.”

MD That’s where I’d like - yeah.

KL “That’s possible”, and there was almost like a little switch thinking, “Well actually there is a career pathway.”

MD Mmmhmm.

KL Because for me I guess I thought becoming a social worker, that was the end game, and I would have been quite happy still being a social worker in criminal justice, writing reports, and I loved it.

MD But you saw your role as being much more influential perhaps as you would had experienced?

KL Yeah. Yep. Taking the opportunity, I think, to look at how you can influence a broader sphere of practice. So practice education was one way of doing that, but that’s very much one-on-one. Some of the kind of sessions that I did with Dundee University to larger groups of students, you can kind of see actually and share your vision and your ideas about how we can improve services in different ways, and actually then the opportunity to become a Team Manager and then thereafter a Service Manager and so on, you know. It’s a platform I guess for sharing your vision of what we should be about, and to challenge some of the things that we think we shouldn’t be about. Mmmhmm.

MD Brilliant, okay. And tell me, what motivates you to get out of bed in the morning?

KL Well what gets me out of bed every morning is a four-and-a-half-year-old!

MD Right.

KL “Mummy, it’s morning time”, is usually, you know, that’s the trigger for the yeah. Yeah, you know, sometimes seven. So it’s quite, you know, it’s quite respectable, but yeah, and to be honest, what motivates me to get up and to do my work is partly to make a good life for myself and for my family, and that’s an important part I think of what motivates us to do any work that we’re involved in, and that’s a pragmatic thing, but in terms of why this kind of work, it’s the social justice part of it.

MD Yeah.

KL It’s about being part of conversations that might make things better, and there’s lots of challenges around that and lots of, you know, perceived barriers around how we do that, but I think that social work is in a space where it spans lots of boundaries. Both in the public and the private sector, and in the voluntary sector, we’ve got the opportunity to challenge the status quo.

MD Yeah.

KL And to influence it from within and from outwith, to take people’s lived experiences that we are exposed to naturally in the work that we do, right into the heart of decision-making and influence colleagues in other parts of councils or organisations, government, and to help them think about how to best move things forward without destabilising some of the arrangements that create a safety net at the moment. So those things motivate me every day.

MD Mmm, sure. And I doubt you probably have a typical day in terms of the range of work that you’re involved in, but what would an average day look like for you then?

KL Oh yeah. Well sadly in some ways the nature of my job means that those sorts of conversations tend to happen in meetings.

MD Yeah.

KL So I do spend a disproportionate amount of my life in meetings, sitting around tables with colleagues, and sometimes that’s a joy, but for everybody else out there listening who also has a life full of meetings will know that sometimes it’s not.

MD Yeah, yeah.

KL It can be quite stifling compared to being a practitioner out there, meeting with people, really kind of in communities and connected to what’s going on. So there’s quite a change there as a social worker, between what your life and your job used to be, to what it is now, and that drawing the connection between that which you know from before and what workers and people tell you now, into those forums is really, really important.

MD Yeah.

KL My favourite days really are the days that you get the opportunity to be inspired by those people directly, and actually sometimes I’m even lucky enough to get the opportunity to spend some time with our young people and some of our corporate parenting - we love that term - but our corporate parenting activities, where our young people basically say the kinds of things that they would like to do with senior representatives from the partnership, and that has included rugby and football.

MD Nice.

KL Not really my skill set, and making pizzas and eating them, which was much more my kind of thing, and those are great opportunities because the young people working alongside you on some of those jobs or on teams tell you about the things that they experience, the things that they like about how things are working, and the things that they think should be different.

MD Absolutely. Are you involved with the Care Review at all?

KL Yeah, yep. Yep.

MD Yeah.

KL So the Care Review are reaching out to all local authorities in this next phase of the journey, and I’ve recently met with representatives of the Care Review and been interviewed as part of the research that’s being conducted through partnership with Social Work Scotland.

MD Mmm.

KL So we’re very keen, as an organisation and a profession, to be at the forefront of engaging with the Care Review, because we’re not custodians of the current arrangement. We’re not people who are there to defend the status quo.

MD Mmmhmm.

KL We actually have a lot of views and observations I think, born of a lengthy experience in operating within the system as actors in the system, as to how we think things could be different and should be different. So I think actually there’s a lot of synergy between what some of our young people and families have experienced over the last number of years, and what our observations of some of the difficulties are. So I think there’s quite a lot that we can do together to improve that.

MD Absolutely. And tell me Kathryn, do you have a motto for life?

KL Well it’s interesting because I did think to myself, “Gosh, do I really?”, and then I thought, “Well actually, there really is one”, and it’s something that my dad used to say to myself and my sister when we were growing up, and it’s, “I think I can, I know I can, I knew I could.”

MD Nice.

KL And I think that positivity - I mean we didn’t grow up with a lot of stuff, but what we did grow up with was a relentless determination and positivity, and a sense that whatever you can think about achieving, you can achieve if you want it and you put your mind to it and you work hard for it. You can get there. It’s probably what drives some of my thinking about how we can move things forward.

MD Mmmhmm. It’s quite a mantra as well as …

KL It is, yeah.

MD … something you can use sort of every day.

KL Yep.

MD Yeah.

KL There was no such word as can’t.

MD Brilliant.

KL Just not permissible.

MD Great stuff. Okay, and do you have a book or a blog that you would recommend to listeners?

KL Yeah. I mean I personally love ‘Northanger Abbey’ by Jane Austen.

MD Okay. One of the classics.

KL And yeah, yeah. I’ve read a lot of books that I maybe wouldn’t have come across naturally. When I was at university one of the strands of my early bit of the degree was English literature, and so I was exposed to a kind of wide range of things that I might not have picked off a library shelf, and ‘Northanger Abbey’ I love and I read it quite often. Unfortunately, members of a book club that I was in didn’t love it …

MD Oh no!

KL … and said it was the worst book choice anybody had made. So that was very sad for me.

MD Jane Austen, really? Jane Austen is a genius!

KL I know. I know.

MD Mmm.

KL But it just wasn’t as good as ‘The Jane Austen Book Club’, which was a book that we read and I thought, “Oh people would maybe like to read ‘Northanger Abbey’ then”, but no.

MD Uh-huh. Uh-huh.

KL So we can’t all love the same thing.

MD No absolutely. That’s why we’re all different, aren’t we? It’s just the joy of life. I suppose for any social workers or practitioners listening, would there be any particular book that you would recommend them?

KL What I would recommend that people do is regularly have a look at books that give a broad overview of social work, because actually it’s very easy to get drawn into one area of practice, and I think that some of the texts that come out that are fairly generic in nature give you a really great whistle-stop tour of where the thinking is across a range of fields that you wouldn’t usually necessarily be exposed to. So keep that horizon broad.

MD Great. Okay, thank you. And music then. Some people love music, some people not so much, or they don’t use music as much. Do you have music for motivation?

KL Not particularly for motivation. I mean I suppose like most people I have quite an eclectic taste in music, and it tends to remind me very strongly of the past, you know, of people, places, experiences.

MD Mmm.

KL Points of time. So certain songs play and they remind me of my time at Rossie for example. So anything by Scooter.

MD Oh right, Scooter.

KL Yeah, heavy dance music.

MD Gosh, that’s a wee while ago!

KL Yeah, yeah. So that would take me straight back to being in Rossie.

MD Did the young people love Scooter?

KL Absolutely.

MD Okay.

KL And it was belting out the whole of the summer very, very loudly, and I remember that, but I think anything sort of late 80s, early 90s.

MD Mmm.

KL Particularly dance music from around that era would really motivate me, but particularly Donna Summer, ‘I Feel Love’.

MD Oh right, okay. That’s your song?

KL That will always inspire me to sing along very loudly and not very well. So yeah, but I do love, I love all sorts of music.

MD Yeah. Brilliant. Thank you for that. And who or what are your inspirations in your career?

KL Pretty unsurprisingly really, people are what inspire me in my career. So I was thinking about this and there are a few colleagues - and I won’t name them - that I’ve worked with over the years. I did mention Jane Martin earlier on, and she certainly has inspired me.

MD Uh-huh.

KL But there are people who I’ve worked with, as social workers across the desk from them, who have inspired me to think about the way that I practice and the way that I engage with people, and sometimes quite challenging around that, and I think we all need that. We all need colleagues who say, “Hang on a minute. What are you doing that for?” And we need to be receptive to that as practitioners, and I think as well more broadly, some of the work that was done by Fergus McNeill and Trish McCulloch around desistance …

MD Mmm. Mmm.

KL … really, really influenced my earlier practice as a criminal justice social worker, and if I think about it now I can’t actually imagine a world without that insight. So that’s been really powerful. I think it’s impacted national policy, government thinking, but also really connects justice, which was in danger I think of floating off to become something else conceptually. Got right back to being social work and a social work task.

MD Mmmhmm. Yeah Iriss was delighted to be involved in some of that …

KL Mmmhmm.

MD … Discovering Desistance project as well. Yeah.

KL Yep, but it reads across so beautifully to other areas of social work and it does reduce that singling out of justice as something which is about more punitive engagement and a different kind of social work, and reminds people that it’s not that, and actually I think criminal justice social work is a wonderful place to practice, and people who use the justice system, or who are recipients of services through the justice system maybe more accurately describes it, you know, are some of the most marginalised individuals in our country.

MD Mmmhmm.

KL And actually they need a social work profession working with them who can champion their rights, be real champions for them within that system, but also hold them to account for their behaviour and to manage risk, and that’s a really fine line …

MD Sure.

KL … about care and control that social work is good at, and our values hold us to that very strongly.

MD Mmmhmm. Brilliant. Okay. So Kathryn, what piece of advice would you give to those working or considering working in social services?

KL Yeah, it’s interesting because I never would have really viewed myself as somebody who should be giving advice to people, and but increasingly I find myself thinking I have a responsibility to do that, and I would say that social workers are working with and promoting change with both individuals and systems, and it’s easier to do that if you’ve got a broad sense of the world and the systems that we’re operating in. So my advice to people would be find out about that wider system. Try and understand where other professionals are coming from and try and work out how to use your skills to influence their thinking and their systems and their processes to the advantage of the people that we’re working with.

MD Mmmhmm.

KL So it’s not just about the job that you’re doing and doing your bit well and holding onto your own values, but it’s about finding a way to shape and influence others, not just point out what’s not right about it.

MD Mmmhmm.

KL And that way we’re agents of change.

MD Mmmhmm. So you encourage partnership working?

KL Yep, yep. We have a unique skill set I think in social work that helps us to do that, and sometimes we can be frustrated around it, but actually we need to recognise that it’s one of our unique skill sets.

MD Mmmhmm.

KL That ability to see the bigger picture and to try and work positively within the systems that are there to change and shift that over time.

MD Mmmhmm.

KL And that can be frustrating when you’re looking at the here and now, working with a family or individual in front of you that needs things to be different today, and we still need to advocate for them within those systems.

MD Yeah.

KL But the bigger win really is system change.

MD Mmmhmm.

KL And I suppose the other bit is - you did say one piece of advice but I do have two!

MD It’s okay.

KL Is to remember that there are lots of routes into and through a career in social work, or social services more broadly, and every single one of them makes a huge difference to people’s lives. So it’s really important that we don’t get too precious about that.

MD Okay.

KL And that we see the value in all of the roles that we undertake.

MD Yeah. That’s some good advice there. Yep, thank you. And if you’d to choose one thing, if you’re a castaway on a desert island and you’d to choose one thing that you couldn’t live without, not person but thing, what would that be?

KL Okay, so not a person. It would definitely have to be cheese.

MD Cheese?

KL Cheese.

MD Lovely, yeah.

KL I can’t imagine a world with no cheese.

MD And is it all types of cheese or is it just one particular type of cheese?

KL No, really pretty much all kinds of cheese. Yeah, usually in large chunks. Yeah.

MD Fantastic. Cheese.

KL Cheese.

MD That’s a good one.

KL We’ll end on cheese.

MD We’ll end on cheese. Absolutely! Kathryn, as you know, this podcast is called ‘Freshly Squeezed’. I ask all my interviewees at the end of the interview, how do you like your juice? Do you like it smooth or with juicy bits?

KL Oh definitely smooth.

MD You like it smooth.

KL I don’t like chewy juice.

MD I’ll give you smooth.

KL With my cheese.

MD Kathryn, thanks so much. It’s been a pleasure talking to you today.

KL Thank you.

MD You’ve been ‘Freshly Squeezed’.

KL Thanks very much.

MD Thank you for your time.

KL Thank you. Thank you.

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