I have always been keen to learn and to develop. I completed a criminology degree before qualifying in social work, and my career path has encompassed both of these areas of interest. My curiosity around criminality led me to complete my social work dissertation on exploring the treatment and interventions for child sexual offenders, and the subsequent impact on community safety. An unexpected discovery for me, from this research, was that there are people living in communities who are safely managing their attraction to children – they are not offending, not within the criminal justice system, and not being researched – yet would be such a valuable source of learning. This left me keen to investigate further, but as my training ended, I felt that the opportunity had passed and I embarked on my career in mental health social work.
I loved the busy environment of the community mental health team, with each day bringing new challenges, and with multi-agency staff working together to support people on their journeys towards recovery.
I progressed to become the Team Manager and then the Service Manager for my region within North Yorkshire. I felt very fortunate to have progressed in my career, yet also felt more distant from the aspects of learning and practice that I had previously enjoyed so much. Hence my excitement when I saw an opportunity advertised for Local Authority staff to undertake a pre-doctoral research fellowship through the NIHR. It was an opportunity for 12 months of post-graduate research studies, professional leadership development, to pursue a research topic of interest, and to develop as a research practitioner – bridging the gap between academic research and social work practice, perfect!
I was supported by my employers to apply, and was successful. I embarked on a year of personal and professional growth, completing a Post-Graduate Certificate in Researching Social Care through the University of Central Lancashire, making research connections globally, completing management and leadership training, and even completing a small-scale research study. My research focus is on further understanding the experiences of those who are sexually attracted to children, but are not acting on their attraction. I am particularly interested in understanding the mental health needs of people with this attraction, and how mental health services can help in reducing risk and improving outcomes. I intend to continue this line of research through doctoral studies in the future.
Upon my return to work from the pre-doctoral fellowship, I moved into a temporary Research Development role within the Local Authority, which involves working with universities and communities collaboratively, and driving forward the research agenda within the Council.
I feel excited for the future and look forward to generating more interest in practitioner research among colleagues, and seeing the benefits of this within the Local Authority.