Making a positive impact for vulnerable children and adults

Colleague Spotlight | Shirleecia Ward


Raised in the vibrant area of Chapeltown, Leeds, I received a Caribbean upbringing in a nurturing and supportive family and local community, which gave me the confidence and ability to challenge injustice and speak up about the things I am passionate about. My involvement in community projects led to me achieving a BA in Youth and Community Work, and an MA in Social Work, affording me the privilege of working with children and families for nearly 20 years.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what led you to working within the School of Health

In my roles as youth worker and social worker, children and families allowed me to be close to them at the most vulnerable and challenging times of their life which I deemed to be a privilege. Working in multidisciplinary settings I have seen first-hand that it’s not so much the professional role played that has the deepest impact on the families, but more the way I execute that role. Listening to the feedback given by families was integral to my professional development and progression.

As an alumni of LBU I stayed in contact with my lecturers. When I managed a semi-supported accommodation I agreed to supervise work-based learning that some of the modules required. I was passionate about the learning aspect of staff supervision meetings and the potential to teach new skills, and wanted to impact the education of emerging professionals. Accommodating the placements led to me visiting cohorts of students in different modules to share my expertise and after agreeing to become a seminar leader I was convinced that the far-reaching impact of education would be the most effective way for me to use my knowledge and skills to positively impact vulnerable children and families.

What makes you passionate around your work around social and community studies and why is it important?

I passionately challenged the inequality and injustices I experienced at secondary school, much to my teachers’ dismay! I recognised that the rules and regulations were designed to make me conform to the norms and values of a society that did not value me, a young black woman. As expected, my outspoken nature caused me some issues. I was labelled disruptive and rebellious which earned me the attention of the senior leaders and education welfare officer. It was in my numerous discussions with them that I decided I wanted to support young people to embrace their identity without sacrificing their education.

Initially my passion was to see racial equity in education; I have no doubt that the labels I was given in education were in part down to the bias some of my teachers had about black children. Without the strong foundations I had from my Saturday supplementary school, a mother with strong education values and teachers who were willing to see me as an individual, it’s likely I wouldn’t have pursued this path. 

Over the years I have also developed a deep love and care for looked-after children, and believe that the professionals and societal approach to raising them has to be overhauled and redressed to see them reach their full potential and develop into contented and whole adults.

How is collaboration integral to your work, and what are one or two collaborations that have been most meaningful to you?

Collaboration encourages inclusivity and helps to achieve equity; thus it is an imperative part of the way I undertake my role. I strive to work in collaboration with academic colleagues, students and external professionals to ensure my students’ learning journey provides opportunity for them to grow, develop and transform with the help and support of others.

Recently, I had the opportunity to deliver an in-house Reflexive Practice workshop with a colleague in collaboration with UCU members to mark Stephen Lawrence Day 2021. It stretched my comfort zone, but I guess that’s what being passionate about something does for you! It enabled me to facilitate an open and frank discussion about achieving racial equity in higher education with colleagues from different schools.

I’ve also worked collaboratively with North Yorkshire Council and the University of York to facilitate workshops for social work practice educators to share the findings of some research undertaken about the experiences of BAME students on placement. The workshop explored practical responses to the findings and will hopefully have far-reaching positive effects.

What achievements in this area have you been most proud of while working in the School of Health?

In 2020 my team won the Best Academic Team in the Golden Robe awards. Although I was relatively new to the course, I felt a great sense of pride to be part of a team of people who supported students from the beginning to the end of their course.

I also felt a big sense of achievement and pride when I received a ‘Beckett’s Big Thank You’ in May 2021 from a student who felt that my guidance and support was ‘beyond measure’.

In a time when the media report record level highs of student dissatisfaction with the higher education sector, this recognition was received with jubilation! 

What will your story be?

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