Proof that a degree can be the key to opening up opportunities never before thought possible was provided when one Edge Hill University alumnus recently returned to talk to current social sciences students.

Claire O’Brien began her BA in Early Childhood Studies knowing what she definitely didn’t want to do with her career, but was totally unsure about what she did. It was during her three years as an undergraduate that she began to realise where her interests lay.

“I wanted to study the BA Early Childhood Studies course at Edge Hill because it offered a broad perspective on this area of study, as well as a specialism in working with young children,” she explained. “While on my course, the expertise, passion, encouragement and support I received from the teaching staff was truly inspirational, it increased my self-confidence and prompted a love of, and enthusiasm for, academic study. As a result, I went on to study an MA in Therapeutic Play at Swansea University, which is something I would never have considered without the wonderful experience I had at Edge Hill.”

It was during these postgraduate studies that Claire did a therapeutic play specialist placement with Women’s Aid (at a women’s aid centre), which led to her applying for her current role as a children’s support worker at a charity that works with both male and female victims of domestic abuse, and their children.

It is a role that is certainly challenging, but one which Claire enjoys immensely. “My job involves working with children and young people up to the age of 16 who have experienced domestic abuse. We provide recreational play provision for children living in a women’s refuge, as well as one-to-one support for these children and young people and those in outreach services, using therapeutic play to ensure their safety and emotional wellbeing. The best things about my job are seeing academic theory really work in hands-on practice with children and young people, forming therapeutic relationships with children and their non-abusive parent and enabling them to work through what can be a very difficult time while also letting them have fun and be children despite their negative experiences.”

Claire says that, although it was her MA that taught her therapeutic play skills, it was the Early Childhood Studies degree that gave her a broad perspective on a variety of issues relating to children and childhood. “Without doubt, areas of study particularly relevant to where I am now include politics, policy and law, equality into practice, multidisciplinary practice and safeguarding children. The degree also reinforced and further developed my underpinning philosophy of equality and anti-discriminatory practice, viewing children as capable and competent beings, with childhood being a valuable time in itself and not simply preparation for later schooling or adulthood,” she said.

Being invited back to Edge Hill to talk to current students was something Claire was very keen to do and she reveals that it was an amazing opportunity. “Allison Moore, the Early Childhood Studies Programme Leader, knows that I am considering lecturing as a long-term career and so asked me to contribute to a lecture with what I do in my role, but also to write and present the whole lecture on Play Therapy and Therapeutic Play, which was incredible. This opportunity enabled me to share my knowledge of and enthusiasm for the subject in the hope of inspiring other students and making them aware of the job opportunities available to them once they have completed their degree.”

As part of that advice, Claire believes that keeping an open mind is the key to professional success. “You have to make the most of the opportunity to learn from such passionate and knowledgeable staff and keep an open mind about where you may end up. I would never have believed that I would be working with such vulnerable children in such important, high-risk situations but my learning and personal development during my studies gave me the knowledge and confidence to take on, and relish, the challenge of this role.”