Overcoming obstacles to achieve a career in Childcare Law

Colby Robinson

Principal Consultant | Legal

Jul 25, 2022

Continuing this week’s theme we are shining a light on more amazing women within various industries we recruit for.

Today we are looking at the journey of Sara Reid and how she came to be who she is today.

Sara found her passion for social services early on and started her career as a social worker. Due to a life-changing event, she had to find a new way to be a piece of the social Services jigsaw. After a long journey, she’s now a very respected Children’s Services Lawyer and sharing her story with us.

What is your career path/ how did you end up in Children’s Services?

“I have worked in children’s services since 1998, albeit not always in the legal department. I always wanted to be a Barrister, however, at the time I left school you had to train in London. My finances didn’t allow for me to move to London, and so I took a job to save up.”

“My first job was working with children with disabilities, it was a fun and challenging job, and I did enjoy that role. Soon enough I decided that I would like to work in child protection teams, and so the education began. I worked throughout and finally found my dream job in a front-line team. In fairness, I thought I would never leave my job as I loved the day-to-day challenges it offered me and my colleagues were, for the most part, my best friends.”

“I never lost my love of the law, it’s just that children, bills, and a mortgage meant that a change of career was not an option. That was until I had a serious car crash, my back was injured, my knee required surgery. In a 5-year period, I had 6 different surgeries, when they fixed one problem, they caused another. Eventually, in 2014 I was diagnosed with numerous health conditions, and I could no longer work on the front line. I was told that within 6-years I would be wheelchair-bound and unable to work.”

“In my head, I knew that wasn’t what my new normal would be, and so the next day I enrolled on my law degree. I was 34 years old, had 2 children, a dog, cat, husband. I was terrified that I couldn’t do it but knew that it was my time to prove the medics wrong. I did prove them wrong and my biggest achievement is that I walked across the stage when I graduated with a first-class honour degree.”

“Then came my next challenge, the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) and wow that was an experience. The dream of becoming a practicing barrister all the closer. I now work for an amazing local authority team, and I am not only a lawyer, but I am doing the job I love. I am just another piece in the same jigsaw I always have been. I am sure there are more adventures for me to engage with, but for now, I fit in where I am, and I couldn’t be happier.”

Is that what you thought you would be doing when you left education?

“When I left school, I thought I would never be able to become a Barrister. I went to a normal high school and my parents couldn’t have afforded to help me achieve my dream.”

“It is however what I hoped I would be doing, indeed when I look back it was always the dream. The only difference is that I thought I would be a criminal practitioner, however, that dream was because of Kavanagh QC on TV which I used to watch constantly.”

What is your greatest achievement in your career so far?

“I think that is a really difficult question, there is no glory in my job. The best I can hope for is that a child is protected, whether this is with their parents, family members of adopters. Every case has different nuances, and so they all have to be considered throughout the case. I never know when a case is finalised or if the right decision was made for the child, I never get an update. In actual fact, I only ever know if the decision was wrong because the case comes across the desk again.”

“It’s a lonely job to some degree as there are no funny stories in child protection, whilst people ask what the job entails at dinner parties, the reality is that we cannot share as the trauma we see on a day-to-day basis is never suitable to share. Even if I had a case with which I took particular pride in, and I do, I can’t share that as it is someone else’s story, it’s their trauma, it was their nightmare. I believe the right outcome was achieved, but I will never know. All I can do is trust the process and hope the right decision was made in the end.”

What piece of advice do you wish you could give your past self?

“I would tell myself to trust in the future, Karma has a funny way of helping you to achieve your dreams. If you don’t achieve it now, then trust in the future. If not now, then you will get there if it is meant to be.”

“I think I was hard on myself at the time, and despondent that I would never achieve my goal, I was so desperate for the wig and gown that I felt as if I had failed. I saw my classmates go off to the university when I couldn’t afford to go, in truth it just wasn’t my time. Many of those classmates are single parents, and the choice they made at 18 years old wasn’t the right choice for them and now they have jobs that didn’t need the degree they achieved.”

“I would tell the younger me that there is no rush, cool your heels and make the right choice for you, not the one you think you should. Your time will come, there are many ways to achieve the ultimate goal.”

What’s the biggest problem people in your industry are facing?

“Public childcare law is not glamorous, it is not something that you can talk about with your friends and family. It’s a very isolating job sometimes. It is also not the best-paid area of the law. Legal Aid cuts and reductions in local authority funding means that you can earn more money being a conveyancer, or a commercial lawyer. The role doesn’t attract many of those leaving professional education, and as such during my whole legal education, I had perhaps 4 days dealing with public childcare law. Many graduates don’t even know it exists, and so it means that there are even fewer professionals looking to fulfill the plethora of roles.”

“Those who do decide to follow that career path, often burn out very soon. The caseloads are high, and it is all-encompassing. It affects sleep, weekends are often used to catch up, and it is simply not a glamorous and well-paying role.”

“Having said that, I wouldn’t change my chosen profession for a moment. It is tiring and stressful, I could earn more working in commercial law, however, I care about the children who I come to know as part of my job (albeit they are pictures in my mind) and I don’t think I could care as much as I do, about mergers and acquisitions. It’s just not for me.”

What would you say to other women looking to start a role in Legal?

“The law remains one where most partners and senior directors are men, whilst solicitors and paralegals are predominantly female. It is time for the women to climb and break the glass ceiling and show that we can run businesses instead of just working for them. There are many aspects of the law that do allow for a fabulous work-life balance, and so it is definitely a role that allows for part-time working and compressed hours to allow for your family commitments. Having said that, as fathers are being more frequently offered the same paternity rights as women, the family certainly doesn’t have to slow down your career.”

“I feel that the best lawyers I have met, have had life experience and so I would recommend that during your educational years you take part in no-law based experiences. Your CV is important, it isn’t however the only thing that recruiters will look at, you have to be more than your CV.”

“Finally, be the lawyer you are, not the lawyer you think you should be. Remain true to yourself and follow your dreams, because they are your dreams, not to impress and satisfy others.”

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Principal Consultant | Legal

Colby Robinson

She’s incredibly personable and communicates well and with honesty. She knows her clients and candidates back to front, so she always knows who to call. Not to mention, her life motto is positive things happen to positive people, and she applies that everyday at work without fail.

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