Obituary: Professor John Triseliotis, child welfare expert
Born: 14 September, 1929, in Cyprus. Died: 29 September, 2012, in Edinburgh, aged 83
Professor John Triseliotis was an acknowledged authority on child welfare with a special emphasis on adoption. He did much, throughout his distinguished career as a professor at the University of Edinburgh and a visiting professor and senior research fellow at Strathclyde University, to campaign for better and more comprehensive legislation concerning open adoption and ensuring that adoptees could trace their origins.
His book Teenagers and the Social Work Services, published in 1973, argued cogently that there should be greater involvement of young people in decisions and of social workers in family mediation. He also lobbied widely for improvements in training throughout the welfare community. Triseliotis described himself to a government committee as follows: “I am a half-adopted Scot, internationally adopted at the adult age of 30.”
Professor Malcolm Hill, who worked with Triseliotis at the University of Edinburgh for many years, remembered him as “a giant of a man in the academic and welfare field. John had a shrewd intellect combined with a real compassion but I also recall the human being. He had an understanding for the underdog, which he demonstrated with much grace throughout his career.”
John Paul Triseliotis was born into a farming family in Cyprus and educated locally. After teacher training college on the island, he joined the Cyprus welfare department.
In 1956 he was sent to London to join the Cyprus High Commission and studied at London University before spending a year in Edinburgh on a psychiatric study course. Other appointments followed both in London and in Cyprus before, in 1965, he was appointed as a lecturer in social welfare at the University of Edinburgh.
His reputation as an authority and specialist in childcare was already considerable but his writings and teaching at the university gained Triseliotis an international reputation. Triseliotis brought to his profession a kindly nature and a generous spirit.
His concern was always for the child and he was guided by the principals that he listed as “the capacity of any family to offer care, love, stimulation, a proper rearing to the child”.
In 1969-70 Triseliotis was part of a team that carried out research into adopted people searching for their records in Scotland. Only one out of 75 turned up at his or her mother’s door. “Adopted people like to have facilities,” Triseliotis stated in the report. “They turn to people to help them through it.”
He argued that birth mothers in Scotland should also have that facility without new laws.
Triseliotis played a prominent part in the influential Houghton Committee and his advice helped to remove much of the secrecy surrounding the issue of adoption.
In 2001 Triseliotis campaigned against the Adoption Act which he, by and large, welcomed but had strong reservations about certain clauses.
These essentially deprived adopted people of having the right to access their birth records and had appeared without consultation. Triseliotis admitted: “This is a very sad day because I have deja vu from 26 years ago. I carried out the initial research for the Houghton committee, which led to the opening of records in England. Scotland has provided these since 1930.” Of his many publications, perhaps Teenagers and the Social Work Services had the most influence on welfare treatment. Triseliotis concluded that disturbed young people need to be treated by specialist teams, carefully recruited, with a particular focus on those without family. The exhaustive research – the book took more than three years to publish – concentrated on extensive interviews with social workers and young people regarding the help available to teenagers. He also published extensively on adoption and fostering.
For more than half a century, Triseliotis researched the plight of separated children and adoption. His research concentrated mainly on the substitute care of looked-after children but Triseliotis’ work, in Professor Hill’s words, “was hugely influential in changing attitudes both within the childcare profession and in Whitehall. John was wonderful with people: always caring and understanding. He was excellent company and blessed with a fine sense of humour.”
In his active retirement Triseliotis was often called as an expert witness in court cases. His calm and lucid deliberations proved invaluable in complex welfare issues.
Triseliotis often advised on disturbed and emotional family matters. He did so with unfailing care and concern for the individuals.
Triseliotis was devoted to his work. He wrote extensively – he had plans for a new book – and read extensively on politics and childcare matters.
On annual return trips to Cyprus he allowed a certain relaxation and avidly read fiction. But his love was his garden, which commanded a fine view of Edinburgh’s Salisbury Craggs to the south and the Pentlands to the north.
Triseliotis married Vivienne, who was connected with the Medical and Social Department at Edinburgh University, in 1967. She and their son and daughter survive him.
A memorial service will be held today at St Giles Cathedral at 11am.
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