“After the initial shock, I’m delighted!”, said Children 1st project worker Margaret Mills on being made an MBE for her work with young people.
“I see it as being for Children 1st, my colleagues past and present, the children and young people I work with and the committees and people who raise money for Children 1st.”
Miss Mills, from Kelso, celebrated 40 years of work with the charity, formerly the Royal Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (RSSPCC) last year.
The charity’s children and family services principal until 2000, Bill Dunbar, who worked with Miss Mills in the Borders for many years, said: “This honour is thoroughly deserved. She has devoted her life to the protection of children.”
Miss Mills left school at 15: “I wasn’t academically inclined,” she said. “All through my childhood I’d wanted to work for Dr Barnardos – it was that Barnardos tin, the little house you used to take home and put pennies into.”
But at 15 she was too young so she worked for an Edinburgh family as a mother’s help. Her employer, a nursery nurse encouraged her to train too and Miss Mills went to the Dr Barnardo’s training centre in the city where she met lifelong friend Janice Thomson, with whom she celebrated the New Year on Orkney last weekend.
While with Barnardos, she spent a day with an RSSPCC visitor in the city. “I thought, ‘this is what I want’,” said Miss Mills, who has been with the charity ever since.
The RSSPCC then had the power to bring prosecutions for child abuse. Its male staff were inspectors and women were the visitors, helping families.
Along came Miss Mills: “I was the first woman in the agency who was single and who had a qualification.
“Visitors were very much doing what the family support workers do now. We would help the mum’s budget, get into a routine, encourage them to play with their children. I loved it.”
She moved to the Borders as a visitor in January 1973, working with Mr Dunbar, then an inspector. Within a year, she became an inspector too, initially based in Galashiels with Mr Dunbar, and later moving to Kelso.
“You’d get phone calls in the middle of the night and just go and knock on the door. You didn’t know who they were. You wouldn’t do that now. People would say it’s my height [Miss Mills is not tall] and the gift of the gab that I would get away with it. I’m very shy in my personal life but in my work life, I’m very confident.
Prosecutions were rare: “When I went into homes I would make it very clear they had a choice: ‘You have this time to make these changes’ and you would be there helping them, too. Now you wouldn’t be able to do that, you have to mind your Ps and Qs.”
Miss Mills was instrumental in starting what are now known as family centres, starting meetings for a group of Galashiels mums who were struggling. By 1980 another was started in Hawick. and in 1990, the Selkirk family centre opened.
Responsibility for investigating child abuse had moved to local authorities by then and in 1995 the charity changed its name to Children 1st, with whom Miss Mills is a project worker for the Selkirk centre, helping children who have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused or who are dealing with a trauma such as a suicide in the family.
“I think I have been given a gift of communicating with children. I can listen when children are ready to share whatever they need to share with me, be they three or 16.
Miss Mills also runs the creche at Kelso North Parish Church on Sundays, does other church work and is president of the Broomlands SWRI.