Alice Sluckin obituary

Other lives: Social worker who specialised in helping children with school phobia

My mother, Alice Sluckin, who has died aged 99, was a social worker who specialised in helping children with school phobia and incontinence problems. She devoted herself to that work from 1961 until her official retirement in 1984, but then continued in other ways for another 30 years, publishing 35 academic papers and contributing to several books.

In 1992 she founded the Selective Mutism Information & Research Association to support families with selectively mute children, who speak at home but not at school. Although some experts thought that such children were simulating, Alice diagnosed that social anxiety was the main cause. For her work on that question she was appointed OBE in 2010 and was presented with the Sir Sigmund Sternberg active life award in 2012.

Alice was the daughter of Otto Klaus, a Jewish public health doctor in Czechoslovakia, and his wife, Mira, who was originally from Radom in Poland. Born in Prague, Alice spent her childhood in the German-speaking province of Sudetenland. When the Nazis annexed Sudetenland in September 1938, the family fled to Prague and the following February Alice sought sanctuary in Britain.

Her parents and younger brother, Martin, died in the Holocaust. As an enemy alien during the second world war, Alice had to leave her work as a nurse in Southampton, ending up in Cambridge, where she met her future husband, Wladek Sluckin, a Polish-Jewish engineering student.

In 1942 they married in Bradford; he worked in a power station while she studied for a diploma in social administration at Leeds University. After qualifying as a psychiatric social worker at the LSE in 1946 she embarked on a social work career in Cambridge, London, Durham and Leicester.

Wladek switched from being an electrician to an academic psychologist and was head of the psychology department at Leicester University, but died in 1985, a year after their retirement.

In widowhood Alice had a wide set of interests, including birdwatching, the Labour party, the Czech-speaking circle, and membership both of the Leicester Secular Society and of the city’s Progressive Jewish Congregation. Only at 98 did she relocate from living alone to a care home, moving from Leicester to Norwich in 2018 to be near her son, Andy, and his family.

Alice’s forthright views on all sorts of issues were balanced by a strong sense of empathy. She succeeded both personally and professionally by taking a pragmatic approach and deliberately avoiding deep philosophising. Her experience of being a refugee taught her the importance of looking forward and not back.

She is survived by me and Andy, five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.

Tim Sluckin

The GuardianTramp

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