This week, as Frontline launches recruitment for its 2015 cohort, I begin my role as a Consultant Social Worker for this year’s cohort. This means I’ll mentor four Frontline participants through their 12 months of ‘on-the-job’ social work training. I’m really excited for me – and I’m really excited for them. Children’s social work is a fantastic career choice and I would advise anyone who is interested to apply for the Frontline programme.
Why I was inspired to become a social worker
I qualified as a social worker in 2009 so I’ve been in frontline practice for around five years. I always knew I wanted to support people in some capacity and I’d already worked with drugs and alcohol (in mental health). I wasn’t particularly focused on working with children, but when I trained as a social worker I did a placement with the NSPCC. I loved the experience and realised that working with children meant working with the whole family, which included issues such as drugs, alcohol and mental illness. So I went from there.
The most enjoyable aspects of being a social worker
The most enjoyable part of the job is forming long-term relationships with a family and supporting and fighting for them, for the small positive changes and enabling them to make the changes. Fighting the family’s corner, or the child’s corner, often means winning those little battles. These can be as big or small as hearing people say “I get that now” about bed times, or the naughty step, or eating round a table. In one instance it meant getting a child into a school close to their home.
Helping to turn a child’s life around is a fantastic feeling. Children are, generally speaking, enthusiastic and excited about life. If you meet children who aren’t then you want to make things better for them. It’s great seeing children open up, relax and become more confident.
What makes a great social worker?
Being a social worker isn’t easy. Important skills include negotiation, project management, having the ability to multi-task and the need to be organised. Building relationships is one of most important, as is the ability to keep an open-mind and hold a number of different hypotheses in your head. In fact, the more experience you get, the easier you can form snap-judgements – so that challenge may increase over time. You need to remember that almost every area is grey. If everything was black and white the job would be easy and often there wouldn’t be any need for a social worker! A great social worker remembers that there are no certainties in social work.
Challenges facing new social workers
People joining the social work profession tend to have a very rosy view of social work. They feel that they are going to change the world, or they are going to change someone’s life completely. As a newly qualified social worker you can expect too much change. Over time you realise that the little victories I mentioned earlier have a huge impact and they can be really rewarding.
Frontline participants also need to be aware of emotional strains – sometimes they will be doing what they know is the right thing, maybe separating a parent and a child, but still feel guilty. But the participant unit model will help Frontline participants share the burden and build their resilience.
I really do believe in what Frontline is doing. We have brilliant social workers but if the profession is going to be a leading recruiter then we need to appeal to people from all walks of life, and why shouldn’t we have top academic achievers working with the toughest families?
Frontline has been very keen to promote a positive image of social work. Earlier this year I appeared in their new film and it was great to be part of something so uplifting. It obviously focused on all the positive aspects of the job and it was fantastic to see that there are so many people out there with positive stories around social workers. There are really positive relationships that you can build in child protection – and it’s great that they are promoted in the film.
Cate Spenceley is a Consultant Social Worker to four Frontline participants starting their in practice learning this week.