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What exactly does a ‘Frontline Specialist’ do?

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Dean Lawrence explains why he took on the role of a Frontline Specialist
Throughout my career I’ve worked in a variety of statutory social work settings. I’ve always been keen to embrace new and innovative approaches, so when I first heard about Frontline’s programme I was very interested to discover more.

Initially I was sceptical about how this new model of social work education would work in practice, but once I did more research – and spent time talking with Frontline’s Chief Executive Josh MacAlister – I began to understand what Frontline was trying to achieve. I then began to see the immense potential of the programme.

Having spent the last 4½ years working in the London Borough of Hackney, at first as a Consultant Social Worker (CSW) and then Group Manager, I’ve witnessed first-hand the wide range of benefits the unit model can offer both practitioners and children and families. So when I learnt the Frontline model was combining the unit model with a new approach to social work education my initial scepticism quickly shifted into the realisation that Frontline was an exciting new project that the profession should welcome.

I joined Frontline in April 2014 as one of three ‘Specialists’, a new role developed specifically for the Frontline Programme. The main elements of the Specialist role is to coach CSWs and provide dedicated support to the local authorities that host units of four Frontline participants. A Frontline CSW performs a unique role, training a unit while also continuing to manage a difficult and challenging caseload. With this in mind, we want to ensure all our CSWs are provided with the best possible support. Coaching has not traditionally been used as a tool in Children’s Social Care, but there is an increasing body of evidence demonstrating the effectiveness coaching can have an individual’s performance and fulfilment in the workplace.

I currently coach nine CSWs based across six local authorities in Greater Manchester, Essex and London meaning that my job involves lots of travelling. Working with multiple boroughs in different parts of the country is something I really enjoy. I have had the opportunity to see a significant range of practice models and the different ways in which Children’s Services are organised. Every local authority has their own way of working, so another important part of my role is to ensure the Frontline units’ interface are established well within existing local authority team structures and systems. I also meet with managers in each local authority so we can review the progress of the unit and ensure that the internal systems we set up are working well. 

What I enjoy most about the Specialist role is my coaching relationship with CSWs and being able to dedicate my time entirely to each CSW’s development. I don’t have any involvement in line management or case management decisions because all CSWs continue to receive supervision from their local authority manager. This allows our dedicated 1:1 coaching time to be focused on the topics the CSW feels is relevant to them.

I joined Frontline at the point when we were working with local authorities to set up and establish the units. Eight months on it’s great to see CSW’s and participants working so successfully in their units. When I visit a unit I see how well the model works as both a supportive and challenging learning environment for participants. I’m continually impressed by the high quality of work. 

The next part of our journey is to plan for our 2015 Cohort – and I am already working with the new local authorities that will join us next year. It is really exciting to see Frontline continuing to grow and it’s fantastic to be part of that journey.

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