The great British climate certainly put the ‘summer’ into Summer Institute at the start of our first week! The 2016 Cohort arrived at our new venue, the University of Warwick, to a heatwave on Sunday evening, before the serious work began on Monday.
Week one introduced key themes and focussed on the importance of self-knowledge in balancing statutory child and family work with the lived experience of service users. The first day started with an overview of the programme and a history of the social work profession. The highlight was a session by Jenny Molloy, whose powerful personal account of her experience as a child who came into care brought home the importance of effective relationship-based practice, and made real the need for passion and commitment in social work.
The 2016 Cohort was officially welcomed at the Opening Ceremony on Monday evening, with speeches from Josh MacAlister, John Priestly, Dhivya Yogarajah, Karl Lokko and Baroness Sally Morgan. John (2014 Cohort) is just completing his Assisted and Supported Year in Employment and his Masters. His bag of props gave us memorable images of the importance of self-care, and the courage and commitment needed in order to serve the families we work with. He also stressed the support that comes from being not only part of a unit, but a member of the wider Frontline community.
Dhivya (2015 Cohort) is just completing her first year. She gave a lively explanation of the strengths of the unit model and shared some work she had done to support a family in a time of great need, using systemic theory to shape and inform her practice.
Karl, an activist and consultant for Big Change gave an inspirational account of his life as a gang member, which was turned around by the love of a friend’s mother, summed up in his unforgettable rendition of his poem ‘The Butterfly Effect’. Sally, a much-valued Frontline Board Member closed proceedings with a powerful commitment to the vision and principles of the programme. Five different voices, with one overriding message; that however hard social work is, and however tough the training and education, it is worth it, because it is central to transforming the lives of vulnerable children.
The week continued with teaching on: abuse and need, introducing the notions of care and control, when and how the state intervenes in the lives of families; social work law; social justice and an introduction to systemic theory and practice. Our guest lecturers included Dr David Wilkins of the Tilda Goldberg Centre for Social Work and Social Care, and Professor Michael Preston-Shoot of the University of Bedfordshire, both exceptional speakers.
The week finished with a first look into systemic social work delivered mainly by our new Principal lecturer, Amanda Middleton. What an addition to our team! What an amazing first Frontline lecture. We explored how personal characteristics like gender, religion, age, culture, education, ethnicity and sexual orientation interact to form identity and how this happens along the fault-lines of power and oppression in different contexts and locations.
This is our third Frontline Summer Institute. Every year, we have been overwhelmed by the commitment and potential of the incoming participants. This year is no different, and will undoubtedly be special. The 2016 Cohort will have two generations of successful participants before them, ready to support and encourage them, along with their Consultant Social Workers. To steal the John Donne quote from Josh’s opening speech: ‘No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’.
As Academic Tutors, we will be there with them too, every step of the way, as they make the transition to effective social work practitioners, who, to quote David Worlock’s (Frontline’s Programme Director) day one lecture, ‘walk alongside our children and families with purpose, and help them move from a place of darkness to one of light’.