I became a fellow in 2016 after I completed the Frontline programme as a participant. During my training, I worked in a local authority with high levels of poverty and unemployment. Limited resources across the council in areas such as housing, health and education have caused an increase in referrals to children’s social services, as other agencies struggle to meet families’ needs alone.
This presents a challenging picture for those working in frontline services and causes us social workers daily frustration at the lack of support we can offer to our families in need. At times social workers are the only form of intervention families have.
Building meaningful and trusting relationships with families in order to do the work needed as a social worker takes time and patience. I found that overwhelming workloads and pressure to close case files within short time frames prevented me from always being able to build those relationships. Instead, my work with families was brief and focussed on completing as much work as I could in a short period to ensure children were safe for the time being. At times I would walk away from cases with unease, knowing there was so much more I wanted to do with families to help make more sustainable changes for children, but I often felt unable to justify maintaining my involvement with so many new referrals hitting our team.
I found that one of the main areas impacted by this lack of time and space was engaging with dads. Often, children live with their mums. Therefore, mums tend to take priority as the children’s main carer and as the easier and quicker parent to engage with. Dads, meanwhile, tended to take a backseat in mine and my colleagues’ work. This was for practical reasons: some dads work during the day when visits to the family were likely to take place or live elsewhere (perhaps outside the local authority) making them less accessible. At times, there are additional reasons, such as the dad having perpetrated violence against the mum and therefore being seen as too risky or dangerous to engage with.
I started to think about the pressure we as a sector are placing on mums to raise children alone, manage the risk from violent dads and answer to professionals about the care of their children, without actually reaching out to dads ourselves and being curious about their roles in their families. Why weren’t we prioritising encouraging dads to be involved, including them in safety plans and supporting them to be more engaged with their children’s lives?
I decided to take advantage of Frontline’s offer to fellows through the innovation zone, in order to develop my thinking about dads and what we could do to support them to participate more in their children’s lives.
So far, the Fellowship team have met with me to discuss and develop my thinking and put me in touch with the founders of various charities and projects, as well as academics. The team also hosted a creative brainstorming workshop with other fellows and Frontline staff to develop my ideas further. This workshop challenged my idea and helped me consider different perspectives and approaches. As time progressed, I felt I would benefit from more personalised support and the team have put me in touch with a mentor.
Most recently, I had the opportunity through the Fellowship to attend a conference on ‘Early Help: Challenges, Opportunities and Innovation’ hosted by Children and Young People Now. I heard other practitioners talk about their experiences in providing early and targeted support to families. It was really helpful to hear about the successes, as well as the challenges, in establishing and sustaining community-based projects to help families. I learnt about the importance and difficulty of measuring outcomes, as evidence to establish what works and secure further funding for projects. What struck me most was the challenges faced in securing funding for early help and prevention, despite the huge positive impact investing in it makes.
Thanks to the Fellowship, I have had the opportunity to develop my ideas for how the families we work with might be better supported in future. It has given me the means to grow my ideas from daily frustrations at work into concrete plans to make a positive impact.