Changing narratives: Change can come from one conversation
Naomi Allen was part of the 2017 cohort of the Frontline programme and currently works as a consultant social worker, supporting current Frontline programme as they qualify as social workers.
I first thought about social work when I was quite young. My parents were foster carers, so I had exposure to social workers from a young age. A social worker for one of my foster siblings would build small fires in the garden with them and I thought it looked fun. I saw in practice the difference that having a good social worker made to those children. But I didn’t really think that I would be able to do it and didn’t feel confident enough to challenge people like the role requires you to, so I put that thought aside for a little while.
When I was at university, I did some volunteer work with children in the estate near where I lived, as well as a women’s refuge. Those experiences helped me to get better at talking to people, to empathise with them and that gave me the confidence to apply to the Frontline programme. Fast forward and I’ve now been qualified since 2018, and I think why I’ve been able to keep doing this work is because I’ve been well supported both by Frontline and my local authority. It’s a job that has a lot of what I’m looking for in terms of variety and intellectual stimulation; I get to work with children, adults, different services and use so many skills and that I didn’t expect to find all in one job.
I also get to help bring about real and meaningful change for families. Motivational interviewing, which we get taught on the Frontline programme, is one of the most powerful and impactful tools as we can use as social workers to do this. I remember the first time that I used it with a family – I had a really positive conversation with them and hearing them consider their own solutions was really encouraging for me. Now, as a consultant social worker, it’s exciting to see the Frontline programme participants doing that as well.
I think the way that those conversations can facilitate people thinking about their own strengths, solutions and desired outcomes is so powerful.
One of the participants I’m managing recently completed their motivational interviewing assignment working with a family where the mother had gone through some health-related challenges. She wanted to get out of the house more, go back to spending time with her friends and becoming more independent again. The participant took a motivational interviewing approach to that and had some good conversations with this mum about what she wanted her and her children’s lives to look like. As my participant went in with an approach of asking open questions, mum was able to think of steps that she could take towards making changes in her life and that was a much more productive conversation than it would have been if we’d gone in with our plans and suggestions.
What would be fantastic to see in the next 10 years is for more children from families with historical involvement of social services go on to have amazing, fulfilled and thriving lives, rather than repeating the same traumas as previous generations. I think a lot of that would come from early intervention in people’s lives and generous support rather than blame. I’ve witnessed examples of good outcomes where we weren’t expecting there to be, like with one family where there were significant concerns about a mother whose two children had to be taken into care when we got involved.
There were worries about the mother expecting another baby and what that would look like, but this mum had made many changes and was now in a place where she really wanted to care for this other child.
We were able to do a solution-focused and strength-based piece of work with her, with one of my current participants, looking at how she’d take a new approach with this child. It involved her family and us as professionals coming on board to make sure that she had that support in place that perhaps wasn’t there the first couple of times. Ultimately, I think that all came from her. She very much wanted to have that different experience and we were able to get alongside her to achieve that.
The child is now with the mum and is doing really well, which is fantastic. I do wonder if there are more families like that where sometimes services can assume that there won’t be a good outcome because of the family history when, in reality, if we get alongside parents who want to make positive changes, we can support them to do that.