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Brendan

Frontline programme participant, London

I moved to London following ten years as a professional Irish dancer. My girlfriend spotted an advert for Frontline online, just as I was making the connection that I should look for a role that was more meaningful and purposeful, that I could actually get enthused about. From there, I became very excited and determined about Frontline and threw all my energy into getting on the programme.

Once I decided to apply for the programme, the variance of reactions of both friends and family made me more determined to pursue my application. Many people were genuinely concerned for me, given the negative public perception of the role. They couldn’t understand why I’d want to be a social worker.

Others couldn’t imagine why I’d want to retrain at my stage in life and return to being a student, particularly after completing a previous postgrad, as well as investing a decade of my life in a completely unrelated career. A lot of people actually admired my decision to go for it and commented on their perceptions about social work being a very tough job.

Since joining the programme, I’ve learned and experienced first-hand the opportunities that the role has for promoting the needs of vulnerable families and the privilege that it is to work so closely alongside such wonderful people and the other professionals devoted to supporting them.

No two days are ever the same on the Frontline programme and I’ve been really fortunate to work with families from a variety of backgrounds. I’ve learned a lot about their cultures and places of origin. I have worked with a range of children from newborns right up to older teenagers, as well as a mix of young and old parents, grandparents and wider family members.

The job brings you to many locations, from meetings at the office, to people’s front rooms, hospitals, schools and even prison on several occasions! I have been fortunate to intersect also with charities helping vulnerable families, who provide both financial and practical assistance to those in need. It truly is a very broad, challenging but exciting career and one with much variety and movement, which suits me.

I really enjoy working with children of all ages. No matter what the challenge is, children have a way of helping turn things around and everyone I’ve worked with so far has shared a passion for their welfare. Many of them put a smile on my face on a daily basis and I think it is such a privilege and honour to be able to enter a family’s life, develop relationships with them and hopefully help bring about positive change with them.

One of the most rewarding experiences has been when, after a long uphill battle, many meetings, many applications and many feelings of despondency, I helped get a 14 year old boy back into mainstream school after almost a year of being absent. It has been a joy to observe him thrive in his new school placement and to watch his home life improve also as a direct consequence of this.

The unit model creates a hugely supportive working environment. The other participants in the unit are fantastic, supportive individuals who look out for one another and freely share ideas and experiences. I have frequent supervision with my consultant social worker who is very supportive and a real treat to observe in practice, and I really enjoy the effort she puts into discussions about our cases and the space she creates for our voices to be heard. I also work in a very supportive local authority that makes us feel like a part of the wider team and means we can go to others whenever our manager isn’t around or when we need further support.

This programme has taught me much about myself and has allowed me to develop my own style of being a social worker, bringing in my own personality. For example, I always try to acknowledge the perceived intrusion that the role brings and my own discomfort with this – I think this helps put families at ease and does much for the development of positive relationships. I care a lot about the families I work with and sometimes carry their difficulties with me beyond work and into my personal life. Fortunately, there is huge support and supervision for this and I always feel I can talk about this with others so I don’t feel like I’m carrying my worries about people alone.

If you are thinking of applying, do it! It is tough and challenging – but there is not a more rewarding career with potential for personal development and reflection than frontline social work. I have enjoyed every single day of it and look forward to setting out on the rest of my career and seeing what each day brings.