Frontline programme participant, North East

When I applied for the Frontline programme, I knew Frontline weren’t working in Yorkshire. Moving further north became an obvious choice for me and I ended up being placed in the North East.  When I started work in my local authority I began to get to know my unit, and it turned out that two other people had also relocated. We became really good friends by the end of the year, and are still friends now!

Durham is a fantastic place to live and work. I’m not far from city life in Newcastle but I’m also on the doorstep of gorgeous countryside. When I’m driving to visits, I sometimes have to pull over because there are deer close by. Although there are some cultural differences between Yorkshire and the North East, I feel that the way of life here is very much what I’m used to. I’ve got a first-hand understanding of how people have grown up and the different challenges of being northern. I believe that people from an area seem to have a better understanding of its past, like how Durham’s mining history still plays an important role in the employment opportunities. I think that people need to really think about the benefits that they can bring to their own community; personally, I feel a sense of duty to give back to where I’m from.

In the North East there is a high level of domestic abuse cases and substance misuse. Transport links aren’t fantastic and it’s difficult for people to access jobs and support services which are often only available in larger towns. Because a lot of the villages are quite isolated, everybody knows everybody’s business which can lead to explosive conversations between residents. When we pull up outside people’s houses, those around them know that a social worker is coming to see the family and wonder why that is. This can lead to families being resistant to working with us.

I worked with a family in Durham last year with three children below the age of twelve. Social services became involved because the father was in a new relationship and due to appear in court for severely assaulting his partner. The family had had no social work involvement before this which was very challenging. The mother was fearful of my involvement and while the father understood why a social worker was involved, he struggled to understand some of my decisions. Eventually, the dad was honest with me that his mental health had really declined: he was using alcohol when his mood was lower and was trapped in a cycle. I think some of the wider issues in the North East, like unemployment, affect mental health. Access to support services, or lack of, is also a big factor. I’m currently working with a dad who is on day 80 of a 200-day waiting list for face-to-face CBT support. In those 200 days he’s just got to manage it himself, which is obviously really tough.

Social workers can and employ tools like motivational interviewing* to dig deep and find out why things might be the way they are. If you’ve got a dad who grew up witnessing domestic abuse, then having conversations with him about what he thinks relationships should look like, and seeing where those issues are stemming from, is what’s needed. We also see these cyclical patterns in substance abuse and mental health – like with the father of three in Durham. I like to think that most people have the skills and motivation to be able to get themselves out of these cycles, but it’s about needing additional support to find that strength within themselves. I believe that as practitioners, social workers have the skills to have some of the conversations with service users that can change the way they see things – breaking these cycles for good. In this particular case the dad did engage in support with his mental health and alcohol use. The mum came to understand what my role was in the family and she saw the benefit of my positive relationship with the kids. By the end of the case, we were able to do some safety planning and family support and things were able to go back to that family’s version of normal. I think this was a great outcome for them.

Motivational Interviewing: A strengths-based intervention (taught on the Frontline programme) which is designed to help resolve ambivalence and strengthen a person’s motivation and commitment to change. It is used widely in the field of addictions, but in recent years its reach has extended to a range of services including health, probation, education and more recently social work.

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