The first child I worked with as a social worker was an eight-year-old boy who lived with his grandmother and no longer had contact with his birth mother. Although he was well cared for and loved by his extended family, his lack of understanding about why he didn’t live with his mum was unsettling for him and was affecting his behaviour. I worked with the family to gather stories about the young boy’s early life and spoke with him about his understanding of family, love and security. I used this to made a ‘life story’ book for him. I will never forget reading the book with him and supporting his extended family to have conversations about his early life experiences.
Sometimes social work is about hard-fought but small successes, which although small can be really rewarding when they represent a shift in a family’s thinking or behaviour.
Prior to joining the Frontline programme, I had been volunteering with children and young people for a number years. Most recently, I’d been volunteering with a London borough youth offending service. I was seeing young people at a moment in their life when something had gone wrong; it made me want to work directly with children, young people and families experiencing challenges in a supportive and meaningful way. That’s the thing that really got me thinking seriously about social work.
As a career changer, Frontline gave me the opportunity to dramatically change my career path without changing my whole life, which was important to me. I would have been apprehensive about leaving my full time job of six years for full time study, so being placed in a local authority really appealed to me.
On the programme, I learnt how to handle unexpected situations. No one home visit was the same and being flexible, creative and often quick-thinking were really important skills to develop. I went into the Frontline programme with some degree of confidence and experience of working with young people, but I think one of the things I didn’t understand about child protection social work was how much I’d also be working with parents and carers. I learnt so much about building effective relationships and using questioning and conversation to elicit meaningful discussion and bring about change.
The teaching I received at the summer institute and on recall days was excellent. I had been out of study for a number of years but the teaching was really engaging, partly I think because everyone was so passionate about the work and the programme.
I was based in a local authority with two Frontline units, which meant a support network of seven other people, which was invaluable. We were really lucky that we all got on so well and built trusting relationships which meant we could support each other with the sometimes emotionally demanding and complex nature of the work.
My experience of working as a social worker, and now working with social workers and local authorities, has highlighted some of the challenges that the sector and the system faces. I’m interested in how some of these challenges might be addressed in innovative and creative ways. I don’t think this is only the responsibility of Frontline fellows, but I do think that having the support of an organisation like Frontline and connections with a growing network of individuals with a shared common purpose means that it’s possible to develop and test innovations that could make a bigger difference to the system and to the lives of children and families.
One of the great things about the Frontline programme was the teaching and learning opportunities we were afforded. The continuation of those opportunities with the Fellowship through seminars and events has been something I’ve really valued, particularly for the ongoing connection to frontline practice now that I’m working outside of direct social work.
I hope that the shared aims and aspirations of Fellows are built and nurtured through the Fellowship and that ideas with potential to make a difference to the profession and the lives of children and families are able to be developed.
Are you thinking of taking your career in a new direction? Like Hannah, you could do meaninful work with children, young people and families: