Frontline fellow, London
Prior to starting Frontline, I enjoyed a stimulating career as a teacher for 35 years, spending the last 13 as principal of an inner-London college. All teachers carry affection for their students, but I’d always had a special regard for those who had developed the resilience to overcome difficulty and disadvantage. Often they had managed this with some professional intervention, in the home and community, and I’d been intrigued and impressed by the social workers that I’d come across in that time. Frontline presented me with the opportunity to work with these young people at the other end of the school day, in their home and family. The accelerated design of the Frontline programme, taking us into “front line” work almost from the very start of the course also really appealed to me as a career changer.
There is some overlap between teaching and social work in the skills of assessment, planning and motivating change in behaviour – for both parents and children. But helping families improve both the awareness and functioning of their relationships meant I had to learn new insights and techniques. Almost all of my teaching career had been spent with late teenagers, so I was also absorbed by the challenges of talking to much younger children to be able to understand their worlds, their anxieties and their hopes for change.
Sometimes the work is frustrating, and the pace of change within families and in the agencies that they are involved with, can be slower than we would wish. However, helping people –of all ages – to strengthen their confidence and ability to make positive change for their children, and supporting them so they are more equipped to deal with tough and enduring adversities, is just as rewarding as anything I’d ever achieved in the classroom.
What might seem “little victories” to us can often have great significance for young people. Once, I persuaded one hard-pressed Mum to shift her cleaning work from one part of London to another – and helped her in the research and negotiation involved in that. This massively reduced the caring responsibilities that her older teenage daughter carried for her pre-school brother because of the saved travelling time. Weeks after we closed that case she texted me to say that was the change that allowed her to get to the art college and programme that she’d always wished for.
Winning charity bids, winning arguments with neglectful landlords, with reluctant relatives, or sometimes with teachers that are beginning to lose patience gives you a lift and reminds you that often children suffer harm in families because the child and the family as a whole has lacked the advocacy required for change to happen. You will help and challenge parents to change so that their children can benefit, but sometimes you also have to create change in the immediate environment that the whole family inhabits.
Good social work is a collective professional endeavour. From the beginning I have appreciated the Frontline emphasis on strong team work and shared thinking about analysis and strategy for family work, which is built into the unit model. In some ways I understand the Fellowship, with its promotion of best practice events and its advocacy of change across the profession, as reflecting unit practice on a national scale. Positive feedback from the families with which we work is a strong motivator for me, but so is the stimulation and encouragement that you can get from professional interaction with peers in the field, in the office, and in the Fellowship. Social work is “social”; you can’t do it in isolation and the Frontline philosophy is built on that.
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Having a child confide in and trust you, and seeing them grow is also something that stays with you and gives you hope for the future.
With other fellows, I’ve been able to think about the scope for change and innovation in practice, policy and research across the sector.
By far the biggest insight Firstline has given me is into my own behaviour and the way that I lead others and support the team.
My time as a social worker has made me more adaptable, confident in my own judgements, calm in a crisis and able to prioritise effectively.
I think every child has the talent to do well and succeed. If I can change their lives in any way so they can do that, then that’s what I want to do.
The most important thing I learnt from the Frontline programme was the importance of building relationships with the families we work with.
Through the Fellowship, I’ve been able to stay in touch with developments in the profession through the leadership series and develop my interviewing and assessment skills through work on the Frontline assessment centre.
Prior to starting Frontline, I enjoyed a stimulating career as a teacher for 35 years. Frontline presented me with the opportunity to work with these young people at the other end of the school day, in their home and family.
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.
Firstline has helped me look at how I manage my staff. It’s helped me identify that whilst I’m good at managing performance I’m not great at interacting with extreme levels of emotions.
I got involved with the Fellowship because I got so much out of my experience with Firstline. I can confidently say I don’t think I would be a service manager today had it not been for the Firstline programme.