Frontline programme participant, North West

I applied for the Frontline programme in my final year at university. I studied BA Arabic and International Development and was writing my dissertation about participatory approaches to development. This made me think more and more about the participatory element of social work as a profession and I wanted to be skilled at a practice that worked with communities and made a change from the bottom-up. Frontline seemed to be exactly what I wanted to do as it incorporated further study along with working fulltime.

I first heard about the Frontline programme during my first year of university. I saw some literature at a careers’ fair and immediately clicked with the idea. When my final year started I was considering what I wanted to do when I graduated and Frontline kept coming to mind.

I spoke to a previous colleague who had worked as a social worker in various local authorities. I was worried about how I would be able to cope on the programme and wanted a realistic picture of what social work was like in this day and age. My colleague told me the raw, gritty realities of social work, the current climate of the sector and the challenges that I would face. Despite hearing about these difficulties, I still wanted to go into social work and I wanted to challenge myself to overcome these hurdles in order to make that lasting impact on children and families.

I knew children’s social work would be tough, and I knew that families didn’t have a positive view of social workers. Since joining the programme though, I’ve found people are more grateful for the work you do with them. Sometimes, they just appreciate having someone to listen to them.

I’ve worked with young people and children, from assessments for unborn babies, to young children and teenagers. I’ve worked with issues such as domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health and disabilities, forced marriage, neglect and poor home conditions to name a few. My work has been city wide and has involved me working with foster carers and agencies, doctors, police officers, solicitors, schools and adult social workers.

What I enjoy most about the programme is the teaching we receive. I’ve really enjoyed learning about systemic family therapy and motivational interviewing and how to use both in my practice. What I enjoy most about being a social worker – is the growth that I see and experience. I see growth in individuals and in families and I see growth in myself. Constantly learning is really important to me and I feel myself learning something every day, about myself, about systems, about procedures, about communities and families.

The most challenging aspect of the programme so far has been not seeing the changes I wish to see. Change is a really complicated thing and it’s so much more difficult when societal factors are disadvantaging

We receive support from a consultant social worker who is on hand to help guide you through cases and from a practice tutor. The support of the unit is also next to none. I’ve found my unit to be my go-to people to discuss or reflect. We all have a common understanding of what we’re trying to achieve and the difficulties of learning how to be a social worker on the go. It’s been great to bounce ideas off one another and take part in group reflections.

I’m naturally quite a caring person and I find it easy to empathise. I’ve found this really useful when listening to families, making sure they feel heard and letting them decide their own narrative, too. I’m also quite an introvert, and thought the “social” part of social work would be tiring. However, I’ve found that I have my own style when interacting with families and like to take in what they say before saying my bit. I’ve found they appreciate being given the chance to say everything they want to say, especially when they’re going through a process that’s intrusive and difficult.

A really rewarding moment that has really stood out to me happened about a month before qualifying. The day was rife with challenges – a young person was engaging in activities that were harmful, there were disgruntled parents and a number of professionals to give important information to. It was a day of meetings and reports and paperwork and phonecalls. It was the day I noticed that my practice has improved and that as long as I keep trying, and encouraging the children and families I work with, to keep trying, then change can happen. Even if it’s a small change. The moment wasn’t rewarding because I felt I had made a huge difference to someone’s life, or because a significant event happened that made the job feel all worthwhile. It was rewarding because I could see how having positive relationships with the families I work with, makes all the difference in their lives. I realised it’s not only what you do, it’s how you do it.

My most memorable moment so far would probably be when I went to a nursery to visit a 4-year-old. I used a puppet goat called Mr. Nibbles to talk about his worries. He was able to open up about what life was like at home and told me what worried about his parents. It got to the point where he seemed fed up of talking and I could sense how distressful this might be for him. So we played hide and seek with Mr. Nibbles. I spent half an hour or so repeatedly hiding a puppet goat in random (obvious) places around the room. I won’t forget how, despite the difficulties going on at home, despite the worries he had about his family, the child’s face lit up with pure delight whenever he found Mr. Nibbles.

Self-awareness is so important, to learn if this is the right path for you. If you’re successful, you’re in for a really exciting, difficult yet rewarding and fulfilling journey.

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