Find out more from Mary Jackson, our new Chief Executive. She shares her vision for Frontline, and why she’s passionate about creating social change for children and families.
The lives of too many children are limited by social or family circumstance. Hundreds of thousands of our youngest and most vulnerable face challenges that will have a lasting impact on their education, health, wellbeing and, ultimately, life chances. This is not their fault. There is no even hand dealt to us all.
The coronavirus pandemic has made these inequalities even more stark. Too many children have been hidden behind closed doors, as families struggle with the pressures of lockdown, furlough, unemployment, isolation, fear and ill health. And it is the families dealt the most difficult hand who are feeling the impact the most. These are the families who need, and deserve, social work support.
It is against this backdrop that I am stepping up from the role of Chief Programmes Officer at Frontline, to become its permanent Chief Executive. It is a role I am proud and excited to take on, following the departure of our former CEO and founder Josh MacAlister, and a two-month recruitment process.
Social work has never been more important or more necessary.
We at Frontline know that great social work has the power to change lives. But we also know that sometimes the social care system itself does not make it easy to deliver great social work to those who need it. Frontline is determined to work with the sector to be part of the solution. I’ve been with the charity for more than six years and, prior to that, I spent eight years working with local authorities. This was both at Hackney Council developing the Reclaim Social Work model, and with Morning Lane Associates, working alongside local authorities to create the culture and systems which enable social workers to thrive. So I am clear about the challenges within the social work sector. I am deeply invested, as we all are at Frontline, in bringing about social change for children and families through excellent social work practice and leadership.
Lessons about leadership.
The path I’ve taken to where I am today is not an obvious one. As a teen growing up in Wellington, New Zealand, I studied photography. But I always had a strong sense of social justice, the same one that drives me today. My mum was – still is – a teacher; my sister, a social worker; and I knew I wanted to do something “good”. Something to help others and my community. Back then, though, I wasn’t always sure how best to channel my energies. I was not what you’d call a model student, and I often pushed boundaries. But still, I was trusted with leadership roles, an early lesson for me on the blurred lines between disruption, hierarchy and responsibility.
This lesson is key to our programmes at Frontline. The leaders I’ve been most inspired by on my journey are those who are innovative, and those who are brave. Learning from them has grown my capacity for risk and for change, both of which are at the heart of social work. Now, in this privileged position of leadership myself, I will continue to push the boundaries of what Frontline can do to bring change to the lives of disadvantaged children and families.
As a long-standing member of the senior leadership team, and interim CEO for the past two months, I know the upcoming challenges and opportunities facing the charity. Most notably, the Care Review could well bring about change to the whole social work sector. At Frontline, we have a track record of adapting and innovating, so whatever the outcome, we will continue to develop new ways to support children and families, and amplify the work of social workers. We are currently developing our third programme, to sit alongside the well-established Frontline and Firstline programmes. And through our philanthropically funded Innovation Lab, we’re backing the ideas and innovations of the Fellowship – our dynamic alumni community. These are the people who can change social work from the inside out, and bring about lasting change for families and children. All of this work is underpinned by our continued commitment to racial diversity, and inclusivity more broadly. We must continue to ensure we are a truly anti-racist and anti-oppressive organisation, both internally and across all of our programmes.
Looking back, looking forward.
Over the last eight years, Frontline has gained a wealth of insight and intelligence on social work and practice systems. We work with over half the local authorities in England, we develop 180 social work managers a year, we bring 450 people into the social work profession each year, and we are close with our influential network of 1,500 fellows working within statutory social work and beyond. We are uniquely positioned to understand the sector. What I’m thinking about now is how we develop and share this knowledge as we gather more information and insight.
In coming months, we will be better able to gauge the longer-term impact of Covid-19 on children and families, as the health threat hopefully recedes. We will also discover how this will translate into demand for social work support. It has been heart-warming how community spirit has come to the fore during this time, with local projects, neighbourly food drops (in my street those who can do regular supermarket runs for those less able) and a shared sense of gratitude towards our key workers. At Frontline, we are hopeful this increased sense of community, and appreciation of essential workers, could also spark interest from those who have not previously considered a career in social work. It is always our goal to raise the profile of the profession, and attract greater diversity to its ranks.
We have achieved a lot in a short time at Frontline, thanks to an uncompromisingly ambitious vision, a culture of freedom and responsibility, and a hard-working, skilled and dedicated team. We keep children and their families at the heart of all we do. I look forward to working alongside my staff and the board, our local authority partners, fellows, participants, funders and others in my new role. I know I have some big shoes to fill. But my experience, commitment and vision can lead Frontline through its next phase, as we work to create lasting social change for children and families.
Hear more from Mary on our Stories of Change podcast here.