Frontline – Reflections on Year One

5th October 2015

With the 2014 Cohort having recently completed the first year of the programme now seems an apt time to look back and share some of my reflections as an Academic Tutor. As I do so, three words come to mind in particular – participation, practice and honour.
During the first Summer Institute, it was an absolute pleasure to welcome some fantastic children and young people with care experience to Sunningdale, where they provided some of the best days teaching I have ever been a part of. Everyone in social work agrees that we need to involve individuals with care experience in the education of social workers. Nevertheless, it remains a rare pleasure to be involved in such participation up close and to see the truly significant impact it made on the 2014 Cohort – even if the participants did let themselves down by losing an impromptu game of football with the young people during one of their lunch breaks!
Equally significant was the participation of a number of adults who have been supported by social workers. We heard moving and compelling stories of mental health difficulties, learning disability, domestic violence and substance misuse. Of course, we also talked about the theory and research in relation to these areas but hearing directly from people affected was just incredibly powerful for all of us, participants and staff alike.  Tellingly, over the past few weeks, we have completed final progress reviews with all of the 2014 cohort participants and when asked what they most remember from the Summer Institute, almost without fail they recalled the participation of children, young people and adults who have been supported by social workers.
Following the Summer Institute, participants started their practice learning experiences in Local Authorities across the country. Uniquely in social work education, this aspect of the programme involves a number of assessed observations of practice. As an academic, it is rarely the case that you get to see your students in practice and even when I was a social work manager, I seldom observed the social workers I supervised in practice either. 
As an Academic Tutor for Frontline, I accompanied participants on home visits, listened to recordings of their practice and graded and assessed their practice skills. Thus, as well as reading about their understanding of theories and practice models through their essays and assignments, I actually got to see – and give feedback on – how they put their learning into practice with families.
The final word that comes to mind when I reflect on the first year of the Frontline programme is honour, for it has been an honour to work with such an exceptional group of participants and to watch them develop and grow in confidence and skill across the year. If they impressed me with their vigour, enthusiasm and insight at the Summer Institute (and they did), then they impressed me even more so by the end of the year with their knowledge, reflectivity and practice skills.
But much more importantly, social work is an honourable profession, enabling us the privilege of working with people at moments of crisis, having them share with us their experiences and expertise and being able to support them in utilizing strengths and resources they may not have known they had.
And what has been most rewarding of all is having spent time with participants in group supervisions and in observations of practice and seeing how they recognize this rare honour too and how this recognition informs their compassionate, sensitive and reflective interactions with children and families.
As the 2014 Frontline Cohort move into year two, qualifying as social workers and beginning their social work careers in earnest, I have no doubt they will continue to value and enhance the participation of individuals who have been – and are being – supported by social workers and to develop their practice skills still further, whilst all the time remaining cognisant of the privileged position they now occupy as child and family social workers.