Josh MacAlister, Chief Executive: Frontline – Three years on

6th January 2016

For Frontline, 2016 marks three years since we were established. Much has happened in that time, yet with the focus on new resolutions and new beginnings, it can be easy for all the years to roll together. So I wanted to take this opportunity to take a step back and reflect on both the year that has passed as well as the year ahead.
2015 saw our inaugural cohort qualify as social workers and enter their second year on the programme. Seeing them become newly qualified social workers is a source of great accomplishment for all those involved in delivering the programme. Frontline participants rely on extensive support from their peers, existing social workers, Consultant Social Workers, the academic team and Specialists.  Our first cohort are a testament to the quality of support provided by this network. Seeing the work they are able to do with families is a great reminder of the transformational power of social work.
This year will see our continued expansion with 180 participants starting the programme in the summer. As we look to the future, further boosting the image of social work as a prestigious career choice and shifting attitudes will become more important than ever. A greater number of talented people leaving university need to apply their talents to public service if we are going to have a society that is more equal, mobile, and fair. Together with partners like Teach First we need to turn around the assumption in the graduate world that you go to the Big Four or financial services as a first career move. The new norm needs to be that the best graduates pick public service careers like social work.
Our growth also means that we will be working in our first new region. Social work teams across the North East of England have embraced Frontline and we are working with eight local authorities in the region to place 40 participants who will start this summer.  Working with a wide network of local authorities means that we get to see much of the amazing practice and innovation that is already taking place in the social work system.  Frontline is proud to contribute to this focus on quality social work practice that can transform life chances for the most vulnerable children and families. There will be many social work services using 2016 to develop models of practice that shift social work further away from a compliance and process driven culture.  2016 will also be a big year for important initiatives like Pause and new policies like the national assessment and accreditation of practitioners.
Frontline has had the opportunity to prototype Firstline, a new development programme for those directly managing social work practice. The Firstline team has spent much of 2015 researching, designing and testing new ways of supporting good managers to become great. The first trial of this programme will be complete in spring but the feedback from those on the programme and local authorities has already been very encouraging.  This tier of team managers, advanced practitioners and consultant social workers play an important role in helping social workers bring about change in families, and it is a real privilege for us to be working with this remarkable group of professionals.
Another first for us this year will be the launch of our Alumni Network. Participants completing the two-year programme will join the network and we will offer support to them to continue working to address social disadvantage with a focus on social work. Those who have completed the Frontline programme will have had a shared experience in social work and will be able to use their skills to address social disadvantage by improving social work practice, influencing policy and perhaps even supporting the creation of new initiatives that can help improve life outcomes for the most vulnerable children. Over time this network will connect all those who have completed the programme and through collective action it has the potential to be a powerful way of improving social work and addressing social disadvantage in England. The coming months will be an opportunity to consult on the plans and design the network for the launch in September.
This year will be the first year that we will be running all stages of the programme at once. With applications opening for the 2017 cohort in September, the 2016 cohort starting their journey in July, support for year two participants in the 2015 cohort and the launch of the alumni network for our inaugural cohort, we will certainly have our work cut out. It is hugely rewarding to see all the efforts and commitment of our participants, staff, partner local authorities, funders and supporters coming together, as Frontline becomes fully operational.