Frontline and Gateshead formed a partnership back in 2015, when four managers joined the pilot of the Firstline programme. The following year, Gateshead became one of the first local authorities in the North East to accept participants on the Frontline programme.
In the years since, Gateshead have gone from strength to strength, embedding a systemic practice model across all their teams. Our partnership is a prime example of how investing in and having a close working relationship with Frontline can support a local authority to develop their practice model and do great social work. We are so proud of what we have achieved together.
We caught up with Principal Social Worker, Lesley Holden, to hear her thoughts on Gateshead’s journey with Frontline and the impact it has had on the local authority.
When Gateshead first partnered with Frontline, what challenges were you hoping to address?
Mainly issues recruiting and retaining front line social workers. We were also really keen on developing the leadership skills of our managers through the Firstline programme.
Did you have any hesitations about partnering with Frontline?
We were excited about the focus on leadership and systemic practice. We loved the sound of the Frontline programme itself and the idea of ‘growing our own’ social workers. Any hesitation we had was about whether the Frontline programme might be a bit elitist and whether the participants who joined us would see themselves as having higher status than others.
Fortunately, this hasn’t been the case at all. Our participants have been bright, articulate and socially aware. Our workforce has welcomed them with open arms, along with the energy, skill and commitment they bring.
What strengths do Frontline participants bring to Gateshead?
Number one is undoubtedly amazing creativity in direct work with children and families. They couple this with a confidence in defining what theories, models and approaches they are applying. This has spread across the teams as workers have become established. As one colleague described them: they’re a contagion.
What change have you seen in your children’s services since partnering with Frontline?
We’ve taken on board the combined knowledge of our Frontline participants, consultant social workers and Firstline leaders. We have brought it all together and created a bespoke programme of systemic practice, which we’ve embedded across all our teams.
Some of our language has changed. We talk about scripts, stories, externalising; multi-generational cultural genograms are everywhere.* Our social workers understand the difference between ‘doing with’ families and ‘doing to’ families.
*A genogram is a diagram, similar to a family tree, used to map out interpersonal relationships within a family.
What impact has this had on children and families?
A greater emphasis on relational social work has meant families are more involved in their own plans. They have a greater voice and are more likely to be recognised as the critical people in any plan of intervention. As a result, for the first time, our local authority now has an active group of parents and grandparents that help us shape our work and they tell us exactly what they think.
How can local authorities make the most of their partnership with Frontline?
I would advise them to see the development opportunities available to their supervisors and experienced social workers as something that will bring confidence, courage and creativity to your workforce.
What would you say to any local authority not sure whether they should partner with Frontline?
Come and see how it works here, because we are so proud of what we have built with Frontline.