A key role for us in the delivery of teaching on the Frontline programme is to coordinate contributions from our amazing team of experts by experience. This is a role we are passionate about and are proud to do. The closing week of the Summer Institute has provided yet another memorable opportunity for participants to learn from the lived experiences and wisdom of a diverse group of people who have encountered social work.
The week started with Jenny spending time with returners from the 2016 Cohort, sharing how far they have come in both their confidence and expert knowledge of social work. It was a joy to be able to wave them goodbye and wish them the best of luck for their Assessed and Supported Year in Employment. Jenny felt so proud that their empathy, compassion and humanity are out there shining within frontline practice.
For the 2017 Cohort, their week started with a day focussed on working with parents who have a learning disability. We were joined by Eveline from Advocacy in Greenwich, who gave a thought-provoking and powerful lecture on the importance of valuing people. She raised awareness of the importance of advocacy services for parents who have a learning disability and how they can help to achieve good social work practice.
On Tuesday, the Summer Institute was introduced to the one and only Liam ‘Kritikal’ Powers (check him out on Soundcloud and Twitter). Liam is a delightful character who is immensely talented both at his music and at expressing himself. Experiencing poorly mental health as an adult can still carry enormous negative stigma. A stigma which, however hard you try to challenge it, can still haunt your recovery and isolate your spirit into a place of self-blame, shame and guilt. Liam has built a life with his own family where he is making memories for his son that are totally different to the sad memories his own childhood holds. He spoke about some of his painful experiences growing up and the impact of his father’s alcohol dependency, in a way that kept the audience captivated. There were laughter, tears and admiration by the bucket loads from both Frontline participants and staff, with three standing ovations and cheers so loud that they could have been heard a mile away!
On Wednesday, we were joined by sixteen children and young people from Central Bedfordshire’s Children in Care Council (CiCC). They talked to us about the work they do to ensure that children and young people’s voices are heard and can influence social work practice and policy. In their presentation, they shared some of their talents, with Emily reading a poem about her experiences and Tash playing guitar and singing a song she had written about her personal advisor. The participants then spent the day exploring how to communicate with children through play, in workshops which were designed and delivered by the young people. We were incredibly impressed with the confidence, inspiration and insight shared by the CiCC, which has had a huge influence on our learning this week.
The penultimate day of the Summer Institute became an explosion of energy as the Big House Theatre Company burst into the morning break to perform some evocative scenes from one of their plays – Knife Edge. All of the actors have experienced either leaving care or youth justice services and use drama as a medium to convey stories and messages from their lived experiences of childhood and adolescence. As the day unfolded, the actors spent time with groups of participants giving them an opportunity to practise their skills in communicating with adolescents. In Jo’s group, the participants and actors entered into bold and honest conversation, exploring how social workers can find common ground in relation to their differing identities with young people, focussing on race, gender, age, class and culture. This provided a rich platform of social pedagogy, leaving us all with feelings of hope and confidence for the future in social work with children and young people.