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Impact report 2023

Frontline is England’s largest social work charity. Everything we do aims to make life better for children who need a social worker, to help keep them safe from harm and to give them every possible chance to reach their full potential.

Social workers are so important because family is very important, in life and in society. When the family system breaks down it’s really important for that to be repaired – social workers are there to support in this repair or they make sure children get the family system and the help that they need.


Care-experienced young person

As our tenth anniversary year comes to a close, we celebrate all the achievements that Frontline and our social workers have made over the past decade. Our impact report captures how we have made and continue to make a difference for children and families across England.

I believe the work this charity is doing,
and has done over the last 10 years, is absolutely essential. Frontline has, alongside all those it works with and all its social workers, achieved so much over the past decade. But we know there is still so much more to be done.

Why? Because there are over 700,000 children who need help each year. Frontline remains as determined to make change as when it was first founded, working towards a society where no child’s life chances are limited by their social or family circumstance. I am excited to be with the charity on the next phase of its journey, as it continues to create social change for children by developing excellent social work practice, leadership and innovation.

Lord Tony Hall

Frontline’s Chair of Trustees

The demand for social worker support is on the rise and more children are being taken into care. More families are grappling with poverty, having to choose between food or heating and trying to make ends meet. Many are struggling with mental health challenges and addiction. Domestic violence has surged since the start of the pandemic, significantly impacting children.

Many children endure experiences they shouldn’t: from feeling cold and hungry to being unable to concentrate at school or facing abuse, trauma, and neglect. Some children lack the love, care and protection necessary to flourish and grow into the best version of themselves. This not only harms them in the present but can also inflict long-term damage too.

We know social work can change this. We empower social workers with the training, leadership skills and support needed to do their best work and give children and families the best possible chance in life. We support social workers to be bold and do things differently. This way we can transform the system in the long run. This is how we ensure social workers thrive and provide the support that children and families rightfully deserve.

Our theory of change

Frontline’s theory of change shows how we are working to address this situation and to achieve our vision of a society where no child’s life chances are limited by their social or family circumstance. It outlines how our work contributes to delivering social change for children and their families.

Firstly, our theory of change sets out the challenges that underpin our mission and vision:

  • Children continue to be affected by their parents’ challenges and don’t get the opportunities they deserve.
  • This is in part hindered by variable quality of practice, services, and leadership in the social work sector.

To tackle these challenges, our work focuses on three pillars:

  • Practice
  • Leadership
  • Innovation

Each of these pillars has three outcomes related to:

  • Learning objectives
  • Improved social work practice
  • Changing the social work system

What we do


Training new social workers

Practice network for alumni


Leadership development for existing social workers

Coaching and mentoring


Funding social workers’ innovative ideas

Advocacy and organising hubs

What we achieve


Learning outcomes

Social workers understand high quality practice and supervision

Improved social work practice

We build the workforce and embed high quality social work practice

Changing the social work system

Systemic, high quality, relationship-based social work practice


Learning outcomes

Leadership skills developed across the workforce

Improved social work practice

Leadership skills are used to improve social work practice

Changing the social work system

Sector leaders create an environment for social workers to thrive


Learning outcomes

Social workers think critically, are empowered to innovate and pilot ideas

Improved social work practice

Social workers advocate and effect change in the sector

Changing the social work system

Social workers’ innovations lead to systemic sector change

Achieving these outcomes will help lead to the systemic social change for children and families that we strive for, where social workers can do and be their very best, where all children can grow up in a safe and stable home and achieve their full potential and where the cycle of family trauma is broken.


Child protection social work is a tough job. It demands a complex set of skills that often go unnoticed, as well as the resilience needed to support thousands of children and families facing difficult challenges.

I like that I can talk to you about my friends and what is happening at home and you listen.


7 years old

It’s also one of the most rewarding roles for the very same reasons. Few careers offer the same opportunity to have a profound impact on children who need it most. As we struggle with the aftermath of Covid-19 and one of the toughest economic climates in recent memory, we urgently need more social workers who place a high value on on the experience of children and families and building strong relationships with them.

Billy, Sarah and baby Tara’s story

Billy and Sarah each had a painful childhood, experiencing abuse and neglect which, for Sarah, resulted in being removed from the care of her parents. The trauma this caused played out in their own lives, leading to mental health struggles, substance misuse and in Billy’s case, violence. Because of this, they were well known to children’s services.

So, when they fell pregnant, there were concerns about whether they would be able to give their new baby the care she needed, that she deserved. Their unborn baby was placed on a child protection plan and Felicity, a Frontline programme participant, began working with them. Billy and Sarah were very mistrustful of Felicity because of how they felt they’d been treated by social workers in the past.

The last time we had a social worker it gave us anxiety and PTSD because they used to say stuff and then do other stuff. When you get slapped in the face like that you don’t trust social workers. You feel like you need to watch what you say – people shouldn’t be scared to be honest but that’s what it felt like.

These challenges are hard. But they can be overcome, and with Felicity’s support Billy and Sarah made some amazing changes.

Read Billy and Sarah’s story

Thanks to the invaluable support and feedback from our local authority partners nationwide, we’ve dedicated a decade to perfecting the training and development we give social workers on the Frontline programme. This programme, funded by the Department for Education, is designed to equip individuals with a distinct combination of skills and knowledge to transform them into social workers who can bring about real change.

The Frontline programme combines theoretical knowledge with practical on-the-job learning in local authorities. Our approach emphasises allocating more direct time with families, empowering social workers to maximise their impact, all while remaining focused on creating meaningful change for children.

Generally social workers haven’t helped in the past, but you’ve been one of the best. You helped me get back on track and I can come to you about things.


13 years old


new social workers have qualified through the Frontline programme


children have been supported by social workers while on our programmes and many more children since they’ve completed them


of local authority partners feel that the Frontline programme teaches high quality social work practice


of Frontline programme participants are promoted within four years of completing the programme

Listening to and learning from individuals who have lived experience is at the core of our approach. Young people and adults who have received support from a social worker help shape our programme’s curriculum and assist with our teaching. All our programme participants must actively seek feedback from the families they work with, placing children and families at the heart of their development and enhancing their practice as social workers.

I think social workers are so important. I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without one. I feel proud to be able to use my care experience to help other young people to thrive and to give them every opportunity that they deserve.


Care-experienced young person

The Frontline programme is just the first step in our participants’ journey. Through the Frontline Fellowship, our community of all social workers who complete one of our programmes, we provide training and support to continue to develop their growing knowledge, practice and career opportunities. Our support spans from expert training in social work to peer-to-peer knowledge sharing and a wide range of events. These opportunities enable our fellows to enhance their social work practice, leadership and innovation skills.


of fellows who completed the Frontline programme between 2014 and 2020 are currently working in social work


of Frontline programme participants say the Frontline programme is effective in preparing them to work as a social worker with children and families


social workers have received coaching from Frontline over the last 10 years


Having the right skills and training isn’t always enough to be able to achieve the best results or make the biggest difference. Social workers need a positive working culture – one built on trust, support and shared values. This culture empowers them to apply their training effectively and make the best decisions for children and families. Crucially, they must also be supported to hold the professional authority needed to make life-changing decisions that protect children while remaining flexible and curious in the face of ever-changing circumstances.

Leaders are responsible for setting this culture. Skilled leaders can eliminate barriers and create an environment in which social work professionals can make decisions confidently and stand by them without fear of blame or reprisal. A culture where social workers feel valued, trusted and where they can truly thrive.

Our national Pathways programme, funded by the Department for Education, develops the practice leadership skills of social workers. It is aimed not only at developing individual leadership skills and focusing on how these can be applied directly to practice, but also positively impacting participants’ teams, wider local authority and social work system.

Meet Claire

“How do we keep children at the centre?…..the programme helped me think about that in a safe space and in time that allows you to reflect and learn, revisit some of that reflection and learning as well, and take that back.”

Meet Rochelle

“My understanding of what a manager and a leader is has changed, and it also challenged me to think about what kind of leader I want to be. It’s reframed my intentions for my role: I want to inspire, motivate and empower my team to come up with ideas and push them forward, and to be a facilitator rather than an instructor.”

Read Rochelle's story


social work leaders have started the Pathways programme to date


of the Pathways programme participants report that the programme improved their ability to lead change to a great or moderate extent


of the Pathways programme participants are satisfied with the overall programme


feel the programme helped them plan their career development to a moderate or great extent

Leadership in social work has long been overlooked, resulting in limited investment and development. This has hindered social workers from recognising their leadership potential and the importance of leadership in their roles. The consequence is a system burdened by excessive regulation and bureaucracy that hampers social workers’ effectiveness and fails to equip them with the skills needed to overcome these challenges.

We believe Frontline, along with our local authority partners, can help change this. We know leadership is one of the most important vehicles to improve and transform the social work system. Over the past decade, through all of our programmes – the Frontline programme, then the Firstline and the Headline programmes and now the Pathways programme – we have worked to ensure current and future leaders have the opportunity to learn and develop vital leadership skills specific to social work.

Social workers rarely recognise the leadership power they have. Our job is to capture that power to enhance and amplify it. Our expertly designed Pathways programme curriculum has been tailored specifically to the social work sector in a way that is unique. We focus on leadership coaching, 360-degree feedback, and much more, cultivating social workers who will transform the sector.

Immediately after the first session I felt relaxed. The coaching took me into a good space which gave me confidence to apply for an assistant director role

Pathways programme participant

In 2022, we decided to do more to nurture the leadership of early-career social workers who are not yet on a management path. This led us to launch the Step Forward programme in 2023 – a fully funded leadership development opportunity for our fellows. The programme is particularly aimed at those facing barriers to progression and those needing additional support. These include individuals from minoritised communities facing systemic barriers to progression and underrepresented groups. The programme is funded by the Garfield Weston Foundation and we are grateful for their support.


of line managers of participants on the Pathways programme are satisfied or very satisfied with the quality of the Pathways programme


of line managers of participants on the Pathways programme report that the programme contributed to a positive change in their direct report’s leadership practice to a moderate or great extent


of Step Forward programme participants feel the programme content was good or very good


of Step Forward programme participants feel that the programme has helped them take action and implement a solution to enact change

The Step Forward programme curriculum has been designed to address these unique challenges. It offers 70 social workers annually a platform to explore overcoming barriers and equips them with practical tools to identify and pursue their next career steps.

At Frontline, we are intentional about our teaching approach, and leadership is woven into the fabric of all our programmes. We aim to empower social workers to influence and improve the system, encouraging them to speak out when they see opportunities for positive change.

We are committed to continually emphasising and teaching social workers the importance of leadership in their work . Whether it is through personal leadership, bringing colleagues and families together or leading hierarchically within organisations, leadership is a cornerstone of our work.

Step Forward has helped me to focus on how I can implement small changes and show leadership day to day. It has also helped me think about how important my values are and not to sacrifice these as I progress in my career.

Step Forward programme participant


Great leaders foster innovation and encourage fresh ways of doing things that can improve processes. While innovation is often linked with technology and products, we believe it is crucial for social workers to encourage change to achieve the best outcomes for children and families.

We also believe that social workers are uniquely placed to identify ways to overcome the daily challenges they encounter, which can hinder their ability to provide the best support.

However, they often lack the time, confidence and innovation expertise to turn their insights into practical solutions.

The social work sector is facing great pressure and the natural instinct is not always to dedicate time to consider how things could be done differently. This can perpetuate existing barriers and prevent improvement.

This is why we introduced our Innovation programme to give social workers the time, expertise, guidance and skills to transform their ideas into tangible solutions to improve outcomes for children and young people. Here are three initiatives from our programme already making a real impact.


Thrive is an app for social workers designed to help them to improve their emotional wellbeing and manage their workloads, crucially, created and designed by a social worker who suffered burnout herself. Thrive has completed technical development of the app and are currently in active discussions with several local authorities to commence delivery of full pilot programmes this year.

About Thrive


Crescendo is a model of implementing ‘small changes’ within local authorities to reduce bureaucracy and increase time spent and social work services provided to children and families. Following the success of Crescendo’s Small Changes programme with three local authorities they are expanding and extending their work with one local authority partner and planning to work with others. Crescendo estimates they have helped the local authorities they have worked with to reach an additional 1,096 children and young people through their work alone.

Crescendo’s impact report

Caring Nutrition

Caring Nutrition provides interactive nutrition and cooking workshops for foster carers to improve the health outcomes of looked-after children. A successful pilot took place in 2022/23 in the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham working alongside their nutrition and mental health practitioners. 31 children and 31 foster carers participated in a variety of ways including focus groups, workshops and learning activities.

In total, 46 social workers have learned how to develop innovations over the last three years, with nine innovations receiving funding to be piloted in various locations across the country. Create Your Village and Why Care are two of the new initiatives that will be piloted in the coming year.

Create Your Village

Why Care

Changing perceptions

We want more people to hear about the creative, forward-thinking aspect of social work and to showcase the profession’s potential for leading positive change in our communities.

Sadly, this is not the case at the moment. The media often portrays social workers in a limited light, and most people are unaware of the full scope of their work. However, our social workers are gradually reshaping the way they and the profession is seen, one family at a time.

We’re lucky enough to hear these stories every day. They’re not always easy to hear – social workers can have really tough days. But they also show the power of human connection, of people working together to help others and get them through dark times, of showing children and young people how much they mean and why they need to keep going.

And the positive news is that our research has shown that people want a better understanding of what social work really is, more appreciation for the work of social workers and more stories shared of hope and of helping children reach their potential.

It is not often that families take the time to acknowledge the remarkable efforts of social workers, and I believe it is imperative to share this feedback with you


Uncle of a young person being supported by Frontline programme participant Denise

Read Robert’s letter

We want more people to hear these stories. Stories that show the power of human connection.

That’s why, over the past 10 years, we’ve proactively addressed persistent social work myths. These myths not only impact social worker morale but also public trust and deter people from considering training to be a social worker.

Our media work, events, campaigns and recruitment activities have showcased the positive power social workers can have on children and families. By giving social workers a platform to share their stories, we aim to dispel misconceptions about their work and encourage more people to consider social work as a career.

Diversity and inclusion is at the heart of what we do. Through our campaigns we aim to bring more men, people from racialised minority backgrounds and others who are underrepresented in social work into the profession to reflect the diversity of the families they support.


people were attracted by Frontline to apply for a career as a social worker in 2023


of the 2023 cohort had not considered a career in social work before the Frontline programme


of Frontline programme participants are career changers, on average

1.3 million

video views were made of our ‘This is the work’ campaign video to change perceptions of social work

1.5 million

people were reached by our 2023 Frontline programme recruitment campaign through social media alone

We also want to celebrate the difference social workers make and the amazing achievements of young people who need the support of a social worker, which is why in 2023 we launched our inaugural Frontline Awards.

Having a social worker means that you have that person you can lean on, someone you can trust and someone you can speak to – someone that is there for you


Care-experienced young person

Looking forward

Helping to keep children free from harm and supporting them to achieve their full potential is at the heart of everything we do at Frontline.

Since Frontline was founded 10 years ago, we have launched and grown programmes to develop excellent social work practice, leadership and innovation with a consistent focus on diversity and inclusion. The scale of change needed to overcome the injustices faced by children who need the support of social workers also requires that we grow a movement of leaders working to give every child a safe and stable home.

Frontline is now England’s largest social work charity. We have an ambitious plan that will see us increase our efforts to continually improve our programmes and increase our impact. In doing this we will hone our expertise in developing excellent social work practice, leadership and innovation, as well as grow a movement of over 5,000+ impactful fellows by 2025. This will contribute to a tipping point of improvement inside the social work profession. We will also look for opportunities to diversify in ways that support this work.

Frontline’s work is possible thanks to partnerships with children’s services across England, support from the Department for Education, cross-party backing and funding from the amazing individuals, companies, trusts and foundations who have supported us over the last ten years. Thank you to all those who have helped us on our journey so far.

We have achieved a great deal in our first 10 years, but we know there is much more still to do. To grow our impact and bring about social change for children who need a safe and stable home, we need to develop more partnerships, more backing and more supporters. We look forward to working with you over the next 10 years and beyond so we can bring about the social change that children and families need.