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FRONTLINE: A community of social workers

29 September 2015: posted by BigChange


Essie and I recently went to visit the Frontline Summer Institute to sit in on a session about the development of narrative therapy for children. Frontline is one of our project partners, and they work to recruit and train outstanding individuals to be leaders in social work and broader society in the UK.

For the first hour of the session, we listened to the lecturer discuss narrative therapy- how the stories we create and believe about ourselves dictate our reality – and how to help people, especially children, change and rewrite these stories. A completely fascinating subject in its own right; however, there was something else that also stood out to me in this experience.

Fostering a community of social workers 

There was a notable sense of camaraderie amongst the students. At each break, they talked amongst themselves, sharing their own personal narratives, vulnerabilities, and what contributed to their development. We had found ourselves in a room full of people passionate about creating a better future, a better support network for young people up and down the country.

We then watched a video of a session between a social worker and a young child who’d been suffering some anger management issues after the death of his younger sister. Essie and I thought about how challenging being a social worker must be.

After completing the 5-week Summer Institute, Frontline participants go on placements in small team where they are overseen by an experienced social worker. So while they learn from their supervising social worker and also from their experience like traditional social workers, they are also able to learn from each other. They are a part of a community where it is safe to seek help, discuss, share, and challenge their ideas and experiences on cases – something that becomes invaluable to them in their careers.

“When you come together with other students and share ideas, its massively beneficial. It helps us to reflect on and improve our work.” –Reem, Frontline Participant, 2015


Emotional resilience in social work 

While quality training and first hand experience are top priorities at Frontline, so too is the mental health and resilience of the social work students. We spoke to Louise Grant, Academic Director at Frontline.

“It’s not an easy job. There are a number of different challenges that social workers face, in two or three different areas. Firstly, social workers have to cope with bureaucracy, competing demands, and the fact that it’s not a particularly well-liked profession. Then they have to deal with the demands of the job – seeing children that are hurt or abused or neglected, working with these families in poverty, and coping with the emotions makes the job difficult.” 

In Louise’s research on emotional resilience, she found that people who make successful social workers often have certain qualities that make them more able to handle the stresses of this field of work. However, even with these traits, training and support is still required.

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‘Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others’

Louise went on to tell us more about these qualities; “They are certain traits that people have or don’t have. We find that a strong reflective ability, enhanced sympathy, and experiences with adversity are important for social workers to be successful.”

“At Frontline, we look for these traits in the recruitment process, and then enhance their abilities through education and training. Emotional resilience is multifaceted. It’s not a simple as having a magic wand, it’s more a tool box of resources that you build so that you can draw on various tools, skills, and resources throughout your career to help you.”

One of Frontline’s top priorities is raising the standard of social work for children and families. While that does mean recruiting the top candidates for social work positions, it also means ensuring that the workers themselves are cared for. 

“What I’ve noticed over the years is that… It’s sort of like when you’re on an airplane and they say ‘Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others’, You need to look after yourself before you can care for others, engage meaningfully to help make changes in their lives.”

 It’s great to know that as well as recruiting and training top quality social workers, Frontline is also taking the necessary measures to ensure their participants are well taken care of.

Interested in becoming a social worker? Frontline’s 2016 applications are open. Find out more and apply here.