Epigram Features in conversation with Frontline, the grad scheme helping vulnerable children

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By Catherine Burn, 3rd Year Psychology

Frontline is a social work charity committed to transforming the lives of vulnerable children. Over half a million children in England do not have a safe or stable home, which can affect their chances of achieving at school or getting a job and even increase the likelihood of offending. As Frontline Brand Manager, I talked to Lizzie who is currently in her first year of Frontline’s Leadership Development Programme in Birmingham.

Her career at Frontline began when she was the Brand Manager for Exeter University in her second year. I catch up with Lizzie after a busy day of family visits, and ask about why she applied for the programme after finishing her Brand Manager position:‘You get a sense of Frontline’s ethos about protecting vulnerable children. This really stuck with me so that when I was applying for jobs Frontline seemed like the best option. I could make a difference and be challenged at the same time.’

The first year of the Frontline Leadership Development Programme is centred around building hands-on experience, with over 206 days in practice visiting families and working in groups with a consultant social worker. Lizzie reflects on what her typical working day looks like: ‘A typical day for me can really vary. Some days I can be office based and doing paperwork. When people say “paperwork” it’s hard to imagine what they mean, usually this involves me typing up case notes or recordings and having unit meetings with my consultant social worker. In these meetings you discuss your cases and come up with actions that can be carried out to help the family - we call this hypothesising. Other than that, quite a lot of the time I’m out and about visiting families or going to schools.’

'quite a lot of the time I’m out and about visiting families or going to schools.'

‘The case I’m working on at the moment has a lot of involvement with a probation officer so quite often I’ll go down to their offices and visit them. No day looks the same. This is one of the great things about it! Being out and about makes it a lot more fast paced and dynamic. When you’re doing tasks in the office it’s more interesting because you know the purpose behind it and you can relate it to what you did previously in the day.’ Visiting families is done with a consultant social worker who guides the meeting. Eventually, when trainees become more confident they are able to lead the meetings and get a feel for their own sense of style: ‘It’s hard to pick one moment which has been the most enjoyable because the nature of the job means that it is a massive emotional rollercoaster, but one thing that has been great for me is working with the consultant social worker. Hearing positive comments from her and feedback has made my confidence grow massively. I feel empowered with the knowledge that I can be in control of the situation.’

Lizzie shares a story of a particularly memorable family visit: ‘One time my task was to pick up a parcel from a foodbank and bring it to a family. I was slightly dubious about the visit because the mum had been previously resistant to having students involved so I was expecting her to be negative towards me when I knocked on the door. Completely to my surprise, she invited me in to play a board game and the children were excited too. It was essentially a game or truth or dare. When it was my go for a dare, I had to howl like a werewolf and waltz around the room humming a tune. It’s crazy to think that one moment you might be attending a court room and the next minute you’re dancing round a stranger’s living room! This is what I love about the job: no two days are the same, and you should always expect the unexpected.’

'It’s crazy to think that one moment you might be attending a court room and the next minute you’re dancing round a stranger’s living room!'

This is all sounds very exciting, but the job is not without its difficulties. Lizzie shares some of her worries before starting the programme and how she’s working to overcome them: ‘One of the things I was worried about was working with people who are displaying harmful behaviours and specifically I was concerned about people who had harmful sexual behaviour or were perpetrating domestic violence. This has been a massive learning curve for me. When I met the father in a domestic violence case for the first time, I had a lot of emotions towards him and realised that I had all of these inherent biases. I blame some of these for the way these cases are often portrayed through the media. Before entering the situation, I had already made up my mind that the couple should not stay together. However, I was really challenged. Through working with the family and listening to their unique situation I realised that people deserve a second chance when they are making positive changes in their life and given the right support to do so.’

'listening to their unique situation I realised that people deserve a second chance when they are making positive changes in their life'

‘Allowing them to be a blank slate before you is really important, because when you read a person’s case history – which can often date back years and years – it is difficult to not form stereotypes before you meet them. This was a big learning curve for me, because quite often the hypotheses you make before visiting a family can be wrong. The challenge comes when you have to be able to adapt and realise that it’s okay to be wrong – we’re only training.’

Featured Image: Unsplash / Piron Guillaume


The deadline for applications for the Leadership Development Programme is December 16th. You can find more information about Frontline on their website here.

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Niamh Rowe

Deputy Features Online Editor 3nd year English and Philosophy

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