Children’s social work is becoming an increasingly pressing issue. In fact, there is a record number of children in care in the UK according to figures published in March 2017, and at least half a million children in England don’t have a safe or stable home. In 2013, Frontline was established by Josh McAlister, an alumnus of the University of Edinburgh. Frontline is a charity devoted to dealing with the difficulties we are facing within the social work system.
Frontline recruits and trains high-achieving graduates in order for them to become life-changing child protection workers. Offering a two-year leadership development programme, Frontline’s scheme includes fully-funded, in-practice training, a postgraduate diploma, and eventually a masters degree in social-work. Although the programme’s popularity and application numbers have increased year after year since its founding, one issue that Frontline is trying to tackle is the perception of social work as a gendered profession.
Frontline are looking to dispel various stigmas and stereotypes that surround a career in social work. By recruiting people from a variety of genders and backgrounds, Frontline hopes to produce a field of professionals that is representative of the society we live in. In doing so this will assist Frontline in their mission to transform the lives of vulnerable children.
Having the chance to interview Nick Roberts, another alumnus of the University of Edinburgh who is currently part of the 2016 cohort of the Frontline programme in Sunderland, revealed how the programme is both challenging and diverse. He stated that every day is different and followed on by giving us an example of one of his home visits that led to him having to unexpectedly take a mother and child from their home, due to the safety risks they faced in their current environment. Inspired to join the programme after being a brand manager at the University of Edinburgh and volunteering at a number of different third-sector organisations, he wanted to be involved in a life-changing career.
One of his main talking points was discussing the very small percentage of male colleagues he had in his cohort, and what he felt could be done to improve these statistics. He believed that more could be done earlier on in a student’s career at school or university in order to alter their perceptions of social work. This, he noted, could be achieved through having more male brand ambassadors at universities and also through more gender-neutral marketing materials.
Speaking to Josh McAlister, founder of Frontline, also provided valuable insight into the importance of organisations such as Frontline and The Student was able to ask him some questions:
Can you tell us a bit about your background here at Edinburgh?
I studied a degree in politics and social policy and was honoured to be student president between 2007 and 2008.
What was it that inspired you to create Frontline?
After graduating from the University of Edinburgh, I joined Teach First where I had the chance to teach at a secondary school in Manchester. Here I worked first-hand with children who had social-workers involved in their home lives and I was able to see the incredible difference social workers could make to a young person that needed some help and support. It was never a career myself or my friends had considered, but I also saw that improvements could be made within the profession. Considering how important social work is, something needed to be done.
When you founded Frontline, I understand that some people were critical of the ‘fast-track’ nature of the programme. How did you deal with this? Have you found that the response has changed now Frontline is clearly established?
There was an independent evaluation published in 2016 that found that despite being a fast-track scheme, the skills that Frontline graduates possessed were of a higher quality than many other social workers who qualified through other roots, data which came from a Cardiff University study. This shows that it is not down to the duration of time spent training, but how that time is spent. I understand that sometimes new initiatives disrupt tradition and so some scepticism can be expected. A total of 1,000 people will have been recruited by Frontline after this year and now people can see that these are great and talented professionals who are ready to join the great work that social workers already do.
Why do you think that social work is predominantly female? How can we change this?
There are some old fashioned stereotypes that are often applied to professions associated with care roles and these stereotypes need to be challenged. When people hear about what social work actually involves – it is challenging and rewarding – then is attractive to both men and women in equal measures. We want the next cohort of successful applicants to Frontline not only to be the biggest ever, but also the most diverse ever in terms of BAME, men, women and graduates from different subject backgrounds too.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
What I love doing is disrupting things and making change happen. I know that’s where I get my energy and satisfaction from – as long as I’m doing that I’ll be happy.
Finally, what is your favourite memory from your time as a student at the University of Edinburgh?
It was great to hang out in Edinburgh during the festival season and being able to sneak into Teviot to enjoy the shows. It’s incredible to see the city when it’s doubled in population.
While applications for Frontline’s leadership development programme, aimed at graduates and career changers, are currently closed, Frontline offers both student and graduate internships as well as on-campus roles as brand managers throughout the academic year.
For information on Frontline’s student and graduate opportunities, visit their website: https://thefrontline.org.uk/home/our-programmes/opportunities/.