Social work trainee: ‘Why I chose Frontline’

Daniel Johnson tells Community Care about when he first knew he wanted to be a social worker, and why Frontline's fast-track route was for him

trainee social workers at a unit meeting
Frontline participants at a unit meeting. Photo: Frontline

Whatever your feelings about fast-track training schemes, you can’t doubt Daniel Johnson’s commitment to social work.

Daniel first became interested in a social work career after caring for a loved one with mental health issues in his personal life. He volunteered with the Samaritans and went on to work voluntarily for Nightline while enrolled on a Psychology and Sociology degree.

Civil service route

A lack of commitment to social work has been the fearful diagnosis of Frontline candidates by many social work academics. The image frequently conjured is one of an ambitious, high-achieving, middle-class Oxbridge graduate with their eyes fixed firmly on management, or a smoothed path into the civil service.

But for Daniel, it is a route that enables those who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to afford the course to train.

As a young adult, he knew he had skills he wanted to use to help others, but he hadn’t yet worked out how best to channel that aim: “Eventually I knew I wanted to do social work and, by that point, Frontline was really my only route in. I thought about the traditional degree routes but I couldn’t afford to take another two years out and pay for another course,” he says.

“I also knew I wanted to be in the working world. I didn’t go straight from university into Frontline but spent a year working for Shelter, the homelessness charity, and in a children’s home so continuing to learn on the job felt like the right thing to do.”

Life experience

This life experience doesn’t make him unique among his peers. Daniel says from what he’s seen, everyone on the programme has come in with some relevant experience and skills.

“In the unit I work in, there are people who have taught, been counsellors, worked in family law and even done child protection work in Australia.”

He adds working with Nightline, a non-directive service, helped him build the emotional resilience he now believes has set him up for a career in social work. He rose to become the co-ordinator of the Newcastle service, training others to become volunteers.

“It’s not so much about offering advice as listening. You hear some difficult things and so it can be quite uncomfortable to sit with, but it’s helped me learn, rather than jumping straight for a solution, to help people to come up with one themselves.

“Something I’ve had to learn through Frontline was how to move those conversations forward, applying non-directive skills like active listening to my direct work.”

Theory and practice

Although participants do undertake an intense five week classroom-based programme with a number of top-up study days through the year, a lack of robust theoretical underpinning has been another concern about the programme.

Daniel says, while he finds the theory interesting, he “would not have found it quite as interesting without that context—the ability to apply it to a family the unit is working with”.

He reflects on a recent case, where he is helping to  rehabilitate a boy in care who had  the possibility of going back to his mother. It’s been a new challenge to be able to move the boy’s case on for him, and one he’s taken to enthusiastically.

He is excited to be using motivational interviewing and applying what he’s learned to help other similar families who are most in need. But, as he admits himself, he would not have been able to do it without Frontline’s generous bursary.

“The whole process is challenging, the course is intense but I can already feel the benefits of it with the families we’re working with.”

5 Responses to Social work trainee: ‘Why I chose Frontline’

  1. CK February 5, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    One might argue that a greater commitment to social work might have seen Daniel borrow the money to fund his training as so many others have.

    • Chris Duffield February 6, 2016 at 8:13 pm #

      What a stupid comment. What part of “I couldn’t afford to” did you misunderstand?

  2. Tom Hughes February 6, 2016 at 12:27 am #

    Daniel has shown previous commitment so Social Work by working with people with Shelter etc. This is more valuable than being a so called Elite Graduate which creates an image of some hooray Henry Tim Nice but Dim figures who missed out on a grad role at PWC

  3. CK February 9, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    Chris Duffield, who can afford post-graduate education these days? I couldn’t afford my post-graduate SW training. That’s why I borrowed the money from a bank to fund it, which I am still paying back, on top of the money I’m still paying back for my BA. I believe giving the reason ‘I couldn’t afford to’ to be spurious and possibly disingenuous, and this and the article itself do little to allay concerns about the current ‘fast track’ agenda. Yes, let’s highlight the positive contribution of Daniel and his cohort, but let’s also recognise the considerable the sacrifices of other traditional route students that Daniel’s reason calls to mind.

    On another note, you might consider your tone and choice of language when commenting.

  4. Katie Purdy February 18, 2016 at 11:18 pm #

    I don’t think it’s disingenuous to be honest about taking a funded opportunity to train to do something you are passionate about. The article certainly doesn’t read to me as if finance was the reason behind wanting to be a social worker. Frankly i’d like to meet the person who would go into the profession for money! Yes Frontline funds its students but why is this a negative? No one is saying that traditional students don’t make many sacrifices (largely financial), or that this should be forgotten.

    In the spirit of being transparent I am a fellow Frontline participant and can honestly say i have the greatest of respect for all social workers regardless of their route into the profession. Reading about others sacrifices to become social workers only serves to make me more grateful for the opportunity i have been given to train. A large part of this training for me has come directly from experiened social workers with years of dedicated experience. This is something i also feel grateful for having the opportunity to access because of the practice focussed training we have.