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.”
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.”