A social work career specialising in child protection is not for the faint-hearted; it is an exceptionally challenging field that involves working with children and families in situations of high levels of abuse and neglect. The Frontline programme is a fast-track scheme that started recruiting graduates in 2013 and trains them to undertake children’s social work over the course of two years. You’ll need to meet stringent academic criteria to apply successfully as well as showing a good understanding of what the work will involve, and the right attitude and skills.
Frontline will only hire you with a 2.1 or higher
You need a 2.1 or higher (predicted or achieved) in any degree subject to be eligible for Frontline. You also need a grade C or above in Maths and English GCSE.
The personal qualities required of a Frontline social worker
The competencies Frontline’s recruiters look for cover three key areas: commitment to children and families, working with people, and strong leadership and judgement.
Commitment to children and families
Motivation – commitment to Frontline’s mission and programme and the communities you work with.
Self-awareness – the ability to reflect on situations and the impact of your interactions in order to learn and develop so you can work more effectively.
Resilience – overcoming challenges, responding to feedback constructively and bouncing back when things don’t go as planned, so you can move forward with maturity and confidence and keep your emotions in balance.
Working with people
Communication – drawing on your verbal, non-verbal and written communication skills to establish your credibility and work effectively with children, families, colleagues and others.
Empathy and relationships – an attitude of respect and humility towards others. Humility is important because your colleagues and the families you are working with have knowledge and experience that you do not. You’ll be able to build relationships with a wide range of people and respond with empathy to people’s emotional states while remaining professional.
Leading with sound judgements
Analysis and adaptability – you’ll need to be open-minded, able to adapt to new evidence, and systematic in your approach to understanding complex problems and evaluating hypotheses.
Leadership – inspire and persuade others and bring out the best in them. Use your initiative to overcome challenges and encourage others to contribute.
You’ll also need to show that you can manage your time effectively and demonstrate professionalism in how you present yourself and how you relate to others.
How you can show you’ve got what it takes
Having some relevant experience will help you to demonstrate that you have the required competencies. There are plenty of opportunities to volunteer that will help you develop key skills and you could also consider applying for paid support roles with local authorities.
You could volunteer through a charity such as the NSPCC, Action for Children, Barnardo’s or The Prince’s Trust to support vulnerable young people. You could also look for opportunities through Volunteering Matters (formerly Community Service Volunteers), which runs a programme called Volunteers Supporting Families (also known as Volunteers in Child Protection in some areas). This initiative recruits and trains volunteers to mentor families with complex needs, such as alcohol or substance misuse, where children are at risk of significant harm through neglect.
Another option is volunteering through City Year, which provides opportunities in schools in England.
You can gain experience of working with families by volunteering as a mentor through Home-Start UK or Family Action. You could also support vulnerable people by volunteering at your local refugee centre or homeless shelter, or for organisations that support members of your local community who are in need. Alternatively, volunteering for Childline or Nightline would help you to develop your communication and counselling skills.
Another way to gain experience would be as a paid family support worker or social work assistant employed by a local authority.