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Breaking new ground in 2017

Chief Executive Ella Joseph is looking forward to seeing the first qualified social workers trained by Think Ahead enter the mental health workforce.

2016 was a big year for our charity. When Natalie Acton and I founded Think Ahead in 2014 we were driven by our certainty that people’s social circumstances – their relationships, support networks, housing, and more – are vital to their mental wellbeing. In fact, everyone at Think Ahead is motivated by making our contribution to a long-term vision: that one day we’ll see a society where everyone with mental health problems can flourish.

That’s why we designed the Think Ahead programme. We wanted to dramatically raise awareness of mental health social work as a rewarding career choice, and widen the pool of talent entering the profession. We aimed to create a new approach to training: an intensive education in social interventions that are proven to make a difference for individuals, families, and communities. And we hoped to sow the seeds of a movement of people, in mental health services and beyond, who take action to promote the importance of social factors in mental health.

I’m looking forward to the year to come. We’re now offering places to successful applicants for our second intake, who will start the programme in July. And we’ll open applications for our third intake in September.

In the last year we’ve taken some big steps towards those goals. In January 2016 the Times revealed that we’d received 23 applications for every place in our first intake, making Think Ahead one of the UK’s most competitive graduate schemes. 30% of 2016 graduates from the UK’s top universities are aware of Think Ahead, and therefore also of mental health social work as a career option. By December 2016 over 16,000 people had registered an interest in joining our programme.

Last summer our first intake joined the Think Ahead programme, starting our first Summer Institute. After six weeks of residential learning together, participants joined host NHS Trusts and Local Authorities across England to begin their on-the-job training in community mental health teams and start making a tangible difference to people’s lives.

In December two participants spoke to BBC Radio 4 about the work they have been doing – including advocating for someone just discharged from a mental health ward who is struggling financially, supporting an older person with dementia, and working with the police to help a teenager to get the care and support they need.

As we’ve seen with our first set of brilliant recruits, we can be confident of attracting talented people into the profession.

I’m looking forward to the year to come. We’re now offering places to successful applicants for our second intake, who will start the programme in July. And we’ll open applications for our third intake in September. As we’ve seen with our first set of brilliant recruits, we can be confident of attracting talented people into the profession.  We rigorously test applicants for the attributes found in great social workers, not least self-awareness, adaptability, relationship-building, and leadership. I never fail to be impressed by our participants’ commitment to the profession and ability to resolve challenging real-life situations.

But I’m most excited about the new ground we will break in 2017: in September, our first cohort will complete their first year of the programme and become qualified social workers. Having logged more time on-the-job than on traditional training routes, and studied a curriculum bringing together best practice from around the world, they will be ready to take on qualified roles in mental health services. They will continue their journey on the second year of the programme, completing their master’s degree and leadership training.

By the end of 2017 we’ll be starting to bring our third wave of recruits on board. Between our participants, the experienced professionals who support their training, our academic partners, and the service users who’ve helped shape the programme, close to 500 people will have a direct role in Think Ahead’s drive to bring a new social focus to empowering people living with mental health problems. Tens of thousands more will hear our message, on university campuses and across all walks of life.

The Think Ahead team are energised by that prospect, and we’re looking forward to every new connection we will make this year.

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