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July 2022

It’s a “wonderful profession” – our seventh intake of trainee mental health social workers get started

Our 2022 Cohort have begun their training to become mental health social workers, kicking off their journey with a day of welcome talks and teaching at the first day of our Summer Institute.

This is our seventh cohort to join the programme, meaning that we have taken on 823 trainee social workers since our first cohort in 2016. This year’s participants will join 38 different teams in NHS Trusts and Local Authorities across the country. Some will join Community Mental Health Teams which support service users with a range of diagnoses, while others will join more specialised services such as early intervention in psychosis teams, forensic teams, older adults teams and learning disability teams.

Each year our programme begins with a Summer Institute, which is an intensive learning environment to help the trainees prepare for their on-the-job learning. This year’s Summer Institute is being held virtually for the first three weeks, and will finish with a week’s residential learning – which will be held at Middlesex University (the programme’s academic partner).

Here’s our 2022 Cohort in numbers: 

Welcoming the new participants

During the opening morning, new participants were welcomed by a series of speakers, including staff from Think Ahead and Middlesex University, the chair of our Service User and Carer Reference Group, and a member of our alumni.

   Think Ahead Chief Executive, Ella Joseph, talked about the impact that participants will be able to have on the programme and beyond, saying: “The chance to effect change is one of the most rewarding things you can do… you’ll be able to positively affect the lives of many individuals, families and communities.”

Ella also talked about the range of experiences among the participants joining the programme this year, saying: “There will be lots of different reasons for joining. Some of you will be passionate about social justice, some of you will be interested in the policy and legal aspects of social work, some of you will have direct or indirect lived experience of mental health problems, and there will be lots of other reasons too.

“Part of the richness of this learning environment is that you all bring different things. You come from different places and you have different reasons for being here. We have a lot of confidence in your potential and we’re going to support you to become brilliant mental health social workers.”

Lucille Allain, Head of the Department of Mental Health and Social Work at Middlesex University, described social work as a “wonderful profession”, and said: “You’re going to be in a unique position as a social worker – you’ll be working to transform people’s lives.”

Aisha Salim, an alumnus from Think Ahead’s first cohort in 2016, and Chair of our alumni steering group, talked about her experience of joining the programme and beyond: “Before I joined Think Ahead I had just completed an English Literature degree and I worked for a luxury fashion brand – which is very different to social work! But I didn’t find it fulfilling. I heard about the programme and I thought I would give it a shot, and I’ve never looked back.

“I did my training in Hackney and I’ve stayed working in Hackney ever since. I grew up in East London so it’s been amazing to be able to serve the community that I’ve lived in.”

Oliver Wood, the Chair of Think Ahead’s Service User and Carer Reference Group (SUCRG) introduced SUCRG’s work, and welcomed participants to the programme, saying: “Our group has a meaningful say in all areas of the programme. We’re involved in the recruitment and advertising, right through to the sessions you’ll be taking part in during the Summer Institute, and beyond. Even when you’re not seeing us, we’re working in lots of ways in the background to keep that authenticity going and bring the lived experience perspective to the programme.

“We are really excited to work with you. Congratulations on getting here, I look forward to seeing how you develop.”

Looking ahead to becoming a social worker

We asked our new cohort, “What quality are you most hoping to bring to being a social worker?” – here are some of their responses:

Reflecting on how far the programme has come

As part of the first morning of the Summer Institute, we reflected on how far the programme has come and the achievements of some of our previous participants. For example, some of our alumni have:

Gained additional qualifications and specialisms: Our alumni have progressed their careers in all kinds of ways – for example some have trained as Approved Mental Health Professionals (specialists who carry out assessments under the Mental Health Act), and taken on more senior roles in their teams. One has become a Think Ahead Consultant Social Worker – meaning they will now be the full-time manager of a small group of this year’s trainees, and will be responsible for their personal and professional development. Another alumnus was chosen as Mental Health Social Worker of the year in 2019.

Shared their experiences and expertise to help shape the sector: Members of our Alumni have spoken at NHS and mental health conferences, one gave evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on social work, another sat on the national advisory forum at Social Work England.

Helped to develop the Think Ahead programme: Many of our alumni have been involved in assessment centres where we select participants for our programme each year, others have helped deliver training to participants once they are on the programme. One of our alumni is now a Think Ahead Board member, while others are on an alumni steering group.

Continued their academic work: Some alumni have had papers published in academic journals, including the British Journal of Social Work, while one is now studying for a PhD in social work.

We are really excited that our 2022 Cohort are on their way to becoming mental health social workers – and we look forward to supporting them throughout the programme and beyond. We’ll be sharing their stories and experiences while they’re on the programme, so keep an eye on our website, and on our Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn pages to find out how they’re getting on.