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August 2020

“You’re coming into working in mental health at an incredibly exciting, and also challenging, time.” – Summer Institute 2020 comes to an end

The Summer Institute for our 2020 Cohort finished at the end of last week – following three weeks of teaching to introduce our trainees to mental health social work and social interventions, and to prepare them for joining frontline services.

This group of just over 100 participants are the fifth cohort to join the Think Ahead programme to train to be mental health social workers, and they will be working in 24 NHS Trusts and Local Authorities across England. They will begin their on-the-job learning in groups of 4-6 later this month, and will regularly join back together as a cohort for teaching days throughout the two-year programme.

The Summer Institute took place online for the first time this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, and was delivered in partnership with Middlesex University – who are the academic partner for the Think Ahead programme. Teaching included a mixture of lectures, seminars, Q&As and self-guided study sessions, and was delivered by academic staff, experts by experience, and alumni and participants from Think Ahead’s previous cohorts. Participants also heard from a number of leading voices from across the mental health and social work sectors, who delivered talks and ran Q&As.

Hearing from sector leaders

Sir Norman Lamb, former MP and Minister of State for Care, now Chair of South London and Maudsley NHS Trust  

Sir Norman spoke about his role in setting up Think Ahead when he was Minister of State for Care, and the importance of mental health social workers, saying: “You have chosen to work in a field which is of the utmost importance to very many vulnerable people in our country. You have the chance to make a difference to people’s lives.”

Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of Centre for Mental Health:  

Sarah, who initially trained as a social worker and has worked in mental health for 30 years, said: “I am very proud to be a social worker. It has absolutely preserved my integrity and my absolute commitment to equality and anti-discriminatory practice. I don’t think any other training would have left me with that level of insight.”

She reminded participants about the impact they can have in their career: “As social workers I see us as activists within the system […] it’s about advocating, about being a leader and being brave.”

Professor Dame Carol Black, Chair of Think Ahead’s Board of Trustees, and advisor to the Government on health, work and wellbeing

Dame Carol talked about Think Ahead’s journey so far, and her own background – including how a diploma in medical social work early in her career had helped to shape her outlook towards mental health. She explained that although much has changed since then, some of the principles are the same: “What has stayed the same is the focus on the person you’re working with. It taught me a huge amount about the importance of listening to people, and really hearing what they are saying.”

She also talked about the focus on service users at Think Ahead: “It’s always in our minds – who are the people we are serving,” and the focus on improvement: “We’re always asking ourselves – can we do this any better?”

Dr Navina Evans CBE, Chief Executive of East London NHS Foundation Trust and Think Ahead trustee  

Navina, who began her career as a child and adolescent psychiatrist, talked about the importance of social workers in her organisation, saying: “We feel that our social workers bring a different perspective to the way we think. We think that our social workers remind us that we are talking about people, and communities, and people’s quality of life, that we need to push beyond – our social workers help us maintain our integrity as an organisation.”

She also talked about how she has personally been inspired by social workers: “I have been heavily influenced by some wonderful social workers. I could tell lots of stories about social workers and how warm, how kind, how funny and how compassionate they are.”

Paul Farmer CBE, Chief Executive of Mind  

Paul talked about the role of the voluntary mental health sector in the UK. He said: “In my view, you’re coming into working in mental health at an incredibly exciting, and also challenging time.”

Talking about the role of mental health professionals, and the voluntary sector, he said: “Part of our job is to be those agitators, the slight thorn in the side, the people who point out inconvenient truths, the organisations that also come up with appropriate, innovative solutions for changing the way that services are provided or that people experience mental health problems.”

Dr Ruth Allen, Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers and Think Ahead trustee  

Ruth talked about social work being a global profession with shared values, and the importance of social workers having the time and autonomy to practice social work as it should be done. She also talked of her view of social workers joining the profession, saying: “I am always inspired by social workers, that gets refreshed and renewed.”