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Our 2021 Cohort have passed the first milestone on their journey to becoming mental health social workers, having completed the Summer Institute. For the past four weeks, the 160 new trainees – our biggest intake to date – have been immersed in lectures, practical workshops and keynote talks with respected experts across the sector.

Led in partnership with Middlesex University, the Summer Institute prepares attendees for their frontline roles covering a wide range of topics and practices. Learnings included:

  • Tools to use when assessing someone’s needs or planning their support, and social interventions to support people’s recovery, such as Motivational Interviewing.
  • The legal framework governing social work and mental health services.
  • How to engage with different people, for example children, families and older people.
  • Anti-racist and anti-oppressive principles driving social work.

As part of the Summer Institute, the new trainees heard from people with lived experience of mental health problems, and also attended a series of sessions with high-profile guest speakers, such as Dr Jacqui Dyer MBE, Director of Black Thrive Global, President of the Mental Health Foundation and Advisor on Mental Health Equalities to NHS England and Improvement. She talked to our trainees about the steps they can take to help reduce inequalities in mental health service provision, reminding them that “mental health crisis is often symptomatic of the lived experience of very complex journeys through the interacting factors that make up our society”.

In a separate event, Sarah Hughes, Chief Executive of the Centre for Mental Health, who initially trained as a social worker, explained why mental health social work will be so important over the next decade: “Pre-pandemic there was a huge mental health need, and then the pandemic created a whole new set of challenges.” She highlighted the specific skill set social workers bring to mental health and advised our trainees to take up leadership positions because “social workers are still hugely underrepresented where decision making happens.”

A panel of high-profile experts discussed current developments in the policy environment and how they might affect social work. Mark Trewin, Head of Alliance Building at Rethink Mental Illness and former Mental Health Social Work Lead at the Department of Health and Social Care, said: “Health and social care policy is on a pathway that needs the skills of social workers… Policy is moving in one direction and that’s around human rights and community-based care – and that’s where you are experts.”

The panel was also made up of Dr Ruth Allen, CEO of the British Association of Social Workers and Think Ahead trustee; Dr Navina Evans CBE, Chief Executive of Health Education England and Think Ahead trustee; and Lyn Romeo, Joint Chief Social Worker for Adults.

Trainees also heard from Sir Norman Lamb, Chair of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust and former MP, who first commissioned Think Ahead as Health Minister in 2014. He explained to them why more needs to be done to ensure mental health is given the priority it really deserves and advised them that their role would be “to challenge the old ways of doing things and build relationships to enhance people’s lives”.

Our trainees will now be joining NHS Trusts and Local Authorities across England where they will spend their first year learning on the job in groups of four to six after which they will gain a postgraduate diploma in social work. They will then work as qualified social workers and gain a master’s degree in Year Two. Throughout the programme, they will regularly come back together as a cohort for teaching days.