I don’t have any research background whatsoever, especially as my social work training was via a diploma rather than a master’s route. However, I have always been professionally curious, wanting to keep up-to-date with developments and best practice.
I was always the social worker who would be found reading his copy of Community Care and keeping copies of interesting articles. My role as Professional Head of Social Work at Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Partnership NHS Trust has allowed me the opportunity to try and grow this curiosity among our social workers.
‘Growing support for evidence-based practice’
You may well hear a lot of negative feedback about social work in NHS settings, but you can also find fantastic opportunities to harness some of the positive strengths in these settings. One thing I’ve really noticed is the well-established research cultures in the NHS and how this can directly benefit our profession.
I firmly believe we will start to see the growth of social work research in organisations the coming year. There is growing national support for evidence-based practice – for examples, just look at the annual report from Lyn Romeo, the chief social worker for adults, The College of Social Work’s strategy; and the recent addition of the Social Care Elf site to disseminate research findings.
Finding out where to start
In my first year as professional lead, I wanted to develop a body of social work knowledge and evidence-based practice. I see this as key if we’re to deliver against the standards for employers for social workers in England.
My first challenge was knowing where to start. I was fortunate that our trust already had a research strategy. The organisation wanted to become recognised as a research centre of excellence. This helped me to get strategic support and infrastructure.
A little bit of self-directed learning and I found a Scie knowledge review on ‘Improving the use of research in social care practice’. It had examples of developing a whole systems approach to improve the use of research and had useful tips such as ensuring research is accessible and comprehensible.
Putting the building blocks in place
For me, another priority was ensuring that it is practice that starts to ask the questions about research by building the capability and capacity to get involved. So in Staffordshire we invited practitioners to join a workshop to consider how we should develop a culture of research in the trust. This shaped the development of an action plan that includes the following building blocks:
- Providing access to social work journals via the trust’s library services and NHS Athens;
- Purchasing an online research resource providing regular updates on policy and best practice;
- Supporting a trust social worker to secure a research fellowship (the first social worker on a NHS Fellowship in the West Midlands);
- Securing funding via the National Institute for Health Research for a part-time social work research facilitator;
- Providing evidence-based practice training;
- Re-establishing links with local higher education institutions as research partners and encouraging practitioners to support teaching programmes;
- Including the requirement for research and evidence based practice in our workforce planning project for social work;
- Discussions with local partners about re-establishing a making research count regional network.
Being involved in research
We are now starting to participate in research and development activity. This includes supporting a project led by researchers at Birmingham University to facilitate better joint working between adult social work and GPs. The aim is for this to make an impact for general practice-social work relationships in general and to develop training resources. It is timely work given a recent report on the benefits of GPs and social workers partnering up.
We are also working with Staffordshire County Council, one of five local authorities participating in research regarding models of safeguarding. This research by the social care workforce research unit is investigating the potential value of different models of adult safeguarding within local authorities adult services departments. The research will provide guidance on implementation, outcomes and costs of different models of safeguarding practice.
Our trust has started our research journey and moved from research awareness and consciousness, to more participation and being active in social work research. Our profession needs to get back in touch with its evidence base. It is going to be crucial as we move into ever more integrated settings and start to see a diversifying range of social care provision. As social workers and social work employees we must recognise and support the need to promote and engage in research.
Andrew Errington @anerrington is a member of the Adults Principle Social Worker National Network and a member of The College of Social Work Adults Faculty. Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Partnership NHS Trust provides community health services and adult social care in Staffordshire and health services in Stoke on Trent.