Developing research-informed practice in child care social work teams
The thesis centres on a two-year project with childcare teams in a local authority social services department encouraging the use of research materials to inform social workers' day-to-day practice. The intervention was intended to encourage research-mindedness in social workers in order to develop research-informed practice, describe its implementation and evaluate its outcomes. The thesis first considers various strategies for the improvement of professional practice found mostly in the health field, whilst also looking at educational aspects of adult learning theory allied to problem solving and peer group learning. The development and evaluation of an intervention project is then described. The project was delivered by organising and setting up practice development groups (PDGs) in each of the teams, which were facilitated for a period of six to nine months. Group meetings were held fortnightly during this time and lasted two hours. Within the PDGs, social workers' live cases were used during group discussions to arrive at a request for research information relating to the case in order to generate "research informed practice". Data for the evaluation were collected by means of participant observation, the administration of standardised measures of team functioning and follow-up interviews. In the course of the intervention some essential features that were found to assist with the project's success were built into the design. These included the introduction of training sessions in critical thinking skills that were needed to enable social workers to evaluate their cases to see what research information might be useful. The project also identified the need for basic IT skills training and updated software packages together with a requirement for access to electronic journals. There was a high level of commitment to the project by the social workers and evidence that they were able to utilise research information in ways that sometimes changed the direction of their cases and often empowered both the social worker and the client. However, learning at the individual level was not reflected at the organisational level of the employing department.