Even before I became Chief Social Worker for Adults in England, I had long recognised the importance and value of research in social work practice. Then, as now, I believed we must demonstrate professionalism, insight and continuous improvement as we worked to help people achieve better lives for themselves.
Research not only provides us with a solid evidence base to prove the efficacy of our approaches, it also helps us generate new ideas or ways of working – all in service to giving people the best possible support.
If modern social work is to respond effectively to people’s needs it must sharpen its focus on research and evidence-based practice in order to fully appreciate and respond to the reality of people’s lives.
That’s why I welcome the publication of Social work research with adults in England: The state we’re in. Its authors, Professor Jill Manthorpe and Jo Moriarty of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London, use the report to stress that our profession needs to be underpinned by research if it is to strengthen and flourish.
Among their recommendations is the establishment of a network that provides learning and mentor support for early career researchers, practitioner researchers, and managers interested in adult social work research. This kind of specialised resource exists for researchers working on subjects such as ageing or general health services, but as yet there is no equivalent for our profession. I hope this report can help to change that.
Professors Manthorpe and Moriarty also praise The James Lind Alliance (JLA), a non-profit initiative that brings together end users, carers and practitioners to identify the most pressing unanswered research questions about the effects of medical and other treatments.
I am especially keen to take forward their recommendation regarding the work of JLA in building consensus on the primary research questions we want to ask in relation to social work with adults. What do we do, why do we do it, and how do we do it? Also, what positive difference is our practice making to those we are privileged to serve? These are all vital considerations that must underpin practice development.
Encouraging and facilitating research is one thing, but tracking and cataloguing where it is happening is another. The report notes the absence of a register and the many study projects taking place outside recognised social work research. Identifying ‘who’ is researching ‘what’ and ‘where’ can only further our understanding of social work’s role and effectiveness in homes, communities and institutions.
I recommend anyone practicing, researching or commissioning social work services to read the full report and re-evaluate the importance of research in their own work. They – and the people they seek to help – can only be the better for it.