Social Work News Practitioner Led Research Projects

Four Social Workers from Local Authorities within the partnership are bringing together theory and practice through undertaking postgraduate research degrees funded by the partnership. Research degrees are advanced level postgraduate degrees that allow students to work alongside renowned experts in their academic field, training them in research techniques and methodologies and supporting them to undertake an extended research project.

The Social Workers are each conducting independent and original research on topics aligned to local practice needs, providing them with the opportunity to influence social work practice and impact on outcomes for people who need services.  Read on to hear more about some of these projects.

Greater understanding of safeguarding in the pre-birth period

Marie Hopkinson, Early Intervention and Safeguarding Social Worker at Calderdale Council

“Social work was perhaps never an obvious calling for me and I did not come to social work until my late 20’s.  However, I have always had an interest in people and a sense about how unfair society is.  People often say that they ‘don’t know how I do the job’ but I always think that I don’t know how people don’t do my job.

After 10 years in social work practice I was excited to have opportunity to look at some of the thinking and research that informs what happens in practice and to have a small (tiny) part in this.  When I first started as a social worker I always thought that it was about passion and a big beating heart but more and more I recognise that while this is of course important (I am not ready to discount the role of a big heart in social work just yet!) I am increasingly aware that social work has to be fuelled by logic and reason and completing my Masters in Research has really highlighted this to me.

My research is a quantitative piece on pre-birth social work practice in my local authority.  This area of practice gets considerably less interest than other areas of social work and is not as well understood or represented in the current literature.  My research highlights the need for greater understanding of safeguarding in the pre-birth period and the unique features of practice with families during this time.  I used organisational data to explore the actions taken by the local authority and how these associated with the outcomes for children (specifically a child becoming looked after).  This research highlighted positive practice in the local authority, including use of support services and a culture where referrals were made early in most pregnancies.  There were also areas for learning, and at times there did appear to be some delay in use of interventions and actions undertaken were not always explicit in the data I had access to. 

The research made several recommendations, some of which reflect the limitations and scale of what I was able to do in my research given that it was quantitative in its nature and only considering a single local authority.  However, I was able to make some recommendations supported by the findings which the local authority have been able to take forward.”

Read Marie’s Research Summary – Pre-Birth Social Work; A Quantitative Case Study of Local Authority Interventions and Outcomes.

Improving the experience for service users

Anne Howgate, Approved Mental Health Practitioner (AMHP) and Team Manager at Kirklees Council

“I had been working in social care settings from the age of 15 and went into Health and Social Care when I left school.  A teacher at college encouraged me to I apply for a social work course as they felt I had the makings of a good social worker with the values I held at a young age.  I went on to complete my Practice Educator course and in 2010 ventured into the AMHP training which led me to the position I hold currently.

Although I have enough masters points I do not formally hold the qualification. I was keen to consolidate my learning and hold evidence based practice in high regard as all too often decisions are made that are not fully researched.  I believe that completing an MRes will provide with the learning to bring research principles into practice. 

I am completing my research degree with University of York. I have enjoyed the programme so far and  have found that having a lecture and seminar approach to learning has been beneficial.  Although I am completing assignments that are not expected on other courses the taught sessions are helpful for me in gaining the basis for research that I will retain and utilise in practice.  

The focus of my research project is ‘Mental Health Act assessment referrals‘; I will be looking at how referrals are made for MHA assessments; the number of referrals due to a lack viable alternatives or resources and how services are designed as consenting service.  It is hoped that the outcomes will improve the experience for service users and will reduce the number of MHA assessments. 

Practice led research could help authorities reduce costs if more practitioners have the skills to undertake focused research rather than relying on external agencies. I think authorities could really benefit as allowing practitioners time to undertake research as and when appropriate to do so can affect change in local procedures and potentially wider.”

Watch this  presentation of her findings at Yorkshire Approved Mental Health Professionals Conference.  Ann Howgate YAMHP presentation.  Access code: 2b.I.2+9

Barriers to collaborative working

Nicola Carpenter, Senior Practitioner with the Mental Health in Families Team at Kirklees Council

“My social care journey began from an adult services perspective – I worked in a private sector residential home for adults with severe learning difficulties and challenging behaviour, this sparked my interest in the quality of care provided by services for this client group and how I could influence this.

I now hold a unique role which sits cross-boundary between adult mental health and children’s social care services. My remit is the impact of parental mental health upon children and families; what is required in terms of information sharing and partnership working in order for families to receive the most appropriate support for their needs. 

My primary interest is in the right service being provided in the right way at the right time to families who need them, and for this to happen there needs to be embedded collaborative work between the services involved. This inspired my MSc by Research, which focusses on ‘Collaborative working between adult mental health services and children and families services – experiences and views of frontline Social Workers’. 

I am completing my research degree with University of Huddersfield. I have read extensively around collaboration between children’s social care and adult mental health services both nationally and internationally.  Already I am noticing repeated issues and themes and am looking at what services across the world are doing to overcome the challenges of working together.  I have started my local data collection and am looking forward to the analysis and results so I can use them in conjunction with wider research to influence practice in Kirklees. 

I have a great interest in research and how this can and should be used to inform and enhance front line practice, in order for the most vulnerable members of our society to receive the services they need to reach their potential and achieve maximum quality of life.”

Read Nicola’s Research Summary – Social Workers’ Perceptions of Collaboration in a Local Authority.

Both our university partners, University of Huddersfield and University of York, have internationally recognised research profiles and offer postgraduate research degrees. Find out more about academic research specialisms of academic colleagues and current research projects on the Research Informed Practice page.