The theme for Joint Social Work Education and Research Conference (JSWEC) this year was Grand Challenges for Social Work. Building on an American initiative, the aim was to consider ‘ambitious yet achievable’ challenges that are facing society, and the role of social work in addressing them. Having been closely involved in the development of the What Works Centre for Children’s Social Care, I could see the parallels between what we are hoping to achieve, and the Grand Challenges initiative.
At the conference, I gave a presentation looking at the application of evidence standards in children’s social care, in order to develop an evidence base that policy makers and practitioners can have confidence to use. It’s clear that what is needed is fair and open dialogue with researchers across the sector about the standard of research that is currently available, and where this needs to be enhanced to help inform decision making. I also talked about the complexity of measuring outcomes in children’s social care – with the challenges of considering which outcomes are important, and how to measure what is meaningful, not just what is easily countable. For me, we need to look beyond what works, to what works, for whom, how, in what circumstances.
The following day, in a second presentation, my colleagues from the Centre, Hannah Roscoe and Stephen Rice, grappled with the challenge of taking the evidence base and implementing it into practice. This aligned perfectly with the fantastic keynote delivered by Dr Ian Shaw, who contested the notion that research into practice is a one-way flow of information, noting instead that social work is inherently scientific, with theory being tested and evolved in daily practice.
This made me think more about how real-world practice can inform the work of the Centre going forward and reassured me that our approach to sector engagement is leading us in the right direction.
I was surprised by how many people at the conference were learning about the Centre for the first time, and it reminded me what a new and ambitious project it is. Delegates were keen to hear more about how we’re engaging the sector, and particularly how we would be looking to bridge some of the gaps that exist in the current evidence base.
More widely, there was acknowledgement across the conference that we are at a point of change for social work in the UK, and that this is definitely a positive.
As a sector, we are presented with new ethical challenges, from the use of social media in assessment; how we harness technology to develop practice skills; the need for greater cultural awareness; and the shift in power between the receivers and deliverers of services – and all will be central to the work of the WWC-CSC if we are to achieve real change for children’s social care.