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Social Work: Research


Changing children and families social work

Dr Mark Smith, Professor Viviene Cree and Rhoda MacRae, with practitioners from City of Edinburgh and East Lothian Councils

Changing children and families social work was a knowledge exchange (KE) partnership project (February – December 2013) led by The University of Edinburgh’s Social Work and CRFR Centre for Research on Families and Relationships. The project was funded by a grant from the Economic and Social Research Council with matched funding from the City of Edinburgh and East Lothian Councils. The aim of the project was to build and support a culture of learning within children’s social work services in order to maximise effective intervention with children and their families.

The project had three strands:

• Working with social work managers to support them to act as change agents to support a learning culture, bring about changes in practice and in organisational culture
• Facilitating critical reflection groups with practitioners to build confidence in understanding and articulating effective practice in children and families social work
• Supporting small scale practitioner research projects around particular themes and practices that are consistent with what is known to be effective practice

Supporting a culture of learning
Social work managers attended two workshops that explored how they could support a culture of learning. These workshops explored the managers’ role in supporting the transfer of learning and the various skills, forums and mechanisms they could use to support a culture of learning.

Critical reflection
Social work practitioners attended six critical reflection sessions. Critical reflection offers a process of analysing practice in order to reframe the practice in a way that represents the complexity and integrated nature of that experience (Fook and Askeland, 2007). These sessions involved small peer groups working together to assist each other to reflect on an example of professional practice. The critical reflection process is being written up for a journal article, involving both academics and social workers.

Research projects
Social work practitioners attended five training workshops on the research process. Practitioners were supported to plan and carry out a piece of research. They received guidance and research support from a mentor at the University of Edinburgh and/or an appropriate person within their organisation. They produced a poster presentation and a report on their project. Some social workers are now working on turning their project reports into journal articles, with support from academic staff. Practitioners have also contributed their learning to the undergraduate social work course, Research into Practice: Landmarks in Social Work Research.

Dissemination event
All the participants of the 3 strands, including guests from the participating local authorities, shared their experiences and learning through presentations and group discussions at a dissemination event:

The project generated a number of varied outputs including project posters, abstracts and reports, journal articles and a literature review.

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Cree, V.E., Macrae, R., Smith, M., Knowles, N., O’Halloran, S., Sharp, D. and Wallace, E. (2014) ‘Critical reflection workshops and knowledge exchange: findings from a Scottish project’, Child & Family Social Work, doi: 10.1111/cfs.12177 First published online: 25 Sep 2014.

Macrae, R., Cree, V.E., Smith, M., Skinner, K. and Wilkinson, H. (2015) ‘The Role of Practitioner Research In Developing Cultures of Learning In Children and Families Social Work’, Practice: Social Work in Action. doi: 10.1080/09503153.2015.1074669. Published online: 25 Aug 2015

Smith, M., Cree, V.E. and Macrae, R. Changing Organisational Culture through Critical Reflection: Insights from Bourdieu, British Journal of Social Work, accepted 2 June 2016

A number of presentations also took place including a presentation at the Social Services Expo & Conference  on 18th March 2014, and at the City of Edinburgh Council and East Lothian Council.

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