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Social Care and Social Work Research

Social care is a vital social function and social work is one of the major means by which the state intervenes in personal welfare, yet both are often underplayed and under-researched. Research in this cluster seeks to redress the balance at a time when the importance of social work and social care is re-emphasised as traditional forms of community and family relations are changing. With this, the content and form of social work has changed dramatically over the last decade. Our work addresses this agenda in four linked strands:

Religion, Belief and Social Work

Sheila Furness and Philip Gilligan have, for several years, been engaged in research that explores the significance to social work practice of the needs, strengths and difficulties that arise from the religious, spiritual and other beliefs of both service users and practitioners. Their book, Religion, Belief and Social Work: Making a Difference (Policy Press 2010) promotes a framework for practitioners to reflect on their practice in this area. Using case material collected from current practitioners, the book builds on earlier research such as The Role of Religion and Spirituality in Social Work Practice: views and experiences of social workers and students (British Journal of Social Work, 2006) and forms the basis for ongoing work exploring how practitioners can use tools such as the Furness / Gilligan framework to identify and respond more effectively and appropriately to service users in this context (see Social Work, Religion and Belief: Developing a Framework for Practice, British Journal of Social Work, 2010). These issues, amongst others, will be explored at the forthcoming international conference, Beyond Belief: Exploring the Impact of Religion and Belief on Professional Practice to be held in Bradford in September 2011. It also connects with aspects of Gilligan’s work that looks more specifically at the significance of religion in child protection and safeguarding, as explored in Considering religion and beliefs in child protection and safeguarding work: is any consensus emerging? (Child Abuse Review, 2009).

Understanding policy and practice with children and families

Philip Gilligan has critically evaluated the implementation of the Common Assessment Framework in one local authority (Child and Family Social Work, 2008) and, in another local authority, attempts to develop more effective engagement of fathers by Children’s Services.  Gilligan has also examined child sexual abuse among Asian communities in Bradford and, in particular, the impact of cultural imperatives and professional insensitivities in creating barriers to disclosure and accessing of services; research discussed in Cultural barriers to the disclosure of child sexual abuse in Asian communities: listening to what women say (BJSW, 2006).

Building on research undertaken with Karen Broadhurst and published by Child and Family Social Work (2009), Kim Holt is currently involved in empirical work in 5 Local Authorities, examining the impact of the Public Law Outline on the relationship between professionals and parents.

The experiences of service users

A third strand of activity focuses more explicitly on service users themselves. Sheila Furness researches in social gerontology, examining elder abuse, and undertaking locally based action-research on the influence of 'friends of care 'groups on the quality of living in care homes. This links with research within the Centre for Applied Dementia Studies where Geraldine Boyle works on the well-being and autonomy of older people in care, and the implications for human rights and equality. Dr Boyle is principal investigator on the ESRC-funded study The social process of everyday decision-making by people with dementia and their spouses (in collaboration with Dr. Lorna Warren, University of Sheffield). She is also co-investigator on a study funded by the Policy Research Programme, Department of Health, National evaluation of Mental Capacity Act Best Interests Decision-making (in collaboration with the University of Bristol, the Mental Health Foundation and the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities).

The organisation and management of social work

The fourth strand examines the organisation and management of social work. Kate Karban is currently coordinating evaluation of the Leeds Independent Living Service in partnership with Leeds Adult Social Care and Progress Housing (funded by the Big Lottery). This builds on her research on inter-professional working (see, for example, Contemporary Mental Health: Theory, Policy and Practice, Routledge 2005 and ‘Developing critical reflection within and inter-professional learning programme’ in Bradbury et al (Eds.), Beyond Reflective Practice, Routledge, 2009). John Lawler has examined the recent focus on ‘evidence based’ practice, and the impact of ‘new managerialism’, in social work, leading to his innovative consideration of leadership in social work. This has also led to the development of a practical leadership instrument as well as a recent book Management and Leadership in Social Work (Routledge 2010, with Prof Andy Bilson from UCLAN). Finally Tammi Walker has explored the service organization and decision-making processes of caseload managers within community learning disability teams.