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Bridging the gap between research and practice in social work

Published: 03 August 2022

Lyn Romeo, Chief Social Worker for Adults at the Department of Health and Social Care, discusses the top 10 priorities for social work research and highlights opportunities for the sector to engage and make the most of research.

I’m a strong advocate for research in social work. The importance of gaining insight from the field and the individuals within it, to inform policy and practice should not be underestimated. The NIHR-funded Connecting People Intervention study is a great example of providing evidence-informed guidance for practitioners to support people to connect with others.

Recently, in my Chief Social Worker’s Annual Report, I highlighted one of my priorities is to promote and advise on investment in research, particularly to continue addressing the top 10 priorities for social work research identified by James Lind Alliance (JLA). By integrating research into all aspects of social work, I hope to see research as a key driver in the continuous improvement of social work practice.

This will require close working between researchers with research expertise and knowledge of how to secure research funding, and social workers who understand the challenges of carrying out research in practice. This will help projects get underway and will be vital in shaping and using the findings.

Top 10 research priorities for social work

Back in 2018, social workers and people who need or use social care services identified the top 10 research priorities in adult social work in England.

These priorities highlighted important areas within social work, including supporting the wellbeing of people using services and carers, communication between workers and people using services (particularly those with difficulty communicating, such as those with dementia and learning difficulties) and the impact of the Care Act.

In the four years since we identified the research key priorities, there’s certainly been change. As we begin to adjust to COVID-19 and implement social care reform, I believe this is a moment in time to think and do things differently. With research taking its place complementing other forms of practice improvement and practice-based knowledge, we can continue to be determined in our ambitions for improving social work.

Progress so far

Earlier this year, King’s College London published a report that explored which of the top 10 priority questions the JLA identified had been addressed. For all the top 10 research priorities, research was found that either partially, or fully addressed, the research question.

This is great progress - yet of course there is still a considerable way to go to address these questions fully. I hope now that we can continue to build upon the great research that is being carried out and develop a thriving research culture.

Opportunities to engage

The NIHR has reaffirmed its commitment to social care and social work research and there has never been more opportunities to get involved with research.

For researchers, NIHR and other funders have been increasing their funding and support for social work research, meaning there are a number of funding opportunities available – notably Research for Social Care (RfSC) round 5 is open to applications now (deadline for applications September 2022) and would welcome applications which address the JLA top 10 priority questions.

Whilst I encourage social workers who want to get involved in and lead research to do, I also realise that not all practitioners need to be able to do research. The profession can benefit from a spirit of ‘research-mindedness’, that could include being involved in identifying and scoping research questions, sitting on funding panels to influence which studies get funded, being involved in delivering research, or using the evidence generated by research. The NIHR website has further details about how you can get involved in research.

I look forward to seeing exciting and innovative research that address the issues that matter most to social workers, building a culture where research is at the centre of social work practice and can contribute towards our ambition to serve people to have the best possible lives.

Lyn Romeo, Chief Social Worker for Adults at the Department of Health and Social Care

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