Pictures of ECSWR 2012

Florian Baier submitted these pictures of ECSWR 2012. Thanks, Florian!


Call for contributions

Looking back upon ECSWR 2012, I think we can all conclude it was a great experience in many ways.

20120325-114423.jpg We have also managed to get the word out through those who were not able to attend, as parts of the conferences were Tweeted, posted on Facebook and LinkedIn, and reported upon in this blog. The blog was surprisingly well visited, as it has attracted over 500 page views and a range of compliments over the three days of the conference. It is to be expected that it will draw more visitors in the days and weeks to come. To get the insights from this conference across to all those who are interested in social work, we need you, the epistemic community, to contribute. Have you made notes during the conference? Have you written short reports on some of the sessions? Did you put your presentation online? Share them with the world! Just copy and paste whatever it is that you have to share into the contact form, and they will be published on this blog.

Did you take pictures? Send your e-mail address so we can get in touch and share your photo’s as well.

Symposium contribution Colette McAuley and Caroline McKeown

“Child Abuse Inquiries in Ireland; the Challenge of Locating Findings in an International Context”

20120324-113643.jpgProf. Colette McAuley and Caroline McKeown work at the University College of Dublin, where they are currently doing research commissioned by the Irish Research Council. They are at present performing review of the international literature on child protection and children in state care. The first phase of the research was to gather data, and already completed research and inquiries from Ireland. The subsequent stage is reviewing the international body of literature and considering the implications of the literature for policy and practice in Ireland. Today, Colette and Caroline will present themes emerging from this process.

A sketch of the Irish situation is provided, and it is stated that in Ireland, 3612 children reside in foster care, 1742 are in foster care with relatives, 440 are in residential care, and 171 are making use of other forms of placement. In addition to these and other quantifying data, five main inquiries also fed into the research: the Kilkenny incest investigation, the Fitzgerald investigation, the west of Ireland farmer case, the Monageer inquiry, and the Roscommon child care case.

It is stated that the extent of neglect in Ireland (as a proportion of the total child abuse and neglect statistics) is large. This is usually the result of parenting problems, more specifically substance abuse, mental health problems and learning difficulties.

In terms of care, it is said to be remarkable that extent of foster and relative care is large, particularly when compared to other western European countries. The length of time which children spend in care is relatively long. One third of children spend more than 5 years in the care system.

It is argued that important data are missing, which is impacting policy planning. Moreover, there are said to be gaps in the Irish body of research, and as a consequence, there is a lack of knowledge regarding child protection practice and processes. Additional knowledge is particularly needed when it comes to the assessment of needs of children and families, professional practice and service response. As an illustration, Colette states that there is no around the clock social work service, and research is lacking into how that impacts service responses.

It is said that, in order to understand how Irish child protection is organised and functions, we need to understand some contextual factors and their histories. First of all, Ireland is a relatively young state with a strong link between the Catholic church and the state. The family is historically seen as a unit, and rights of families and children are framed within the context of “inalienable and imprescriptable rights of parents”, which is codified in articles 41 and 42 of the Irish constitution of 1937. Legislation to protect children, like the child care act of 1991, is firmly bound to this constitution.

In addition, Irish child protection cannot be seen separately from the role of the Catholic church in Irish society, as religious orders have traditionally been strongly involved with service delivery. Social work has been established in universities in the 1930’s, but professional social work did not develop until the late 20th century. A decision from the Vatican, which diminished the role of the church in this type of service provision has created space for professionally trained social workers. After then, social workers have become crucial to child protection.

In addition to these institutional factors, there are also a number of relevant contextual factors to be identified within the realm of the family, culture and the community. First of all, Ireland has a small, increasingly urban, but still fairly rural population. Rural small town populations and networks remain relatively stable, as people to a large part derive their sense of identity from belonging to a community and / or a parish. This high degree of social connectedness has as a consequence that resources are predominantly leveraged through relationships. The role of the extended family in offering informal support is also significant. Colette highlights the protective factors that a strong sense of community brings with it, as well as the relevance of community awareness of child protection, especially among grandparents.

Symposium contribution Renske van der Zwet

“How to Overcome Barriers to the Implementation of the Evidence-Based Practice Process in Social Work: Towards a More Interactive Approach”

20120324-113252.jpgRenske van der Zwet works for MOVISIE in the Netherlands and has recently started her PhD-studies at the university of Tilburg (NL). She states that there is increasing attention for the EBP process, but a low adoption and impe negation rate can be observed. Her research is therefore taking an interest in the barriers and facilitators of EBP implementation. She has performed a literature study, in which she distinguishes betwee EBP as a process from EBP as a prescriptive approach.

In order to study the barriers and facilitators mentioned above, she has used the Diffusion of Innovations Framework by Rogers. Within this model, barriers and facilitators are analysed according to a number of parameters: Characteristics of individuals, characteristics of the organisation, the nature of communication, and the characteristics of the innovation. This latter category is subsequently broken down into five sub-categories: compatibility with existing values, relative advantage of the innovation, complexity, trialability, and observability.

The barriers identified by Renske on the basis of this framework were i) practitioners’ lack of knowledge and research skills, ii) workers’ suspicion of the EBP process, iii) a lack of resources, iv) limited authority on behalf of workers to change, v) lack of organisational support, vi) lack of compatibility between the current experience and authority based mode of working and the principles of Evidence-Based Practice, vii) research evidence which doesn’t fit well with local practice, viii) perceived complexity of the EBP process, and ix) the dissemination of research through databases which are generally inaccessible to practitioners.

On the basis of these conclusions, Renske argues that a stronger link between research and a more interactive, critically reflective approach is needed. She suggests that, in order to achieve this, it is necessary to target practitioner attitudes, behaviours and knowledge, as well as organisational and systems factors. She states it is necessary to aim at compatibility of evidence with practice and to move from an individual / linear to a systems / interactive implementation of EBP.

Keynote Jeanne Marsh and Daniel Gredig

“Research, Development and Innovation in Social Work Practice: Perspectives from Europe and the US”

Prof. Jeanne Marsh is a professor at the university of Chicago (US). Prof. Daniel Gredig is based at the University of Applied Sciences Northwestern Switzerland.


Jeanne and Daniel will reflect on some commonalities and differences regarding developments in social work and social work research in the United States and Europe.

The US and European context of scientific activity could be quantified in terms of numbers of journal articles, number of scholars, university degrees, etc. In that sense, the US and the EU are relatively similar. An important difference between e.g. the UK and the US is that there is more emphasis on controlled studies and descriptive studies in the US. Non-research articles and explanatory studies are more prevalent in the UK than they are in the US.

Social work in the US is historically more rooted in a research tradition. In Europe, there seems to be more emphasis on knowledge, thought and judgment. That is, drawing on a moral-practical and humanist tradition.

The prevailing concerns for social workers in the US seems to be the privileging of effectiveness research as useful practice research. A diminishing of theoretical influence on practice is observed. Finally, there is an increasing emphasis on implementation and translation of research.

Daniel Gredig subsequently takes over and highlights prevailing concerns in Europe. Europe can be seen as a context with late academisation of social work. It is engaging for social justice and emancipation, focusing on knowledge-for-understanding. It strives to further participation and bridging the gap between research and practice.

Europe has known a “critical turn” on the macro level, which analyses the societal function of traditional social work from a historical-materialist perspective. Social work is critically regarded as perpetuating power structures and oppression. The European “empirical turn” strengthens research on social problems and produces explanatory knowledge, that is, knowledge-for-understanding. As a result, the role of theory has remained relatively large. In the European tradition, inclusion of practitioners and service users is increasingly characteristic. Bridging the gap between research and practice takes differing forms. The dominant forms in Europe seems to be on making research useful, meaningful, transformative, and local. Action research, practice research, research-based intervention development are often encountered methods to do this.

It is concluded that in order to make scientifically supported social work, social work researchers should continue to build on shared focus on developing models of social practice research.

Major speech Peter Dellgran and Staffan Höjer

“Between Local Practice and Global Science. Factors Behind Patterns of Social Work Research in Sweden”

Prof. Dellgran and Prof. Höjer from Gothenburg (Sweden) speak about how dual rationalisations and dual legitimacies of the academisation of social work in Sweden (and perhaps beyond) can be explained.


They illustrate different routes for social work research: The unnecessary road (social work is art); the borrowing road (social work research within other disciplines); and the own-discipline road (discipline with professorships and PhD programmes). Final route: All roads lead to Rome (differing types of PhD trajectories for social work scholars).

They subsequently theorise about the academisation of social work, and it is conceptualised that the academisation process will have similarities for social workers, nurses, teachers, etc. It is expected that the academisation will create tensions between academic knowledge and other stakeholders. A process of disciplinarisation is inherent to social work academisation. This, in turn, raises other tensions regarding aims, scopes and content of the research. Can social work, then, be an independent discipline or will it remain dependent on other disciplines? In order to establish social work as an independent academic discipline, there is a need for unity about tasks, theory and epistemology. Subsequently, the discipline could specialise and develop certain specific areas of research.

Characteristics of social work research are said to be that it was established as an academic discipline in the 1970’s. This development was backed up by the profession, the state, social work education, other disciplines and research institutes. In Denmark, for example, sociology is a strong discipline, which claims social work as part of their own discipline. This could be a threat to the disciplinarisation project of social work. Sweden currently has PhD-programmes at twelve universities, and a growing number of professors, senior researchers and PhD’s (> 260). There are also increasing numbers of publications in international journals.

Characteristics of the topical landscape of social work are diverse, as an interest is taken in social phenomena, social policy, methods, client studies, etc. There are also some larger areas of research, like child welfare work, alcohol and narcotics abuse, etc. However, Sweden is a rather rural landscape with some urbanisation, which results in an unbalanced body of research, as it is predominantly urban oriented. In terms of research methods and theory, there is a lot of pluralism and eclecticism in methodology and research methods. There is also a large diversity in theoretical orientations, there is a dominance of sociology, theory import, and export of empirical findings. There seems to be no consensus on what the purpose of social work is. General factors behind this lack of consensus are vested interests, the need for specialization and the competition for funding. Also, social work investigates areas of long-term general and political concern. Furthermore the complexity-pluralism nexus and the absence of incentives for unity plays a role in this.

Social work is said to be trapped between excellence and evidence. That is, between the scientific demand for resources, acquiring external funding and the urge to publish (internationally) on the one hand, and political and professional demands for relevance on the other. The real impact of research on policy and practice doesn’t seem to be researched either, it is remarked. Swedish research policy is argued to disfavour social science in general and social work research in particular, as it takes an interest in poverty, homelessness and other politically unattractive problems. In addition, the introduction of EBP has been a top-down process in Sweden.

The dilemma then is, there is no option in trying to avoid evidence or applicability altogether. We need to uphold the dual legitimacy of social work as an academic discipline. Getting too close to relevance makes us disregard evidence, but getting too close to evidence will make us lose relevance.

Major speech Elaine Sharland

“When in Rome? Developing Systematic Review for Social Work in Localised and Globalised Contexts”.

Prof. Elaine Sharland will be speaking about how systematic reviews can help us avoid the pitfalls of undercontextualising and overcontextualising. Systematic reviews are described as bringing together the results of individual pieces of research to achieve a synthesis for the good of policy making and practice.

Systematic reviews follow a rigorous process of research search and appraisal around a clearly defined research question. Systematic reviews are of both a quantitative and qualitative nature. They can be statistical, but also narrative or thematic analysis. An example are the SCIE knowledge reviews at the university of Sussex, which draws on the EPPI model (Rutter et al., 2010). The Cochrane Collaboration and Campbell Collaboration have been the main institutions who have been performing systematic reviews in the fields of medicine and social interventions respectively. A hierarchy of evidence prioritises RCT’s over more qualitative methods in these organisations, which excludes much of the European body of social work research.

An overview of the polemics about EBP is provided, and Hammersley (2001), MacLure (2004), Webb (2006), Oakley (2006), and Bruce Thyer (2010) are quoted.

Elaine will attempt to answer the question of how systematic reviews might work for Social Work. How do we avoid undercontextualisation and overcontextualisation alike.

Elaine states that social work deals with “wicked” problems, as they are complex and multilayered, as well as located in the interface between the individual and the social. The nature of the research field is illustrated by referencing Shaw and Norton (2007) and Shaw et al (2010). Purposes, contexts, research methods and domains differ considerably within our research field. Elaine differentiates between inner science (e.g. Epistemic norms, which are accepted but debated on the level of paradigms) and outer science (relevance and accessibility for the context which it is intended to address). Moving on to how systematic reviews might work for social work. Systematic reviews attempt to create an overview by being tight and fixed, whereas researched social work problems and interventions are rarely bounded. Research worthy to be included should be inclusive according to Elaine. The strict RCT approach to systematic review is said to just not useful for social work. Proponents of EBP are increasingly recognise that good qualitative research should be able to become part of a systematic review on an equal footing with other types of research. Appraisal criteria should take into account inner science and outer science criteria. Quality criteria for qualitative research are heterogenous (Harden, 2007). They tend to pay more attention to inner science than to outer science.

Proposals to move quality appraisal forward are then made. It is stated that pitfalls of criteriology should be avoided (no mechanistic application of criteria), and that outer science should increasingly enter into or criteria. We will also need to “dig for nuggets”, as “bad” research can lead to “good” evidence. Research quality can only be determined through synthesis.

It is proposed that realist synthesis (Pawson, 2002, 2003) could offer an alternative, as it aims to uncover mechanisms of change. Synthesis should then be theory led through which messages become transferable from situated contexts through generalisation to theory. This would privilege inner and outer science alike.

Finally, it is remarked that we need flexible modes of systematic reviews which correspond with the types and quality of social work research, and with situated social work contexts.