When I qualified as a social worker in 2009, I was keen to reflect, draw on the theories, models, and research I had learnt about at university and to bring these into my practice.
However, as this was before the introduction of the Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) and I was working in the voluntary sector for a local charity, I was on my own a little.
Although I had supervision it felt very managerial and case management heavy, this is not to criticise my wonderful managers and colleagues, it is simply an observation of the time and environment in which we worked.
There was an emphasis on me to do lots of independent reading and researching for continuing professional development (CPD) to keep my practice evidence-informed. On bringing these discussions to team meetings or supervision, I felt this wasn’t considered a priority, it was all about just getting the job done, without considering if these were informed by evidence and research. I loved this role, but felt I had to work extra hard to keep my focus on learning, development and the ever important 'why' question when it came to my practice.
On moving to work as a social worker in Lancashire County Council, working with older people and people with physical disabilities, I felt a shift in focus. Working in the statutory sector felt different, being surrounded by other social workers meant that I wasn't on my own any more in my pursuit of learning and development. This felt positive, but again there were barriers and challenges I felt stopped me doing as much as I would have liked to; the caseloads, the turnover of work, the pressure from families to work harder and faster, the reward and recognition of getting through large volumes of work in a short time.
It takes a strong individual to push back against this and I'd love to say I was that person, but I wasn't. I just got stuck in and did the work and then allocated time during supervisions trying to cram in that other stuff. This made me feel like I was still ticking the box of being evidence-informed and reflective in my practice, but now I can clearly see I could and perhaps should have done more to raise this on the agenda – after all it was my practice, nobody else's and I am the one who was responsible for it. Again, this is not a criticism of anyone or anything, simply a reflection on my own priorities and lack of professional confidence to express what I needed.
However, this confidence grew with time and experience as I moved into a senior social work position and then into my current role as Recruitment and Academy Practice Improvement Manager at Lancashire County Council. For me, it was in providing supervision, support and guidance to other staff that I felt my opportunity had come to really embrace and promote the importance of using research, expertise and experience that form the basis of evidence-informed practice.
When the opportunity arose for me to become a Research in Practice Link Officer, my eyes were opened to the huge wealth of resources available through our Partnership and how valuable they are to good practice. The more time I spent looking at the resources, the more I realised the time I had wasted sifting through various websites trying to decipher if they were from a legitimate source or whether they were up to date. Research in Practice started to save me time, which I wouldn't have believed before becoming a Link Officer. I'd have added it to the bottom of my to do list and if I was lucky, I may have gotten to it eventually.
Being a Link Officer has given me the chance to share what it has taken me 14 years to get to grips with: that social work is not just about following a process, it is about knowing why we're following it and challenging it if evidence shows that it is not the right thing to do. Now, with the vocal support of our Directors, Principal Social Worker and senior managers, it makes me feel like we are giving permission to our staff to spend the time they need learning, developing and reflecting on what makes good practice.
Although I feel like it's been quite a journey, and I've still a long way to go, I at least feel like I'm finally going in the right direction.
Here are some of the things we do at Lancashire to promote the use of Research in Practice resources:
- Assign Research in Practice Champions in different teams and areas of the services whose role is to promote and share what is new, useful, and relevant to their teams and services. We meet quarterly to share ideas on how to do this and to spend time exploring what's coming up.
- Send monthly bulletins for staff which includes a 'Focus of the Month'; a topic or theme that we spotlight and share resources about. This has included topics such as trauma-informed practice, strength-based practice and working with risk – all of which we have drawn massively on the Research in Practice resources for.
- When inducting new staff we run a short session showing staff how to register with Research in Practice, giving a short website tour and the opportunity for them to explore the site themselves. This helps to sow the seeds of its importance from day one.
- Facilitating learning forums with our senior social work and senior occupational therapy staff to explore different topics, drawing on Research in Practice resources to form the basis of the session, with the aim that they will then cascade this learning to their own teams.
- Throughout the year, our ASYEs are encouraged through recall check-ins to access Research in Practice resources to support them in writing their critical reflection logs.
It was such an honour to be awarded Adults Link Officer of the Year jointly with my former colleague Laura Kirkham (the best advocate for Research in Practice I have ever known), and it has spurred me on to think what and how can we do more to really make sure we deserve the award and recognition we've been given.
Although the role of Link Officer can be challenging, it has allowed me to champion the embedding of evidence-informed practice and emphasise the importance of continuous learning and development across Lancashire County Council.