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Social worker and owner of iamsocialwork, Zoë Betts, reveals some top tips to make it easier to stay up-to-date with key changes in the profession in the latest edition of Sanctuary Social Work News. Here’s what she had to say:

“Operating in a challenging climate that is very much in transition; where change, financial limitations and responsible practice dominate our landscape, social workers are battling daily to try and stay updated and ensure they have the right skills and knowledge to do their job. Those of us on the frontline know that in theory it should be simple; but, achieving this on a consistent basis isn’t. Caseloads are busy, time is limited and keeping up-to-date with local procedures can be challenging enough. 

It becomes a cycle. To be better informed we need to be up-to-date, which means spending time reading and learning, engaging with the profession on a wider scale and not just out of necessity. So, how can we make it easier to integrate this into our working week?

Two iamsocialwork events hosted over two evenings in February, focused on answering this question. The eight keynote speakers included Dr Sharon Shoesmith, Professor David Shemmings, Professor Jill Manthorpe and newly appointed BASW CEO Dr Ruth Allen, the events had a strong academic theme. The focus was to remind people of the importance of bringing research back into daily practice and to identify the best ways of doing this. I wanted to share with you a little of what was covered.

Professor Jill Manthorpe and Jo Moriarty, researchers with the Social Care Workforce Research Unit from the Policy Institute at Kings, shared some tips:

1. Evidence changes

They reiterated that social work is grounded in research and strong evidence-based practice, but we must remember that this evidence changes. Make sure you’re checking the most recent information and if it’s several years old already, there could be scope to build on this.

2. Saving time

Make it easier for yourself to read and understand research and do what your routine allows. There were some useful suggestions for when your time is more constrained; read the summaries from resources such as SCIE or keep an eye on Twitter for easier-to-read blog articles on research topics.

3. What fits with your experience? 

Look at areas where your strengths are, perhaps where you are practicing, or have the most knowledge, and take time when you can to progress this one area. It might make it more enjoyable to do as it’s naturally where your interests are. 

With this career, you never know where it might take you. Long-term, your direction could focus on research and you may end up expanding on areas that were previously just your observations or frustrations. There are so many gaps we acknowledge through frontline practice that we aren’t even aware of; when we’re writing dissertations, for example! And while we might not always be in a position to undertake that research at that particular time, it’s about tuning in to this, so we can let our practice lead us to new areas of reading and interest.

The key message from both events was to ‘let the understanding guide you’. So many of the speakers emphasised that while research informs practice, practice also informs research, and this is the very crux of it. It’s always about trying to understand something a little better. We often jump to the negative, as Dr Sharon Shoesmith explained “blame is where people will always go first”. It’s not about blame or negativity; it’s about progressing learning and trying to understand just that little bit better.”

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