How social work research informs practice

Limestone College Social Work

If you are earning a Bachelor of Social Work at Limestone College, one of the courses you’ll take is SW 350 Social Work Research. This course examines the role of research from a social work perspective and teaches students how to collect, analyze, interpret and present data.

But why is research important in social work?

According to the Social Work Policy Institute (SWPI) social work research can “assess the needs and resources of people, evaluate the effectiveness of social work services, demonstrate relative costs and benefits, advance professional education, and [aid] understanding … of legislation and social policy.”

Put simply, social work research can improve the quality of professional practice by informing policies, procedures, practices, etc.

Take for example, the Atlantic article on single mothers and their welfare challenges. According to this article, “a study of 158 single-mother college students in New York found 100 percent of the former welfare recipients who earned four-year degrees stopped relying on public-benefit programs.”

However, in most states, taking college classes does not count as “work”; thus, for many mothers returning to school means losing access to welfare benefits they desperately need. These research findings seem to suggest that welfare policies could be optimized to better serve single mothers who are pursuing higher education in hopes of becoming financially independent.

Nonetheless, implementing research into practice or policy has its own challenges. For example, a greater focus on production of research rather than dissemination, results in lack of information among practitioners. Even when practitioners have access to relevant research, the information alone is not sufficient. Development and implementation phases often require that practitioners be in positions of influence, which is not always the case.

The social work community has worked to address such challenges by forming partnerships between research organizations and administering agencies. However, much work remains to be done.

Whether you are passionate about conducting research or helping to pave the way towards stronger implementation of research, becoming a social work researcher can be an exciting field to pursue. Students interested in this field can talk to their advisors and/or program faculty to learn more.

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