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11 Mar 2022

Bringing research and social care together to improve outcomes for vulnerable children and families

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Embedding a research role within a local authority can directly help to develop a research culture in social care – allowing frontline professionals to co-produce research that can make a real difference to the families they support.

Dr Hayley Alderson is a Senior ARC Research Fellow within our Supporting Children and Families theme.

She joined the ARC North East and North Cumbria as an embedded researcher, meaning that her role involves working very closely and directly with local authority social care teams.

Her role also has links into the Local Clinical Research Network (LCRN), and she is hosted by Newcastle University.

We spoke to Hayley to find out how social care practitioners can work with researchers to improve outcomes for the families they support.

Tell us a bit about your background

I began a career in research in 2016, following 12 years of experience working in frontline social care – within substance misuse, mental health and emergency duty team settings, supporting both young people and adult service users.

Most of my research has been conducted in or has closely aligned with social care settings, including social work teams, and has been focussed on highly vulnerable populations such as families on the edge of care, children in care and care leavers, individuals experiencing intimate partner violence and abuse and substance misusing parents and their children.

I am currently based at Newcastle University with the capacity to work with social care teams across the North East and North Cumbria, and I’m currently working closely with Gateshead Council. I think that my practitioner background and experience allows me to have credibility within both practice and academic environments, and helps me to bring them more closely together.

What are your main priorities?

My priorities have been to establish new connections with professionals within the local authorities in our region, and also becoming part of an Embedded researchers network so we can share ideas and learning.  My main achievements have been successfully collaborating with Gateshead Council and starting work alongside colleagues (academic and practice partners) on three new projects which address priority areas of work for frontline professionals. These projects include;

PaRental intimate partner viOlence and abuse: understanding what effective supporT looks like from the pErspective of practitioners supporting viCtims and survivors, and how it can be best implemenTed (PROTECT 2); Integrating social care in response to Intimate Partner Violence and Abuse: supporting the adult and child victim (VISTA); and an evaluation of a Perpetrator Behaviour Change programme.

All three projects consider the issue of intimate partner violence and abuse from different perspectives.

It has been fantastic to start meaningful conversations with professionals working on the frontline and identify important areas of practice for them, which in turn have led to a genuine co-production of research bids, which will hopefully go on to influence policy and practice.

Have you faced any challenges?

The main challenge so far has been the COVID- 19 pandemic and the restrictions that have been in place. This has limited the ability to be based at Gateshead Council as originally planned. However, developing nurturing relationships with key individuals and attending meetings using Teams has enabled me to remain in contact with the frontline social care staff.

Why do you think it’s important to develop a research culture within local authorities?

It is important that frontline professionals can both be aware of the literature and evidence base that is already available and can contribute to extending the evidence base further. If professionals are involved in research, it enables them to evaluate their practice and advance their discipline.

What are the benefits to the professionals and social care teams that you work with?

The social care professionals have the specialist and tacit knowledge of their communities but do not always have the time or expertise to undertake the necessary research.

The embedded researcher role provides an opportunity for frontline professionals and academics to work together and generate information and evidence that can influence policy and practice.

When social work professionals get involved in research, it allows them the chance to bring their frontline experience and expertise to the table, and co-produce research that can make a direct difference to the families they support.

What are the benefits for local communities?

Local communities can benefit from the embedded researcher role as it provides an opportunity for individuals with lived experience to be involved in the research – either as part of the research team or as a participant in the research. Supporting members of the local community to get have their voice heard in this way can be empowering for all parties and can result in really impactful outcomes.

What change do you hope to see as a result of this work?

My work has a strong focus on translational research which is driven by a commitment to improving outcomes for vulnerable children and families. My career ambition is to create change in child and family social care, and I strongly believe that by co-producing research ideas and working on projects together, it will have a positive impact on the children and families that receive support.

If you would like to find out more about Dr Hayley Alderson’s role and research work, you can contact her at hayley.alderson@newcastle.ac.uk