Our research focuses largely on 'challenging identities' and 'community engagement'.
We have leading researchers working on identities which pose particular challenges for policy and practice in social work, the therapies and community settings, especially in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and faith; we have experts in community development, community arts and youth work, whose research has been transformational in the UK and the wider world; and we also probe these issues in our wide-ranging research in the therapies, including psychosocial, psychotherapeutic, and psychoanalytic perspectives, as well as counselling, art therapy and dance movement psychotherapy.
Our staff work internationally in the creative and cultural sector, education and learning and business. Current and recent initiatives include: working with Index on Censorship to facilitate debate on Freedom of Expression; with the European Cultural Foundation to lok at intergenerational conversations; with International MBA students to explore creativity in the workplace; with ACSI in Finland on societal innovation; and the YMCA on arts projects with young people.
We are involved in training cultural operators from Central and Eastern Europe, Japan and Finland in strategic thinking and planning and developed guides to international participatory practice, the role of creative learning in formal education and arts and development. Other work in the past year has included leading a workshop on teamwork for young entrepreneurs in Romania, chairing a seminar on the role of the arts in social inclusion for the Belgian Government, speaking and training in intercultural working for WIND, Portugal, and delivering international training in the corporate and business sectors on leadership skills.
The Department is deeply committed to the connections between teaching, research and practice in four key ways: through an emphasis on reflective practice which draws on the values of empowerment, participation, inclusion and social justice; through research-minded practice; through evidence-based practice; and through critical research about policy contexts of service users' needs and professional practice. Together this adds up to an ethos and practice of research with an empowering purpose.
Social Work and Minority Identities
Social Work researchers have been commissioned by the Department of Health (DH) to conduct a study on progression among Black and ethnic minority; lesbian, gay and bisexual; and disabled social work students. The study found that areas of inequality in social work education could still be identified, despite the introduction of a range of initiatives and policies designed to counteract them. It highlighted a number of interacting situational and institutional factors that had a bearing on student engagement, which in turn could affect timely progression.
The cumulative effect of combined and intersecting disadvantage, (for example, for dyslexic black and ethnic minority students with financial, as well as caring responsibilities), meant certain students were particularly vulnerable to delayed progression. However, many participants were able to overcome cumulative disadvantage and barriers to progression, suggesting levels of persistence and resilience, which rendered them well suited to the demands of contemporary social work practice. Participants from all three target groups experienced feelings of marginalisation and reported divisions in the learning environment. However, Black and ethnic minority and disabled students were more likely to report that this had affected their academic confidence.
Factors mitigating feelings of marginalisation included: support provided by personal tutors and practice assessors; more opportunities to work in small groups; anonymous marking; effective use of the VLE and internal resources of self-belief and determination. The initial findings were presented at the Social Care Workforce Research Initiative at the DH and the Joint University Council/Social Work Education Committee. The original data has also resulted in a number of focused analyses published by the research team in leading social work journals. The research findings are also being used to inform the development of a toolkit of resources for social work and placement providers.
The Department has a long tradition of exploring the way that therapy and research activities are embedded in power, and mindful of the complexities of human and social relationships. This is reflected in the creative tensions across a variety of therapeutic practices and research methodologies.
Research into 'The Impact of Trauma Work on therapists and other trauma workers' investigated how, through a process of 'Vicarious Posttraumatic Growth', the psychotherapist could experience personal growth as a consequence of working with traumatised clients. A recently published meta-synthesis revealed that while trauma work can increase professionals' short and long-term levels of distress it also highlighted that distress can lead to psychological growth. The synthesis suggested how to manage traumatic psychological impact through personal coping and organisational strategies. Investigators in the area are now branching towards multi-disciplinary investigations of the impact of trauma work and growth.
Staff involved in outcome research using a randomised controlled trial found that brief group art therapy led to an improvement in negative symptoms for people with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. This evidence contributed to the Clinical Excellene (NICE) that art therapy could be purchased by the NHS as a method of working with this client group. Other work with local NHS providers led to the creation of National Guidelines for art therapists working with the same client group, which were also adopted by NICE. Current research explores 'The Impact of Art Therapy Large Group, an Educational Tool in the Training of Art Therapists, on Post-qualification Professional Practice'.
We also emphasise the importance of making the case through research for practices which penetrate political and structural processes and do not simply accept social 'logics' as they are. There is a robust strand of work around faith communities. This focuses on the challenges of faith-identities, especially as they play out in relation to equality law, community cohesion, and the secular assumptions which often make the conversation about faith fractious, tense and difficult to have.
Faith in the Public Realm
Research on faith and social capital carried out by the Faiths and Civil Society Unit has been taken up by the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) and was acknowledged as a central plank in the national policy on faith and community social action. DCLG subsequently supported the Unit to develop approaches to measurement of faith-based community action which would capture its distinctiveness in relation to the voluntary and community sector (VCS). That project reported in 2010 and publications followed.
This in turn led to the setting up of a knowledge transfer partnership (KTP) with the Faith-Based Regeneration Network and Community Matters to adapt and pilot existing impact measurement tools from the mainstream VCS in specifically faith-based settings. The KTP resulted in the publication of a number of papers and a conference bringing together academics, policymakers and practitioners. Dissemination events have also been held in four locations in the UK, as well as in Finland and Sweden. In addition the Unit has produced online materials including films and guidelines, supporting practical skills for faith-based evaluation.
The UK work has been followed up with a proposal to the Finnish Government in partnership with the Diaconia Univeristy of Applied Social Sciences in Helsinki for a similar process in Finnish settings. This project is receiving funding from the Finnish government and from the RAY, the Finnish equivalent of the Lottery Commission. Alongside, the Religious Literacy Programme has undertaken a series of research projects about the role of religion in the public realm, recognising that there is a public culture of secularity which can be an obstacle to good practice across the professions and in community settings.
These activities underpin a wide and growing research activity in STaCS as demonstrated in 'reading and resourcing' groups aross the Department used to reflect critically on cutting edge and pressing policies, practices and research as they emerge, and to incorporate the fruits in curricula and research agendas in ongoing ways. This is also evident in activities to engage researcher, practitioners and community activists.
We hope that, our local, national and international stakeholders, both academic and community-based will embrace these opportunities with us.
For further information, and detals, visit the STACS website or email Professor Adam Dinham, Head of Research, at a.dinham (@gold.ac.uk).