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Dr Denise Tanner,  Associate Professor of Social Work has launched a new project on social work with older people, funded by NIHR School for Social Care Research. 

Social care is increasingly important in our ageing society. It should promote well-being, prevent loss of independence and protect people from harm. Social workers have a central role in the law, policy and practice of social care. However, there is limited research and understanding about how social workers work with the largest group of social care users – older people – and their carers.

The project's key question is: ‘What difference do social workers make to older people’s lives?’ The team would like to examine the contribution that social workers make to older people’s well-being, analysing the knowledge, tasks, skills and values that enable them to do this. They will be observing and talking to social workers in two local authorities in England, one rural and one urban. With service users’ consent, a researcher will get as close as possible to practice. This will include accompanying the social worker either physically or virtually, asking them to make live recordings of their work or record their audio reflections afterwards.

The project team will explore the social work experience over time for a small number of older people. They will read their records, observe their interactions with social workers and talk to them about what they have found helpful and not helpful. They will interview other key people involved in their care, including their carers/families, managers and other health and social care professionals whose work intersects with the social workers. This will help to understand how social work practice is experienced by others who provide support to older people and how social work contributes to their work.   

The project team are interested in how social work with older people is affected by the wider context, including organisational arrangements (such as multi-disciplinary teams) and the place (including own homes, hospitals and care homes) and method (e.g. face-to-face, telephone or online) through which  social work is transacted. 

An Expert Advisory Group of older people and social work practitioners will guide the project, including helping the project to develop information and resources to support older people and carers who use or may need to use social work services.  

The aim is to enable the government and employers to better recognise, invest in, and support social work knowledge and skills. The project team will work with key organisations such as the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and Research in Practice (RiP) to create and share resources to enhance social work education and continuing professional development.  

You can follow the progress of this project on the project's research website

Dr. Denise Tanner, University of Birmingham: d.l.tanner@bham.ac.uk

Dr. Paul Willis, University of Bristol: paul.willis@bristol.ac.uk

Gerry Nosowska, Effective Practice: info@effective-practice.com

Professor Jon Glasby, University of Birmingham: j.glasby@bham.ac.uk