Evidence-based practice Social Work is an approach to clinical practice to find solutions to problems and make decisions about patient care.
What is Evidenced Based Practice?
Why do we write things down? In healthcare, social work, and other professions involving practitioner-client relationships, there are many answers to this question. First, every member of a client’s team must understand the interventions that have already been applied. Second, if the client or patient is discharged to another facility, they can bring their record with them to help their newly expanded team provide more targeted care. We also document treatments to show regulating bodies that the care being provided falls within legal standards.
Improving communication between multiple providers and facilities is important for treatment success, but it’s not the only reason that social workers document their findings. By sharing their experiences in the form of research findings, social scientists can help the entire discipline. This is known as “evidence-based” social work.
What Are the Steps of Evidence-Based Social Work?
Evidence-based practice in social work refers to the use of research-verified methods by a social worker to create or enhance a treatment plan. Just like legal and medical professionals, social workers have access to a growing knowledge base of research findings that they can draw from to enhance their treatments. Simply having access to research databases, however, doesn’t guarantee effectiveness – an important process must come first. So, what are the steps of evidence-based social work? Here is a simplified breakdown of the steps.
1. Identify the problem
It may sound like “common sense,” but experienced social workers will understand the importance of digging beneath the surface to identify the root cause of problem behavior. Treating a client with an evidence-based protocol for alcohol abuse, for example, won’t necessarily help if the abuse is a side-effect of anxiety, a self-esteem issue, or another cause that should be directly addressed.
2. Access the evidence
Once a social worker has identified the cause of the problem behavior, they need to find the appropriate evidence. It may seem easy at first, but accessing research databases is a much more involved process than the search engines most of us are used to. Research is a discipline on its own, and social workers need to understand how to structure their queries, find and review summaries, and weigh the effectiveness of similar studies against each other.
3. Compare the context
This is arguably the most important step in the evidence-based social work domain because it can make or break the intervention’s effectiveness. The concept is simple: compare your client’s situation to that of the research participants in the study you’re using and adjust accordingly.
If research participants were found to respond positively to a certain intervention, for example, but they were given the intervention multiple times a day in an inpatient facility, that can affect results for your outpatient client. The circumstances don’t have to match perfectly, but the social worker must be conscious of each circumstantial difference and adjust them to model the study whenever appropriate.
4. Apply the intervention
Finally, when the evidence has been pored over and analyzed, and the social worker has adapted the evidence-based strategy to fit their client’s particular context, it’s time to apply the intervention. Social workers using evidence-based practice (EBP) should consider themselves as researchers expanding the original finding.
The more thoroughly they report their results, the more insight they can add to the knowledge base. Furthermore, keeping a clear record of the results will help that social worker to create their own evidence-based resource pool. (Note: review boards and publishers require certain standards to be met in order for records to be considered EBP.)
Pros and Cons of Evidence-Based Practice in Social Work
Now that we’ve reviewed why it is important to use evidence-based social work and how it’s important to note that EBP isn’t the best answer for every situation. The benefits outweigh the disadvantages, but only when the circumstances are appropriate. To better define those circumstances, we’ve made a list of the pros and cons of evidence-based practice in social work.
- EBP gives social workers new tools and techniques to use
- Using EBP models increases likelihood of receiving grants in many cases
- Evidence-based practice models are often easier to implement because of all of the supporting material
- Research can help social workers choose between multiple interventions
- Documenting use of evidence-based social work helps to advance effective treatment options
- Research findings can be flawed
- Multiple studies on the same issue may disagree
- Your situation may not be represented in the research
- You may not have access to the equipment/methods from the finding(s)
- Interventions applied in the study may conflict with ethical guidelines governing your practice/region.
What is an Example of Evidence-Based Practice in Social Work?
Considering the list of pros and cons of evidence-based practice in social work, the best way to utilize EBP is to make sure the research is verified by other studies. It’s also important to ensure the study represents your situation and that it can be reproduced while adhering to ethical standards. When a social worker takes these considerations, the pros will outweigh the cons.
As social workers know all too well, even a sound theory doesn’t always guarantee success in the real world. To that end, we’ve listed the following examples of evidence-based practice in social work to give you some real-life context.
Substance Abuse: The Washington.edu library has an EBP database centered on substance abuse protocols. Licensed Clinical Social Workers, addiction counselors, psychotherapists and other professionals working with clients who struggle with substance abuse can access this resource to structure their treatments.
Violent Behaviors: The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV) at the University of Colorado Boulder maintains a growing collection of objective studies that provide intervention programs for violent offenders. The program has focused on identifying what they call the “blueprint for violence,” and in doing so, their advisory-board-recommended programs have helped many clients to find healthier means of conflict resolution. To date, the CSPV has reviewed more than 600 violence prevention programs.
Child Welfare: The controversial topic of child welfare is defined by tough questions and ethical dilemmas. Social workers in this specialty have to make decisions that can determine the course of a child’s future, so they need objectively proven methods as much as anyone. More than just welfare programs, the Child Welfare Information Gateway provides a wealth of resources that give important insights in the areas of child abuse, adoption, welfare, and other scenarios.
As EBP databases continue to grow, more social workers in both the private and public sectors are expected to implement or at least refer to evidence-based protocols in order to improve outcomes with their clients. When used properly, examples of evidence-based practice in social work have been found to produce reliable results.
Why is Evidence-Based Practice important in social work practice?
In evidence-based social work, the most advanced evidence to inform practice is used. This is integrated into the practitioner’s clinical expertise and combined with the patient’s values and preferences. When social workers work within the scientific framework, they are better informed to determine what will work best for their clients in different situations.
Evidence-based social work is important within social work practice because it offers a variety of important advantages to the social worker and helps them in their research. It is a practice model that pushes social workers to question their assumptions and to seek out new information. For example, kids who have been pulled from homes in the past are normally placed in the foster care system.
This was part of social work practice when it came to the removal of children. Due to recent studies, there is no evidence that kids do better when they are placed in relative homes versus foster care homes. Social workers have changed their practice when it comes to removing children from their homes to correlate with this evidence. This sets the children up to be more successful and comfortable while their parent or parents seek the help and guidance they need so the child can go home eventually.
In the past, social workers have relied upon authoritative opinions, commonsense reasoning, and the status quo when it comes to what is best for their clients. This is shown in the example of placing children in foster care. It is now known that it is better for kids to be placed with a relative whenever it is possible.
The evidence-based practice assists social workers in delivering the type of treatment and services that will help the client achieve their goals and have their needs met. It also helps social workers to implement successful programs in various areas of social work to help their different clients succeed.
How do evidence-based practices help clients?
Evidence-based social work combines the social worker’s clinical experience and expertise with each patient’s preferences and value system. By working within the scientific framework of evidence-based social work, social workers are able to determine what works best for each of their clients.
For example, when a child is removed from their home due to abuse or neglect, they are normally placed in foster care. The foster care system in the United States is not always the best solution for the child, especially in areas of the country that do not have very many qualified foster parents. Social workers search for an appropriate family member of the child to take the child into their home. Evidence has shown that this is better for the child since he or she is familiar with their relative. This means children are more comfortable and more successful when placed in relative’s homes versus foster homes.
Evidence-based social work is helpful to clients since they can receive care or solutions to their problems that have already been proven to be successful. Another example would be if a person is suffering from a mental health disorder and is connected with the appropriate treatment.
This allows the person to get better without having to attempt to secure the proper treatment on their own. Evidence has also shown that people do well in community-based treatment. This is beneficial to the person since they have an automatic support system from the people within their care community.
Another example is when a client is addicted to drugs and sent to jail over and over again. Evidence-based social work dictates that clients are more likely to head into recovery if they undergo treatment for at least one year in a drug treatment facility. Evidence shows that it takes one year, at least, for the brain to heal from a drug like heroin. This lengthy treatment can assist the client in becoming clean and sober.
What is an evidence-based social worker salary?
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for social workers as of May of 2021 was $50,390. The overall employment when it comes to social work is projected to grow nine percent from the year 2021 through 2031 which is faster than the average for all other occupations.
There are around 75,000 job openings for social workers projected each year, on average, over the next 10 years. Many of these job openings will occur due to older social workers retiring. Evidence-based social workers can fall under any of the levels of education when it comes to social work. Social workers with master’s degrees tend to earn about $240 more per week than those who only hold a bachelor’s degree. This means that social workers with a doctorate degree or Ph.D. will earn even more income annually.