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Social Research: Review of the Multi-Agency Resource Service (MARS) and the Scottish Child Care and Protection Network (SCCPN)

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CHAPTER 8: Short Term Outcome 4 - Increase the Relevance, Utility and Strength of the Evidence Base in Practice

8.1 Introduction

The SCCPN has attempted to increase the relevance, utility and strength of the evidence base by various means including several reviews of existing research, generating new evidence, including identifying gaps in the evidence base and playing a key role in brokering the most effective collaborations for future research.

The evidence presented in this section comes from analysis of key documents including successful funding bids, briefing papers, details of secondary and primary research activities and interviews with key stakeholders.

8.2 Secondary Research Activity

One of the principal ways in which the SCCPN have increased the relevance, utility and strength of evidence for practice is through developing an understanding of what evidence already exists and what are the gaps. The SCCPN via members of the research working group and the Coordinator have either produced or commissioned the following research reviews and briefings:

Research reviews

  1. Marjorie Keys (2007) The role of nurses and midwives in child protection. Report to the Scottish Executive Health Department
  2. Heike Tarara and Brigid Daniel (2007) Audit of Scottish Child Care and Protection Research. Report to the Scottish Government, Directorate of Education and Lifelong Learning
  3. Heike Tarara (2007) Database of 10 Years of Scottish Child Care and Protection Research
  4. Pam Green Lister and Moira McKinnon (2010) Report of literature review of recommendations of child abuse inquiries in respect of the Police Force. Report to the Association of Chief Police Officers
  5. Fiona Mitchell and Cheryl Burgess (2010) Working with families affected by parental substance misuse. Report for the Scottish Child Care and Protection Network.

Research briefings

  1. Jo Aldridge (2011) Children living with parents with mental illness. SCCPN briefing
  2. Louise Hill (2011) Children living with parental substance misuse. SCCPN briefing
  3. Cathy Sharp and Jocelyn Jones (2011) Children living with domestic abuse. SCCPN briefing
  4. Janice McGhee and Susan Hunter (2011) Involving parents in assessment and decision-making. SCCPN briefing
  5. Helen Whincup (2011) Involving children in assessment and decision-making. SCCPN briefing
  6. Lesley Kelly (2011) What can research do for you? Findings from the Growing Up in Scotland study. GUS briefing developed in partnership with SCCPN.

Stakeholders widely acknowledged the significant contribution of the SCCPN in terms of reviewing existing evidence and pulling this together to increase the relevance and utility for practitioners.

"There has been a good job done in terms of collating in one place what research there has been around in Scotland and making that easily accessible nationally. But also communicating and analysis of what's been covered, what research is saying and what are the gaps…"

"They did a very good literature review on what the current state of knowledge is and they disseminated that - I found that extremely useful. It's a bit outdated now but at the time was a very useful piece of work and actually identified the need for a longitudinal research on what works for children in the longer term, how do they benefit and how do you measure the outcomes".

The Coordinator highlighted that a key part of her role was to keep up to date with current needs and gaps in the evidence base and this is achieved through business meetings with different policy groups, dissemination activities etc. This also provides an insight into training needs and how that fits with developing core competencies. The Coordinator noted the consistency across the country with the issues that staff are struggling with. There is, of course, the question over whose responsibility it is to keep up to date with current developments and new evidence in the field. This may to be a lot easier for more senior professionals and academics who tend to be involved with high level policy groups or professional bodies.

The SCCPN has also developed strong links with the National CPC Coordinator which provides another means of identifying where the (perceived) gaps in the evidence base lie and also enables a two-way exchange of information.

"I hear a lot through the Lead Officers of what are perceived to be the gaps and pressures…so when [the Coordinator's] organising seminars I have a pretty clear idea of what people out there are looking for and what fits with our CPC agenda and she gives me a lot of really interesting information to put out to the CPCs - we can then get a lot of research evidence that is directly relevant to their needs out to them…" (National CPC Coordinator)

8.3 Generating New Evidence through Research or Evaluation Activities

The SCCPN undertook a consultation with practitioners from across Scotland in 2008/2009 to find out what practitioners see as priorities for research and about what helps and hinders them to access and use research in practice. The questionnaire was sent to practitioners working in education, police, social work and health roles across all sectors (public, voluntary and private). The findings of the report ' What Can Research Do For You?' were disseminated both nationally and locally.

"One of the first things that [the Coordinator] got off the ground was this survey of practitioners' views…and that was helpful because it generated a lot of information about what people on the ground were actually tussling with but it also demonstrated what a thirst there was for research evidence because sometimes there's this perception that people in practice are not all that interested in research that they would rather use practice wisdom but that didn't come through at all - people were really keen to access research evidence - they just wanted it in a form that they could use and that was useful… that gave us a solid chunk of stuff to work with".

The SCCPN has also secured funding (£25K) from the Scottish Universities Insight Institute to bring together academics, professionals and policy makers to explore issues relating to the measurement of outcomes for children and young people over time and issues relating to the methodology of longitudinal studies.

8.4 Collaborations (Bring the Right Experience Together)

The SCCPN also plays a key role in encouraging what may be viewed as the most effective partnerships and collaborations based on areas of known expertise and skills. For example, the Coordinator brokered a partnership between an academic from Stirling University (Chris MacIlquham) and Stirling Council to draw together a successful proposal for a small scale, knowledge exchange project on pre-birth intervention with women who are using drugs or alcohol.

8.5 Challenges

Stakeholders suggested that one of the potential challenges for the SCCPN is how it determines where its research priorities should lie, for example whether these should be determined by relevant funding opportunities, the national government agenda or locally identified priorities and gaps at the level of the practitioner. It was suggested that to some extent the network has been utilised on a national level on a more ad-hoc rather than systematic basis for example where there is a national need for evidence they have responded well and produced a quality report, (eg Working Directly with Children Affected by Harmful Parental Drinking). However, it may be that the priorities of the SCCPN in conducting both secondary and primary research, and how these are determined, need to be reviewed as part of future developments.