Social work 'mindset change needed' over uni research
Social workers in Wales need a "change of mindset" if they are to make best use of new research on children's social care, said an expert.
Cardiff University will talk to social services users in £1.3m research into improving child safety and well being.
But Neelam Bhardwaja, a former leader of Wales' social services directors, said not all social workers recognised the value of research in their field.
She said: "If we don't make use of it then we risk losing this facility."
The university's Children's Social Care Research and Development Centre (Cascade) aims to provide primary research on the support to families as well as on child protection, children in care and adoption.
The centre will be led by Dr Sally Holland, a researcher in social work and child welfare based at the School of Social Sciences.
She said: "Cascade is about research-informed practice and practice-informed research.
"Our young people's advisory group Cascade Voices informs our research questions and research designs, and our relationship with the Care Council for Wales means that all registered social workers and social care workers will have access to our research findings."
Independent social work consultant Ms Bhardwaja, a former corporate director of social services and education for Cardiff council, welcomed the research but suggested her profession did not have a "collective focus" on the importance of such studies.
She said: "It's really hit and miss. Some people are good at making use of it but it's not used consistently.
"More and more, courts expect social workers to present research-based evidence.
"If there is something that is very systematic and has a proper research base to it, then social workers and even guardians are going to be in a much stronger position. This is what we should be doing.
"It needs a change of mindset - that they must look up any relevant research and to check with this facility to see if there's anything available in this particular field.
"Managers have a responsibility that this is not seen as an 'extra' but is made an integral part of the practice."
At the launch of the centre last week, Health and Social Services Minister Mark Drakeford AM said: "Cascade is a real example of how co-production is put into practice.
"Work at the centre will be connected to the life and work of the community in which it is based."
Almost 6,000 children in Wales are in care - 20% more than five years ago.
In the autumn of 2013, the Big Lottery Fund commissioned a study into finding new ways of ensuring youngsters received quality care and could prosper later in life.
Cardiff University's school of social sciences and Swansea University have been asked to develop two proposals for schemes to tackle problems in education, employment, crime and mental health.