Announcing a new “Research Café”: twice-monthly informal and open-format online sessions for all things research (including practice-related research), starting in October. These sessions are hosted and supported by BU academic staff members, for staff and research students.
2nd Tuesday of the month, 1300-1400, Zoom (first Tues session will be 10 Oct)
4th Thursday of the month, 1300-1400, Zoom (first Thurs session will be 26 Oct)
The sessions are open to all—academic staff, student, professional support staff, ECRs, profs, whoever!
Each session will be a drop-in; no need to RSVP unless a special session has been announced. You can pop in for 5 minutes or the full hour, have your lunch and/or a cuppa, and talk about research at Bournemouth.
Where requested, we can set up dedicated sessions on topics of interest. Some suggested areas include (but are not limited to!):
Networking, making connections for collaborations
Sharing experiences on projects and committees
Exchanging support and advice
Applying for grants
Keep an eye out for calendar invitations; if you don’t receive an invitation and you’d like to, please contact Lyle at lskains at bournemouth.ac.uk.
The Research Cafe is hosted by Lyle Skains and sponsored by the Centre for Science, Health, and Data Communications Research.
A couple of years ago, I met Adam (not his real name) at a farm in Dorset. Adam was 14 and had been excluded from mainstream education due to behavioural difficulties and a disruptive home life. He had consequently become involved in regular underage drinking and antisocial behaviour. Adam was being exploited and groomed as a drug runner for a London drug gang infiltrating rural areas. He told me that he had been given a knife by gang members and encouraged to use it to protect himself if necessary against rival gangs or local drug dealers.
The farm where I met him is not a normal farm, but a social one, where the therapeutic use of farming practices and animal assisted therapy is used to provide health, social and educational care services for disadvantaged young people that have become disengaged with mainstream education. Stories such as Adam’s are growing increasingly familiar to staff at the farm he attended, who see other vulnerable young people referred to their service.
Many of the young people living in rural Britain who are being exploited by these gangs are, like Adam, those who are disengaged with mainstream education and are at risk of becoming, or currently are, NEET (not in education, employment or training). There are 808,000 young people (aged 16-24) in the UK who are NEET.
Being NEET has a long-term impact on a young person’s life, leaving them vulnerable to substance misuse, offending behaviour, physical and mental health problems, academic underachievement and reduced employment. These young people are subsequently regarded as a concern to the police, health, education and social care professionals.
Yet current interventions are failing to reduce the number of young people becoming NEET. These interventions typically focus on providing the young person with vocational education, despite the fact that the most common vocational qualifications in the UK have very little or no relevance to the labour market.
Interventions that offer a restorative approach, with therapeutic support and a focus on learning, however, are acknowledged to be more successful.
A green future
Earlier this year, the government launched a 25-year environment plan. The plan acknowledged the importance of connecting children and young people to nature through learning, as well as the benefits of a physical, hands-on experience as a pathway to good health and well-being. The government has pledged £10m to support local strategies which use the natural environment and has further committed to a national expansion of social farming by 2022. This will treble the number of available places to 1.3m per year for children and adults in England.
On social farms, health, social or specialist educational care services for vulnerable people are delivered through structured programmes of farming-related activities. Social farming is established in numerous European countries. Norway currently operates 1,100 social farms, compared to 240 in the UK.
Young people participate in a variety of seasonal farming-related activities, including animal husbandry, crop and vegetable production and woodland management. Social farming has been found to have a positive impact on physical and mental health along with the opportunity to develop transferable skills, personal development, social inclusion and rehabilitation.
When I met Adam, I was in the midst of a research project evaluating whether a year-long farming intervention can prevent disengaged young people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds becoming NEET. Participants typically attend a four-hour session once a week at the farm.
Future roots, the farm I researched, employs a mix of teachers, youth and social workers and therapists. It offers a different model of learning for those struggling in mainstream education. My research demonstrated that the use of the natural environment as a mechanism for change was effective in reducing the risk of becoming NEET.
The young people I followed displayed a significant reduction in self-reported mental health risks and behavioural regulation difficulties; improved social relationships and coping; improved life and work skills; and re-engagement with learning. All of the young people were in employment or training six months after their time at the social farm finished.
Indeed, the social farm was the only place where Adam said he felt safe. He was able to develop a sense of belonging and trust which enabled him to talk about the difficulties he was experiencing in his life. Without the social farm intervention, staff said that Adam would likely have proceeded to harm himself or others. The farmer refers to the changes seen in the young people as a “chrysalis butterfly effect”: the positive transformation seen in these young people as they turn their lives around to look to the future are truly inspiring.
The Research Excellence Framework, or REF, is the new assessment method for publically funded research in universities. Its controversial new ‘impact’ element rates work based on evidence of social, economic or cultural benefits generated from it. But how easily can such things be quantified, particularly in applied academic subjects like social work?
Professors Jonathan Parker and Edwin van Teijlingen from Bournemouth University have addressed these questions in their paper ‘The Research Excellence Framework (REF): Assessing the Impact of Social Work Research on Society’, published in Practice: Social Work in Action.
They argue that ‘the framework raises doubts about whether it is possible to capture fully the impact of social work research at all, and social work itself for that matter’, and stress that some pathways need to be identified to do this.
In suggesting ways to evidence impact, such as primary evaluative research, Parker and Van Teijlingen also outline the stumbling blocks. There are data protection laws and the expense and time of tying up research evaluation with another research project.
The solution, they say, is for social work research to be built and undertaken in partnership with social care agencies; that impact is everybody’s concern and practitioners and those who use social work services and their carers have a role to play in its creation and identification.
Parker and Van Teijlingen acknowledge that the REF will promote critical-thinking, engage practitioners and address the challenges of public spending restraint, but express a deep-seated concern that this new method of assessment will mark a loss of ‘conceptual, theoretical and critical’ research.
Although assessing research through improved social, economic, health, and environmental aspects of life is unlikely to be questioned, Parker and Van Teijlingen strongly argue that it should not be the only set of research outcomes recognised. They argue that if the REF approach becomes common currency, ‘society is likely to lose the deeper understandings and meanings that have permeated thinking and, no doubt practice and behaviour.’
Both firmly believe BU’s research programme designed to enhance social work practice through continuing professional education has changed practice and influenced policy, as well as numerous other benefits to culture, public services, health, environment and quality of life.
Downloading the FREE European Social Survey’s (ESS) latest dataset will be invaluable for the majority of you thinking of applying for EU funding. The ESS is a high standard survey in which 28 countries took part (with 2400 responses from the UK).
The ESS covers topics such as political engagement; trust in institutions; moral and social values; social capital; social exclusion; national, ethnic and religious identity; well-being, health and security and you can carry out a simple analysis online of archived data. In the latest round information the questionnaire included questions on:
1) Work, family and well-being. Areas covered include: the impact of the recession on households and work; job security; housework; wellbeing; unemployment; work-life balance.
2) Trust in criminal justice. Areas covered include: confidence in the police and the courts; cooperation with the police and the courts; contact with the police; attitudes towards punishment.
EC Pilot project on social solidarity for social integration: This call is for proposals which will support the constitution of a network for mutual learning and exchange of best practices on minimum income, including members of national, regional and local administrations, trade unions and associations, including non-governmental organizations. Funding is worth up to €1 million over 24 months and the closing date is 30.09.11
NSF Materials World Network: cooperative activity in materials research between US investigators and their counterparts abroad: This proposal will include joint activities between NSF and funding organizations in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Proposals must have clear relevance to research supported by the NSF division of materials research. The anticipated total funding amount is from $2.5 million to $4m in fiscal year 2012 and the deadline is 10.11.11
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