Co-creation of a social work assessment model: building capacity in child welfare social work through academic, commissioner, and practitioner collaboration

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Background and purpose:
Shortcomings in the assessment of parenting capacity within child welfare have been a consistent feature in many serious case reviews (Devaney et al 2012). In response, a team of academics at Queen’s University, led by Professor Stan Houston, developed a model for assessing and enhancing parenting capacity to transform child protection practice in Northern Ireland. This presentation will focus specifically on the project design which explicitly sought to co-create knowledge and build capacity and within the critical area of child protection.
The iterative development and evaluation of the assessment model comprised of a mixed-methods, flexible, multi-modal design with a number of key elements, all of which embraced collaborative learning between the academics, commissioning lead and social work practitioners involved. This included:
Initial Formative Evaluation of the Model
This initial phase, described in (Houston, 2014) involved systematic acquisition of theoretical and research knowledge in relation to parenting capacity, supplemented by practitioner knowledge.
Second Formative Evaluation: Iterative development of the Model utilising a co-creation framework
A senior social work practitioner was appointed in each Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland to implement the model with families where social services had concerns about the parenting of children. At this developmental phase, the formative evaluation was co-produced between social work practitioners and academics: the model was tested and refined in the real world of busy social work teams with complex cases; and iterative development of the model was built on feedback from service users and social work practitioners.
Third Formative Evaluation: Capacity Building
This phase focused on cascade training by the five senior practitioners to selected Family intervention Team social workers. This included building the capacity of the five social workers to act as trainers and change agents within their organisations and who could then build the capacity of the selected social work workforce. Capacity building was enhanced through ongoing learning set meetings and co-working cases. An on-line survey and group interviews provided valuable feedback from this cohort to inform further refinement of the model.
The project is currently in phase three. The model has been rolled out to Family Intervention Teams across the region and appears fit for purpose in mainstream practice. The senior practitioners have trained and up-skilled 150 social workers, and continue to collaborate on developing resource materials, including a guide, training pack, and aide-memoires.

Conclusions and implications:
The collaborative nature of this project recognises the contribution of the various stakeholders in the co-creation of knowledge, and distinctively keeps learners at the centre. Front line social workers are embedded in the project, as learners, as architects of the model, and later as trainers and change agents. Through a learning process, both in relation to the model and to broader skills of managing change, they were equipped to adapt the model, and to build capacity among their peers through formal teaching, co-working and mentoring. Recommendations will be made around this model of co-creation of knowledge.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2019
EventEuropean Conference on Social Work Research - Leuven, Belgium
Duration: 10 Apr 201912 Apr 2019


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Social Work Research
Abbreviated titleECSWR


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