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Links between research and social policy

The relationship between research and social policy in the field of social work is complex. It could be argued that at times research informs policy decisions. For example research was commissioned by DH from the University of York to provide an evidence base from which to develop further guidance for local authorities, the police and their partner agencies on young people missing from care. This research was presented to the Government in 1999. It drew on two major studies – Still Running published by the Children’s Society in 1999, a UK wide survey of young people who run away, and Going Missing: Young People Absent from Care (1998) a detailed examination of young people missing from care in four local authorities.

The initial impetus for the research had been prompted by concerns about the safety of children in public care that had been explored in depth as part of the report – People Like Us – Sir William Utting (1997). The research demonstrated that some young people missing from home will have similar needs to those missing from care. In fact, running away from home may be a precursor to entry into public care, where running away behaviour may continue.

It is difficult, however, to separate policy from research in that the policy imperatives often inform the decisions about which research is funded, as the example above indicates.

This control of what is researched by those who fund it is also evident in the ESRC thematic priorities. Once these are established all applications for research funding have to address one or more of the priorities.

In recent years the Evidence Based Policy and Practice (EBP) agenda has shaped all aspects of social care and social welfare policy and research. The Government has sought to ensure that policy and practice is influenced by the findings of research. The Cabinet Office of the Government has a website called Policy Hub, which reports on new research, including related to social research, and links to Government policy.

However there is a continuing debate about which research is privileged by the various funding initiatives that isare connected to EBP both in terms of the topics studied and the research methods adopted (Orme, 2000).

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