Social Welfare at the Crossroads: Evidence-based Practice or Critical Practice?

By Paul Stepney.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the aftermath of the recent death of Baby P and Victoria Climbié earlier social welfare practice in England finds itself at the crossroads. The practice of social workers, doctors, nurses and health visitors has been the subject of political inquiry and intense media scrutiny and understandably this has led to considerable public criticism. Against a backdrop of globalisation, where creating the conditions for economic growth have been achieved at a significant social cost, involving new forms of exclusion and widening inequalities, practitioners find themselves caught between modernizing policy reform and demanding practice realities. More recently the modernizing discourse has been extended by the introduction of a ‘respect agenda’- a reaction to the loss of community cohesion and the rise in anti-social behavior. In this paper, two alternative paradigmatic ways forward are explored reflecting a debate between evidence-based practice (EBP) and critical practice (CP). These responses to the crisis may be juxtaposed as they offer different visions of what social welfare practice could become in the future, whilst providing two important reference points against which current practice may be judged. While the former has been depicted as a ‘search for certainty’ that largely complements the modernizing discourse, critical practice works with both certainty and uncertainty in the quest for more emancipatory change. In the real world of safeguarding children and protecting vulnerable people, practitioners may manage such contradictions by looking down both roads: adopting elements of EBP to justify their interventions and become more research minded, while embracing aspects of CP to engage with structural issues and balance effectiveness with a commitment to social justice.

Keywords: Social Welfare Practice, Evidence-based Practice, Critical Practice, Social Justice, Managing Risk

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 5, pp.105-120. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 702.995KB).

Dr. Paul Stepney

Senior Lecturer, Social Work Division, School of Health, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK

Dr. Paul Stepney is currently a Lecturer in Social Work and Social Policy at the University of Wolverhampton UK, and Visiting Lecturer at the University of Tampere, Finland. Prior to this he has taught at universities in Hull, Manchester and Exeter and has been a hospital social worker. Paul’s current research interests are in the area of critical practice. This includes a critical realist model of practice combining critical theory, policy analysis and integrated methods in the fields of mental health, child protection and knife crime. He has also undertaken comparative policy and practice research with particular reference to the Nordic welfare states especially Finland. He has researched practitioners responses to the increasing use of technologies in auditing services with a view to developing strategies of prevention alongside protection. He is co-author of two books: i) co-editor with Deirdre Ford (2000) Social Work Models, Methods and Theories: A Framework for Practice, Russell House Publishing; ii) co-author with Keith Popple (2008) Social Work and the Community: a critical context for practice, Palgrave Macmillan.


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