International Campbell Colloquium edition:7th location:London date:14-16 May 2007
This presentation addresses issues in performing systematic reviews for social work. First, the growing interest in systematic reviews for social work is framed within a broader perspective of a growing demand for more evidence-based practice. Two contemporary trends are discussed in regard to this demand. Many social scientists, policy-maker and others make a plea for a build-up of research-knowledge for social work. This plea is usually rooted in a sense of a crisis in the validation grounds for social work practice. As argued, a poor knowledge base leads to poor effectiveness in practice. This debate about the validation of social work practice has also a social aspect, where accountability for the actions of social workers is a central theme. Social work is challenged to proof that used methods and techniques are effective. No objection can be made to this demand for more evidence-based practice. When people undergo open-heart-surgery it is obvious that they want to be operated by the surgeon with the best-evidence-tools. It isn’t different for social work.
Second, the difficulties in building up and successfully implementing this required knowledge base for social work on the work floor are discussed. Third, it is argued that systematic reviewing is an important instrument that can contribute to the fulfilment of this task. The argument starts with a comparison of review methodologies, i.c. the one used for Cochrane reviews, narrative synthesis and realist synthesis. The opportunities and limitations of the different methodologies for use in the field of social work are looked in to. The characteristics of human services and social work interventions differ from health care services and interventions. These specific attributes have consequences when conducting a systematic review. Finally, the use of systematic reviews is illustrated extendedly. This illustration tries to summarise the experience of implementing a systematic review trying to make sense of child abuse risk assessment in the Flemish Confidential Centres for Child Abuse and Neglect.