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Social workers and ABI – first research published



The pioneering Heads Together programme has revealed its first set of findings around the need for social workers to be better supported in their understanding of acquired brain injury (ABI). 

Social workers must receive training in how to identify ABI and develop understanding of its consequences and the subsequent need for provision, a new research paper has concluded, the research recommends.  

The study – the first section of the two-year NIHR-funded Heads Together programme – also found that social workers are in a unique position to advocate for their clients and should make every effort to ensure their needs are met. 

Social work plays an important role in the assessment and treatment of people with ABI, a complex and highly prevalent condition which can impact on cognitive, emotional and social domains. 

As ABI is often a ‘hidden disability’, it can be misdiagnosed or classified as another condition entirely.

People with a brain injury often have to deal with complex problems affecting their relationships and personality, often without the right safeguarding support they need. 

To help address that, the Heads Together project was created in April 2022 to improve social workers’ knowledge of ABI to give them a better understanding of the needs of those they are supporting, and crucially to enable them to meet their statutory responsibilities to practice safely. 

The dataset containing details of 17 papers included in a manuscript titled “Social workers and acquired brain injury: A systematic review of the current evidence-base” has now been published and is available to read here. 

Dr Mark Linden, of Queen’s University Belfast, who led this part of the project, said: “Our paper brought together diverse literature on how the social work profession has examined its interactions with survivors of brain injury. 

“We summarised our findings as relating to the need for advocacy in social work, the need for training and multidisciplinary team working, the importance of including wider social networks and the acknowledgement of societal barriers in accessing services. 

“The paper calls for all social workers to possess some level of training in ABI.”

The Heads Together programme has received £253,000 funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to address the skills and knowledge gap in social work education around brain injury.

The programme is led by Professor Andrew Bateman, of the University of Exeter and also chair of the UK Acquired Brain Injury Forum (UKABIF), who is working with a team of experts to support the Brain Injury Social Work Group, International Network for Social Workers in Acquired Brain Injury and UKABIF throughout the project, to improve understanding and practice around brain injuries. 

This review systematically explored the evidence base to examine how social workers have been prepared to work with their clients with brain injury. Employing six electronic databases (Social Policy & Practice, Web of Science, Scopus, PubMed, PsycINFO, CINAHL Plus), 1,071 papers were reviewed. After applying eligibility criteria, 17 papers were included in this review. 

Standardised data extraction and quality appraisal tools were utilised to assess all included papers. Following appraisal, nine papers were judged as possessing high methodological quality whilst eight were judged as medium. 

Employing narrative synthesis, four themes were identified which captured the key findings of these papers. 

Themes were named as (i) advocacy and social work (ii) training and multidisciplinary team working (iii) inclusion of social networks and (iv) societal barriers.