The Social Work Innovation Research Leaving Space, or SWIRLS, began with Professor Wendt’s vision of engaging more clearly and directly with relevant key stakeholders in
the social work ‘industry’. It launched in March 2019.
“I believe that practice really influences research in social work, and research can influence practice in social work.
“And so those two things have to have a relationship, and when that works well, we can educate the future workforce of social workers in much more up-to-date ways.”
SWIRLS is designed to engage practitioners and organisations across multiple fields, although its main current focus is in the area of domestic violence, child protection, homelessness and youth. It is designed as a space where researchers and practitioners, policy makers or other key stakeholders can come together, to confront problems together and co-design ways to tackle them.
“So, when I say practice, I mean working with people on the ground,” says Professor Wendt. “But the ultimate outcome is not just naming problems, but doing something about them.”
Professor Wendt sees it as a two-way street.
“You can have big models that have been tested and trialled, from which we can learn a lot from and apply into practice.
“But, I also think there’s a lot of work happening in practice that is invisible, and that we don’t know about.”
SWIRLS has already forged close links with the South Australian government through agencies for child protection and Housing SA. It also has a partnership with the Early Intervention Research Directorate, the EIRD, which was established in response to the 2016 Nyland Royal Commission into the Child Protection System.
The Nyland report recommended more research to increase the evidence space about how we can better improve systems, practices and child protection – an obvious fit with the SWIRLS’ vision.
SWIRLS also works with Women Safety Services South Australia tackling domestic and family violence, the Department of Child Protection, and KWY: an aboriginal specialist, family violence service.
Those three agencies are looking particularly at how collaborations can deliver better responses to families with complex needs.
“Our research is straddling two things,” says Professor Wendt. “Collaboration and changing practice, but also researching that practice as we go along so that we can trial and test and learn what we’re doing before we impose massive solutions onto a system that’s already complex.”