Notes from the inaugural conference of the Italian Society of Social Work Research

Gaia CetranoGaia Cetrano is a Research Associate at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit, King’s College London. (1,100 words)

In May this year I was proud to take part in the first conference organized by the new Italian Society of Social Work Research (SOCISS) in Turin, Italy.

The origins of SOCISS date back to 1983 when a group of teachers of social work founded the Italian Association of Teachers of Social Work (AIDOSS). AIDOSS assiduously worked over 30 years to develop common thinking on theories of social work, as well as on the organization of university curricula, and the role of training and research. Then what happened? The Association committee reunited in 2016 and approved a new constitution outlining its new objectives, which included strengthening the dialogue between theory and practice in social work and promoting social work research in Italy and internationally. I think it is very important that the status of the association has now changed to that of a scientific society as this will hopefully help professionals, researchers and academics to acquire a stronger voice and also be in a better position to communicate and negotiate with other disciplines.

As soon as the Society was constituted it started to organize its first annual conference. This attracted around 350 participants from all parts of Italy and, ‘surprisingly’ as the organizers said, resulted in 158 abstracts, 20 posters and a number of videos, which were also presented.

Italian SW conference

The conference opened on 25 May with a video welcome from Professor Annamaria Campanini, President of the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), who, while discussing the IASSW, pointed out two crucial elements for the development of social work research. The first is the importance of promoting ‘participatory and inclusive’ research approaches in which service users or people that live in disadvantaged circumstances can actively take part in and direct research. Their involvement can help identify the emerging needs as well as innovative strategies and interventions. The second element regards the nature of social work, which is the promotion of human rights, social justice, and sustainable development. Professor Campanini pointed out that researchers cannot ignore this element and remain ‘neutral’; she encouraged the development of a critical standpoint as well as a commitment to collect evidence-based data and analysis that can help policy-makers to better understand social and structural problems and their consequences.

I had the opportunity to talk to the president of SOCISS Professor Alessandro Sicora, University of Calabria, who offered his perspective on the importance of SOCISS’s first conference (my translation): ‘with the Social Work Research Conference, the first of its kind in Italy, the Italian Society of Social Work Research sought to create a meeting and dialogue space involving all those who, in the professional and academic world, are looking for new and more effective forms of social intervention to combat exclusion and reduce the disadvantages of the most fragile population groups. The wealth of the program and the remarkable number of attendees testify to the great vitality and potential of social work as both a profession and a scientific discipline.’

The abstracts were organized in 37 parallel sessions and covered a variety of topics, including social work with families, children, and older people, immigration, social exclusion and poverty, and disability, history of social work, training, and ethics.

My paper was part of the session on social work and mental health. I presented my research on ‘The effects of social care interventions on perceived quality of life: Results from a multicentre study in Italy’. The findings were from my PhD studies at the University of Verona. Within this, I translated the Adult Social Care Outcomes Toolkit (ASCOT, Netten et al., 2012) into Italian and then used it with 108 participants with mental health problems receiving services from three different Mental Health Departments in Northern Italy. The results showed that social care interventions had a positive impact on people’s perceived quality of life and that the dimensions more positively affected were those of social involvement, occupation, and control over daily life. Moreover, socio-demographics, diagnosis, type of healthcare interventions received, and study site did not seem to impact on ASCOT scores.  Also, quality of life scores did not seem to differ between participants that had been using the mental health service for a longer period of time and those with a shorter experience of the service, thus suggesting that the positive effect of social care on people’s quality of life continued over time.

After the presentation I discussed my findings with other mental health professionals and we agreed that using instruments like ASCOT could help measure outcomes at different time points, thus capturing changes over time. This is crucial both to assure high-quality of care and for accountability purposes.

I personally found it really interesting and motivating to see that there are so many research studies taking place in Italy. In Italy we often tend to think that social work research is progressing slowly, if at all.

Indeed, social work in Italy developed very differently and much later than, for example, in the United Kingdom, where the professional social work training programmes were organized at the request of government. In Italy, the first five schools of social work were established in 1945 in the new climate of reconstruction and with the return of democracy after the Second World War. However, social work was established on the initiative of private individuals and remained ignored by the welfare and education systems for quite a long time. The influence of American and British social work was very strong in this period due to the lack of social sciences in Italy. It was in 1987 that the legal title of social worker became finally recognized. A few years later, a professional register and code of ethics were established, in 1993 and 1998 respectively. Since 2000, social work education entered the university system with the creation of a three-year undergraduate degree and the second level master degree (Campanini, 2007).

For those who were unable to attend this conference and would like to know more about it, this brief presentation delivered at the conference by Professor Elena Allegri, University of Piemonte Orientale. This imaginatively undermines  the stereotypes of social work, to show what social workers try to do. While in Italian there are English sub-titles, but the pictures probably speak for themselves.

Dr Gaia Cetrano is a Research Associate at the Social Care Workforce Research Unit.

References

Campanini A.M (2007) Europeanization Process in Social Italian Work Education. Social Work and Society, 5(3).

Netten A., Burge P., Malley J., Potoglou D., Towers A., Brazier J., Flynn T., Forder J., Wall B. (2012a). Outcomes of Social Care for Adults: Developing a Preference-Weighted Measure. Health Technology Assessment, 16, 1-165.

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