Abstract: How Easy Is It? Barriers and Facilitators of Evidence-Based Practice in Social Work (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

How Easy Is It? Barriers and Facilitators of Evidence-Based Practice in Social Work

Saturday, January 18, 2020
Liberty Ballroom I, ML 4 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Danielle Parrish, PhD, Associate Professor, Baylor University, Houston, TX
Micki Washburn, PhD, Research Faculty, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Holly K. Oxhandler, PhD, LMSW, Associate Dean for Research & Faculty Development; Assistant Professor, Baylor University, Waco, TX
Anny Ma, PhD, Social Worker and Team Leader, Michael E. Debakey Veteran's Medical Center, TX
Brianna Lemmons, PhD, Assistant Professor, Baylor University, TX
Brianna Garrison, MSW, Houston Extension Program Manager, Assistant Director of Field Education & Lecturer, Baylor University
Background/Purpose: There has been broad discourse about the utility, efficacy and applicability of evidence-based practice (EBP) in social work over the last two decades. The EBP process proposes a five-step method of integrating research into real-world practice settings. EBP is thought to result in higher standards of care in mental health treatment and is a key component of social work education. Despite this adoption of EBP within social work, research suggests social workers rarely utilize research to guide or evaluate their practice. To understand the reasons for this low integration of research in practice settings, surveys of practitioners have examined attitudes, as well as perceived feasibility and familiarity with the EBP process. Research has also sought to identify potential barriers to successful use of the EBP process, such as time constraints, training concerns, and limited availability of contextualized culturally relevant interventions. While these studies have provided further context concerning the challenges of research utilization, research elucidating practitioners’ unique perspectives about the barriers, challenges and facilitators associated with EBP is lacking.

Methods: An online, cross-sectional survey (N=454) of NASW Texas members explored social workers’ attitudes towards EBP and frequency/difficulty of engagement in EBP using the EBPPAS scale, as well as open-ended questions regarding the challenges and facilitators associated with each step of the EBP process. Descriptive and bivariate analyses were used to describe the sample, while content analysis was used to analyze themes in open-ended responses.

Results: Respondents were on average 50 years old (SD=14.3), 81% female, 68% White, and 79% had a graduate degree. Aligning with prior surveys, practitioners’ attitudes were generally favorable toward EBP, with a per-item attitude subscale mean of 3.78 (1-5 Likert scale), and 76% reporting EBP would improve one’s practice. Fifty-percent reported reading research evidence to guide practice outcomes, and 70% reported evaluating practice outcomes. More than half of practitioners reported each of the steps of EBP was easy, with the exception of informing clients about research evidence and involving them in practice decisions. Practitioners with greater prior training/education in EBP reported less difficulty implementing the EBP process (p<.001), engaged more frequently in EBP (p<.001), and were more favorable toward EBP (p<.001). Likewise, those who engaged in EBP more frequently viewed the process as less difficult (p<.001). Qualitative data highlight important trends contextualizing these findings. Fifteen barriers to EBP were identified, with the most frequently reported barriers being time, and the accessibility and cost of research and training resources. There were five main facilitators, including open access to well-organized information, EBP training, individual motivation to engage, belief in the ethics of EBP, and agency/peer support. In response to an open-ended question asking how respondents evaluated their practice outcomes, the majority reported using non-objective measures (e.g., client satisfaction).

Conclusions/Implications: Results suggest practitioners are favorable toward EBP and may engage more frequently and with more ease with prior training in the model. Attention to practitioners’ views of barriers and facilitators, and improved training on more feasible, objective evaluation strategies, may help to further close the research-practice gap.