Abundant research on social support interventions has been conducted and/or published in mostly non-social work journals. Social work, with its focus on social relationships and interventions aimed at improving client circumstances, is ideally-suited for conducting social support interventions. A systematic review of social work literature is needed to understand the extent to which social work contributes to this type of research.
A systematic review was conducted to determine the extent to which social support interventions were published in social work journals. Sixty-seven journals identified as social work journals were used as the sample for the review. Four databases (Social Services Abstracts, Sociological Abstracts, PsycINFO, CINAHL) were searched to identify articles describing social support interventions published in social work journals between 1992 and 2002. Included studies were those that involved manipulation of social support as a key independent variable and described experimental designs such as randomized control trials (RCTs) or pre-and post-test designs. Three reviewers were involved in the selection process and collaborated to narrow the review from approximately 750 articles produced from the initial search.
Twenty-one articles on intervention studies from 10 social work journals met criteria for inclusion. Thirteen of the studies were RCTs, and the remaining eight studies were pre- and post-test designs. Preliminary analyses reveal that these studies consisted of robust designs to test the effectiveness of a wide range of social support interventions for varied outcomes. These studies were grouped into four categories based on the target populations of their interventions including: a) families and caregiving (six studies); b) pregnant women and mothers (five studies); c) victims of intimate partner violence (two studies); and d) adult health and well-being (eight studies). Outcomes of these studies were predominantly positive, suggesting that altering social support as a primary social work intervention is beneficial. Further analysis is under way and more nuanced findings will be described in the presentation.
Conclusion & Implications
Social work researchers appear to be well-engaged in research on social support. However, most of the research focuses on cross-sectional studies testing associations of social support with outcomes or descriptive studies showing the extent of social support in specific groups and populations. This review of three decades of social work literature revealed a relatively small number of studies (21 total) investigating whether social support interventions are effective. Social work researchers should increase their use of robust methods for testing the effectiveness of interventions aimed at social support and strongly consider publishing their results in social work journals.