Building knowledge for policy and practice in out-of-home care: exploring the boundaries of systematic mapping

Belinda Mayfield (2011). Building knowledge for policy and practice in out-of-home care: exploring the boundaries of systematic mapping PhD Thesis, School of Social Work and Human Services, The University of Queensland.

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Author Belinda Mayfield
Thesis Title Building knowledge for policy and practice in out-of-home care: exploring the boundaries of systematic mapping
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Work and Human Services
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2011-12
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Yvonne Darlington
Professor Karen Healy
Total pages 386
Total black and white pages 386
Language eng
Subjects 1607 Social Work
Abstract/Summary Abstract The impetus for this study arose from the current challenges facing out-of-home care systems in Australia and the urgent need to improve the outcomes for the vulnerable children and young people and their families who experience these systems. The central focus of the study is the notion of accessibility of the literature as a source of knowledge to inform out-of-home care policy and practice. Accessibility is conceptualised as a fundamental precursor to the application of knowledge. This issue was selected as it appeared to have been largely glossed over in knowledge utilisation studies, indicating that it required focused attention. The overall aim of this study was to investigate the issue of the accessibility of the out-of-home care literature as a source of knowledge to professionals working in roles which influence policy and best practice in this field. The significance of the study lies in the scope, perspective, and research design, creating potential for the findings to have relevance at both a content and methodological level. Systematic mapping is an emerging approach and maps aim to identify the majority of available literature on a broad topic, as a tool for readily accessing and interrogating the research literature (Clapton, Rutter & Sharif, 2009). Specifically, the aims of the study were to: • Develop a systematic map of the out-of-home care literature by systematically searching and organising the out-of-home care literature into relevant content areas; • Provide a descriptive analysis of the composition of the available literature (as identified in the systematic map) to identify gaps and areas where there appears to be substantial knowledge; • Gain insight about how different user roles view their knowledge needs and the barriers they experience in accessing relevant literature; and • Gather feedback about the utility and limitations of the systematic map from the perspective of different user roles. To meet the research aims, the study was conducted in two phases: the first phase involved developing a systematic map of the out-of-home care literature; and the second phase involved in-depth semi-structured interviews with key informants from different user roles, including researchers, policy makers, program managers and practitioners. While each phase of the study was distinct, relying on different methods, the two phases were interrelated, contributing to the achievement of the overall aims of the study. The systematic map developed in the first phase had dual purposes. Firstly, the purpose was to identify the majority of readily available out-of-home care literature for the period 1995 to 2008, and to provide a basis for a descriptive analysis of the composition of the literature, relevant to specific content areas. The second purpose of the map was as a practical resource and a tool to engage informants in the semi-structured interview process. The foci of the interviews were to gain in-depth insight into knowledge needs and barriers and enablers to the accessibility the out-of-home care literature and to gather feedback on the utility and limitations of the systematic map, from the perspective of different user roles. In reflecting on the outcomes, this study has led to the creation of an information resource in the form of a systematic map of the out-of-home care literature, which categorises over 4,000 publications reporting research, theory, policy and practice literature. One of the conclusions drawn from this study is that the out-of-home care systematic map appears to have potential utility in a range of areas including: as a resource to readily locate relevant publications for interrogation in response to specific practice or policy related questions; to identify key methodological and content gaps in the knowledge base in a planned and systematic way; and as a tool to engage with users in discussion about knowledge needs. The overall findings add weight to the existing body of research examining barriers to knowledge utilisation, which identify issues such as time constraints, volume of literature and physical and intellectual accessibility, along with lack of motivation and organisational support, as potential barriers (Barratt, 2003; H. Elliott & Popay, 2000; McSherry, Artley, & Halloran, 2006; Randall, Cowley, & Tomlinson, 2000; Straus & Haynes, 2009). An additional key insight from this research is that barriers do not necessarily occur in isolation or independently. When a number of issues are compounded a sense of being overwhelmed may result, which in turn becomes a barrier in itself. This thesis provides new contributions to knowledge in the areas of understanding the barriers to the accessibility of the literature, the knowledge needs of different user groups and systematic review methodology. The conclusion was reached that knowledge needs extend beyond research literature and that narrow conceptualisations of knowledge for instrumental use have limitations in an applied field. In light of the composition of the out-of-home care literature, the case for drawing together research literature reporting studies with diverse methodologies in a systematic map seems incontestable. This study, however, by challenging conventional boundaries also highlights the potential of incorporating non-empirical literature in systematic maps. The conclusions drawn from this study have implications for out-of-home care policy and practice, further research in this field and systematic mapping methodology. In particular, the findings have implications for understanding the knowledge needs of user groups in an applied field, and managing the uncertainty created by the limitations of the out-of-home care knowledge base in an accountable and transparent way. The overall findings of this study indicate that for this field to move beyond the rhetoric of evidence-informed policy and practice, emphasis must be given to a balanced approach to addressing research gaps, not only in primary research, but secondary analysis to support utilisation of the knowledge that is currently available.
Keyword systematic map
knowledge utilisation
out-of-home care
foster care
kinship care

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