Improving the support network for people with brain injuries

  • Date

    Fri 11 Mar 22

Dr Andrew Bateman

Many people suffering from a brain injury have to cope with complex problems affecting their relationships and personality, often without the right safeguarding support they need.

However, a new two-year research programme led by the University of Essex, is looking to improve social workers’ knowledge of acquired brain injury (ABI) so they can have a better understanding of the needs of people with a brain injury and their families.

Project lead Professor Andrew Bateman, from Essex’s School of Health and Social Care, said: “The consequences of brain injury can be devastating for an individual and their family and friends. People have to struggle with changes in their emotions, thinking skills and behaviours that are sometimes not easy to understand.

“In worst case scenarios we have seen suicides and other serious bad outcomes such as drug addiction, crime or homelessness. The aim of this important project is to help professionals support all brain injury survivors more effectively.”

The Heads Together programme has received £253,000 funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to address the skills and knowledge gap in social work education around brain injury.

Professor Bateman, who is also Chair of the UK Acquired Brain Injury Forum (UKABIF), will join forces with a team of experts to support the Brain Injury Social Work Group, International Network for Social Workers in Acquired Brain Injury and the UKABIF throughout the project to improve understanding and practice around brain injuries, which will lead to better social care.

The project will involve developing educational resources for social workers, service users and their families to better address the needs of people with brain injuries, include materials for families and service users to support advocacy when working with social workers and help support the potential role of social workers within an interdisciplinary team.

Professor Bateman, a brain injury specialist, added: “The NIHR support for work in this sector will mean that we can make a great difference to the lives of people affected by brain injury, through improving awareness and training of social workers. The timing of this research is especially important after some recent tragic serious case reviews that have pointed at the need for this research and training.”

The funding will enable the project research team at Essex – which includes Lecturers Caroline Bald and Akudo Amadiegwu – to meet with brain injury survivors, social workers and their managers to get a detailed understanding of the changes needed.

Caroline Bald explained: "This is an invaluable opportunity to work in partnership with the brain injury service user community to improve knowledge and skills to better support people living with brain injury and those who care for them. It is a life-saving opportunity – brain injury social work is social work."

Chloe Hayward, Executive Director at UKABIF, said: “We know that some difficulties following ABI can be invisible. To meet the needs of people with ABI, social workers need specific knowledge and skills to recognise and understand these underlying difficulties. With this knowledge, social workers can ensure appropriate social care is provided, and they can use skills to identify and work around their clients’ ABI challenges.

“We need a better understanding of social workers’ current ABI knowledge. This research opportunity will address this along with looking at what are the barriers to acting on this knowledge, how can organisations and managers better support social workers and what kind of training is needed.”

Earlier this year, a Safeguarding Adult Review into the death of a 42-year-old Brighton man, who had an acquired brain injury, found the current safeguarding system to be insufficient and a lack of expert knowledge in brain injury among the agencies working to protect him.

Following that Review, UKABIF wrote to Social Work England and the Secretary of State for Health, gathering more than 100 signatures from experts across health, social work and law in support of their call for improved training for social workers.

Chloe Hayward, added: “We believe social workers play a vital role in supporting individuals and families affected by ABI but cannot do so effectively without the knowledge they need to practice to the best of their abilities.”

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