Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Social Work (MSW)


Social Work


Chris Sinding




Touted as the 'new paradigm' for social work, evidence-based practice (EBP) directs practitioner behaviour and is used to justify services, establish professional credibility and solidify funding. Practicing social workers have not readily adopted EBP. While the literature contains lively debates about what 'constitutes evidence, the adequacy and relevance of the research literature, and the nature of social work practice, the perspectives of front-line practitioners have been absent.

This qualitative research project sought to discover and understand the opinions and experiences of school social workers with evidence-based practice. Four practicing school social workers, representing a range of social work positions and perspectives, outlined their response to EBP. This study found that practicing social workers were accepting of EBP because it helped guide their practice activities, provided certainty, informed them about what works, and enhanced their individual and collective professional credibility. School social workers highlighted significant tensions. arising from their use of EBP: flexibility versus rigidity; practice knowledge versus formal knowledge; improvements versus results; and relationship versus method/technique. Creatively and adaptively, these practitioners redefined evidence, adapted research to local contexts, and used the power of evidence and evidence-based practice to provide accountability, proof of the value of social work services and service rationale.

Contrary to what much of the literature has indicated, this research demonstrates how practitioners were accepting of, and taking up EBP. By valuing practice knowledge, including a broader definition of evidence, and appreciating local adaptations of research as a skill set, practicing school social workers demonstrate how they can simultaneously adopt and challenge the dominant discourse of EBP.

McMaster University Library

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