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  • Author or Editor: Eltje Bos x
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This book explores the rationale, methodologies, and results of arts-based approaches in social work research today.

It is the first dedicated analysis of its kind, providing practical examples of when to choose arts-based research, how the arts are used by social work researchers and integrated with additional methods, and ways to evaluate its efficacy. The multiple examples of arts-based research in social work in this book reveal how arts methods are inherently connected to the resilience and creativity of research participants, social workers, and social work researchers.

With international contributions from experts in their fields, this is a welcome overview of the arts in social work for anyone connected to the field.

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What did we learn from this book? To summarise, in the first section, arts were used with different populations, including the elderly, cognitively challenged, single mothers, homeless youth, women with addictions, women with refugee status, and the experience of shifting gender identity within these contexts. We saw examples of multiple art methods, both free and directed: These included music recording, directive group art activities, fine art, poetry, photography, and theatre. These were used to capture the phenomenological experience of research participants. This enabled all of us to understand the different groups’ experiences, coping strategies, and evaluation of the settings in which they live.

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The connection between arts and social work is a rapidly developing area. However, the specific advantages of arts-based research for social work have yet to be articulated. In research in general, arts are defined as less important than words, or numbers – a leitmotif, or illustration (). Often ‘art’ is experienced as the opposite of ‘science’ and thus the opposite of ‘evidence’. In social work specifically, arts are experienced as a luxury, an illustration rather than content, peripheral rather than the ‘on the ground’ problems that social work deals with. Often social workers feel that they have not been trained in the arts and so cannot use it. This is based on a misunderstanding of what social art is. Indeed, arts-based research is most traditionally connected to education, where the use of images is a natural language for children (). Of late, however, we see a ‘visual turn’ in social sciences in general, and also in social work practice and research. This includes the use of community art, Photovoice, outsider art, arts for social change, arts and health, arts to humanise institutions, de-stigmatise minorities, and to give voice to silenced groups (; , ). This has extended the use of arts-based research in social work. This book aims to capture this promising process. It will show how arts-based research is in fact an especially effective methodology to embody, and will articulate many of the epistemological aims of, social work research.

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In Amsterdam, just like in 87 % of all municipalities in the Netherlands, integrated neighbourhood teams have been installed as an answer to the reform of the welfare state. During the last decade, the social domain has gone through its strongest change since 1945. Transitions by new national acts and policies have gone hand in hand with decentralisation, which has transferred most responsibilities in the social domain to municipalities, accompanied by less financial means. On the local level, these changes have been translated by municipalities into policies, responsibilities, interventions, and a repertoire that requires strong changes in the professional behaviour of all stakeholders. One of the newly implemented practices consists of interdisciplinary neighbourhood teams focussed on empowerment of people or families who are dealing with multiple challenges in their lives. Professionals from elder care, youth care, community development, and welfare organisations need to collaborate while they attempt to reconcile various professional perspectives on a specific problematic situation. At the same time, there is a shift for many professionals from solving problems for clients towards empowering the clients to solve problems themselves, based on their own strengths or their network. Most of the structural transitions and implementations might be finished; however, the transformation in professional behaviour following these changes, is just starting to develop. Despite a series of training courses in various methods, the Amsterdam neighbourhood team professionals strongly felt a need to deepen their experiences with situations in which the contact with a client or family had somehow stagnated.

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