Sources of secondary analysis for
social work research
How to do an empirical dissertation
without any access problems
When dissertation research goes well
• The topic really interests you
• There is plenty of rich data
• Perhaps the research is of particular interest
to your employers or placement providers as
• You learn something new and feed this back
to local practitioners and/or service users
When problems arise
• Data collection is very difficult to achieve
• The host organisation (gatekeeper) says no –
research access is refused
• The host organisation says yes in principle but
very few individuals agree to take part in your
– This can lead to poor quality research
– Poor quality research could be seen as wasting
your research participants’ time
Why does this happen?
• Social workers are busy with their core tasks
and do not see student (or any) research as a
priority – understandably enough
• Social services departments have little
research culture
• There are so many layers of bureaucracy to go
through, it is impossible to make direct
contact with potential research participants
There are other options
• Archived data sets
– 1. Quantitative
– 2. Qualitative
• Research with publicly-available documents
– 3. Research on enquiries and policy documents
– 4. Research on research
– 5. Research on media
• Anonymised data from social work
1. Archived quantitative data
• You need some statistical skills, and ideally be able to do
multi-variable analysis
• There are some excellent freely-available datasets
• Locate studies via the UK Data Service Variable and Question
Bank: (for
starters, try typing “child abuse”)
• Explore data via Nesstar: There is free
access unless you want to do cross-tabulations, in which
case you need to register using your university ID
• This registration should also let you download data sets. You
will have to fill in a form for this stating what your purpose
Which studies?
• Search / browse and have a look
• Bear in mind there are relatively few variables about
social workers. Still plenty of potential for SW
• See Maxwell et al. (2012) for a list of cohort/panel
studies which do have social work variables, e.g.
– Millennium Cohort Study
– British Household Panel Study
• Also cross-sectional studies, e.g.
– British Social Attitudes Survey (annual)
– SN 5280 -Mental Health of Young People Looked After by
Local Authorities in Great Britain, 2001-2003
• Example: Cheung and Buchanan (1997)
2. Archived qualitative data
• Qualitative and mixed methods studies via the UK Data
• e.g. click on link ‘discover qualitative and mixed
methods data’ and then type “social work” (with
inverted commas)
• The archive includes classic studies such as Dingwall et
al.’s The Protection of Children and Townsend’s The Last
Refuge, as well as more recent studies.
• Bear in mind age and usability of data. Historical
research is fine, but documents may be harder to read.
• Many will be very large datasets.
• Example: Evans and Thane (2006)
3. Research on enquiries and policy
• These days, public enquiries publish evidence on-line.
• e.g. Victoria Climbie Data Corpus Online:
• This is just one example. Also look at government
reports where they publish evidence submitted and/or
responses to consultations
• Discourse analysis of policy documents relating to an
aspect of social work (e.g. Humphries, 1997)
• See Gibbs and Hall (2007) on enquiries and references
4. Research on research
• What kind of social work research is going on?
Method, topic etc.
• Who is doing it and where?
• Who is citing whom?
• e.g. Slater et al. (2013)
5. Research on media
• Media coverage of social work or of a specific
issue (e.g. mental health).
• For newspapers, use Lexis Nexis or similar
• Study of publicly-accessible social media – e.g.
using Twitter searches to follow debate on a
hot topic in social work.
• e.g. Henderson and Franklin (2007) on TV
Another option – administrative data
• Neither data which you yourself generate or data
which are publicly available
• Data which are already collected by agencies and
which can be made available to you as an
anonymised data set, so no permissions needed.
• Care needed to ensure real anonymity – e.g. DoB
(but you might need some kind of data on age)
• e.g. Winter and Connolly (2005)
Cheung, S-Y. and Buchanan, A. (1997) High malaise scores in adulthood of children
and young people who have been in care. Journal of Child Psychology and
Psychiatry 38: 575-580.
Evans, T. and Thane, P. (2006) Secondary Analysis of Dennis Marsden Mothers
Alone. Methodological Innovations Online 1(2) 78-82.
Gibbs, G.R. and Hall, C. (2007) The research potential of testimony from public
inquiry websites. Children and Society 21, 69–79.
Henderson L. and Franklin, B. (2007) Sad not bad: Images of social care
professionals in popular UK television drama. Journal of Social Work, 7(2), 133-153.
Humphries, B. (1997) Reading social work competing discourses in the Rules and
Requirements for the Diploma in Social Work British Journal of Social Work 27(5):
Maxwell, N., Scourfield, J., Gould, N. and Huxley, P. (2012) UK panel data on social
work service users. British Journal of Social Work 42 (1): 165-184.
Slater, T., Scourfield, J. and Sloan, L. (2012) Who is citing whom in social work? A
response to Hodge, Lacasse and Benson. British Journal of Social Work. 42 (8): 16261633.
Winter, K. and Connolly, P. (2005) A small-scale study of the relationship between
measures of deprivation and child-care referrals. British Journal of Social Work
35(6): 937-952

Sources of secondary analysis for social work research