The arts in social care: overview of the evidence base

Iriss.fm, episode 87
Published on 27 May 2014

In early 2013, Consilium Research (commissioned by Skills for Care and the Baring Foundation) conducted a literature review of available evidence to explore the role of the arts in delivering social care outcomes. Jim Thomas gives us an overview of the research findings. This recording also features on Iriss's Creative Quarter website.

Date of recording
Audio transcript

What follows is a direct transcription of the audio recording, made by Iriss specifically to assist people with hearing difficulties. Because of the differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

Jim Thomas: Hi, my name is Jim Thomas, and I am the Programme Head for Workforce Innovation at Skills for Care. I am going to talk to you today about the arts in social care and a presentation I made at the end of January, to a workshop for professional artists and people from social care, in partnership with the Institute for Research and Innovation into Social Services.

The purpose of this workshop was to look at some work that we have been doing together with a range of partners around the role of the arts in social care, and to think about what we might do next. The basis for this work is a report that we commissioned a couple of years ago to look at what existing research there was in relation to the arts in social care, to think about whether there's any evidence around the effectiveness of using the arts to deliver social care, what the key characteristics of effective practice might look like, and what reported practices there currently that might help us to develop workforce development in this area. 

We commissioned three parts of this project, we commissioned a Rapid Evidence Assessment, which looked at over 191 publications and documents which had some element around arts and social care. We did an Activity mapping exercise, to look at a survey of the Arts and Social care sectors and we had an in-depth consultation with a number of people from that, and we also ran a stakeholder workshop. 

The Rapid Evidence Review showed that there are some very, very clear physical and psychological benefits of using the arts with people in receipt of social care, and that the arts not only provide an opportunity for people to interact with people in a meaningful and structured activity, but they also facilitate creativity, individual expression and provisions of feeling and wellbeing for an individual. And there are two elements to that really, how that actually enables and empowers people with a range of social care and support needs to feel more valued about themselves and to be able to demonstrate the artistic talents they have in many, many different ways. But there's also the impact it has on the social care workforce themselves, in that using the arts as part of a social care and support package can really challenge a workers preconceptions of the abilities and talents that the individuals they support have. It can create a stronger bond and relationship between people with care and support needs and workers, as they discover together a shared love for music and creating music or certain types of art, and that the art can also act as a catalyst change in workforce culture that create long term improvements in the quality of social care.

Taking that from there, what we actually ... if you looked at some of our stuff and said, well okay, if this is what the research tells us, when we actually go out and look at the activities that were involved, and what people are doing, what does that tell us as well? Well, it shows that co-production between artists and social care staff is something that goes on quite a bit. That artists have a role as mentors towards care staff, to use the arts as part of a care plan, and that if you actually enable people to share their knowledge and creativity within their workplace, it can improve their motivation, it can enable them to think differently about their role at work and it can also potentially aid retention of people.

There are some very clear gaps in the existing evidence base as well, there is an absence of the impact of evidence on the use of arts by social care and support staff in a range of settings. There's lots of anecdotal evidence, but there's very little clear impact evidence as to what actually that difference that makes. 

Now as I said, we also kind of talked to a lot of people to kind of find out what activities were going and what they felt about things. We got 112 responses across the arts and social care sectors from our activity mapping exercise, of which there were 431 different activities identified. This was everything from facilitating participation for people with care and support needs, through to raising awareness amongst the workforce, and training in particular arts activities for workers. There was evidence in the use of arts in relation to the discussions we had in over 50% of work with different care groups and actually also there was evidence of the arts playing a part in peoples care and support in residential care environments, in day care environments, community care, in the NHS, a little bit in home based care and support, but still 10%. The kinds of art forms that the activity mapping told us were quite commonly used, some were visual arts, music, theatre, dance and literature, and in terms of who was delivering that activity for people, about 57% was being delivered by a professional artist or arts organisation, only 8% of social care staff were directly involved in delivering arts based activity to the people they supported. Social care staff told us that when they were engaged in arts based activities as part of their daily working environments, that they found it helpful in terms of learning and development, it improved their quality and productivity, it increased and improved their relationships with people they were caring for, it gave them more confidence and greater satisfaction. Only 1% of the people we talked to felt that it had a negative impact.

For artists, when we talked to artists about being engaged between social care organisations, they told us that again it was good for their continuing professional development, they learnt things, it gave them great satisfaction, it contributed to their skills. The most interesting thing about this was that only 6% of the people we talked to felt that the actual production of a piece of art was the important bit, it was the taking part and being engaged and involved that was the most important to them. 

Now, when we talked to people with care and support needs about their use of the role of arts in social care, over 95% of the people we talked to felt that it was an opportunity for a positive engagement between the adults and peers that it increased their quality of life and it increased their self-esteem and confidence. Additionally, a very high percentage of people felt that it reduced loneliness and social isolation, and that it improved their experience of care and support.

The activity mapping also raised some challenges, it talked about social care staffs lack of knowledge and a confidence to use arts that ... in particular, it was quite interesting that when we were talking to people, one of the things that came up very clearly was that people who work in an activity type coordinator role, in any kind of environment, often don't look at the wider arts community and what the arts community close to where their ... they're either working in residential care or day care, could provide an input into what they are doing. Investing that time in professional development for staff around their arts based knowledge and skills is difficult in terms of capacity, and also making ... improving the awareness of artists and arts organisations about the opportunities that might exist to work within a range of different social care support environments with many, many different people.

So the report itself had a very broad range of recommendations, and as I said at the beginning of this audio, one of the things we did was to have a stakeholder workshop at the end of January, which was about talking through what I have just presented to you in this audio, and actually saying, okay if we are going to look at that and we are going to think this through, what are the kinds of things that we think we ought to do differently and what are the kinds of activities and actions that we could take forward from this that really would help us in the future to be able to deliver arts in social care and support environments with people in many, many different ways, and what would that actually mean in practice?

Through the workshop we came up with a number of recommendations and those are the things that we are going to be working on over the next year. We are going to think about whether or not we should provide guidance for social care managers around the availability of training and professional development opportunities to support the arts in the delivery of care and support, and also maybe linking that guidance to what funding could be available. We are going to explore the idea of establishing an online and community of practice and I think the work that Iriss are doing in that to establish this website is utterly brilliant, and takes that forward an awful long way, right from the very beginning. We are also wondering whether we should develop guidance to support artists and social care staff in measuring the impact of arts activities. If we could be clear about what the impact was, perhaps it would be easier for us to talk to commissioners about the value of funding arts based activities in social care. 

We wonder whether or not there might be a need to develop some new qualification frameworks, obviously we recognise that that's quite a longer term piece of work that needs much more consideration, but we need to wonder that and we need to think about whether that's a possibility. And then finally, thinking about whether or not building on what already exists in terms of regional information sharing networks for both artists and social care staff, so that people can really come together, look at what they have available to them and look at how the arts in a social care and support environment can really make a difference to people's lives.

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