Pause the research please!

Educated people everywhere use well designed reliable and valid research. We are taught how to do it. We are required to read it, digest it, ruminate on it, write about it and attack or defend it. However, it has occurred to me that some of the research which clearly points us in the right direction for social policies is rarely actually used to best advantage.

I pondered the question and pose it to you.

Would it be a good thing if our politicians and leaders actually used what we have studied to death in research projects and which draw conclusions about direction for social policy? Would that be reasonable, logical and save a lot of money? Might it actually bring about needed change sooner rather than later?

A few examples come to mind to help reflections on this query.

The major problems in healthcare delivery in long-term care homes have been known for many years to the professionals who work in them, to the aged and disabled who reside in them and to those of us concerned about the deficiencies in them. The number one problem is poor front line staffing to resident ratios. Tons of research was available in my MSW student days in the 1980s and has been added to, decade by decade. Still governments seem to have a tough time getting it right and putting the budget money available for this population in exactly the right spot, where the highest priority and need is — one hundred per cent crystal clear.

In education the same phenomenon exists. The research is definitive that children with special needs do better in smaller classes with specially-trained professional teachers. Credible research already exists and most front line educators know from their collective experience in the trenches that this is a fact. And yet our governments, time after time, seem to ignore the knowledge we already have and avoid the obvious best arrangement in ‘class size’ policy and hiring practices when making decisions that affect this vulnerable group.

In child welfare this craziness appears again. Last year, I communicated with the Child Welfare Political Action Committee about problems in this area, which were evident in the 1980s when I was studying at the Carleton University School of Social Work and they are the same ones I saw firsthand when I worked in the system for over 30 years. I shared insights garnered from all kinds of research recommending ways to improve service to this population: what issues should be prioritized, where energy might best be expended by our leaders, and where our politicians needed to focus funding. Issues of permanency, stability and safety, were among the most critical ones. Yet, when I talked with a representative of this important initiative in child welfare reform, I was told, among other things, that more research was needed. And Ontario citizens are no doubt aware that our current provincial government, though very well intentioned, is also gathering more research on this subject as we speak!

What can we be thinking? What exactly can our leaders be thinking? Why in heaven’s name should we spend one more dollar, on one more bit of research, on these three social topics, when we have not done much with the findings of the research already available?

Significant problems in these areas have been studied. Recommendations have been made. We just need to get it done.

How about less talk, less requests for more research, less partisan politically-motivated decisions and just do what is right? How about we fix the problems clearly before us with the money we have, placed squarely on the number one pivotal issues in each area? How about we stop reinventing the wheel every time a new leader comes along? How about we follow long-term plans, regardless of which political group holds power, so that successive governments build and extend the efforts for positive change based on the plethora of research already done. Improvements would be faster, cheaper, easier and needed changes actually achieved over time.

I have the following message for our leaders:

‘Pause the research please. No more sending these kinds of problems back to committees to study! No new funded research on these issues either! We are aware of the list of problems longer than you or I will likely ever see solved. We also have more research than needed to provide direction on many social issues for the foreseeable future.

Just write the orders and sign the cheques for such policies as: Small classes with specially trained teachers for special needs’ students, mandated reasonable staff-to-resident ratios in long-term care homes, reformation of the way vulnerable children are homed and raised in foster care (so as to improve safety, stability and permanency).

Ontarians no longer want to wonder what politicians are thinking. They would like to know that they are thinking and acting on what we already have known, for a very long time. Let us use existing research findings and get the wheels of social change turning much faster for our children and our elderly.