Involving service users and carers in social work education
This outreach work takes time and requires careful preparation. It involves telephone calls, e-mails and meetings to explain the initiative to the different organisations, to learn what they do, who else they are involved with, what they might offer and what their terms and conditions are for engagement.
Experiences to date suggest that the lecturers and development workers have to be flexible in their approach and not set out with preconceived ideas about how the involvement process will work. Many service users and carers do not want and are not able to travel long distances to attend meetings at universities. They would like to be included but prefer the staff to visit them in their own homes or local centres or to arrange a central venue. Information leaflets in accessible formats about the degree and about the practical arrangements we have discussed make this stage smoother. Following the initial contact, the lecturer needs to be available to answer any queries and to provide further information.
Some social services departments and voluntary organisations have service user and carer, and children and young people's participation units and workers. They are potentially key allies, acting as a conduit between the universities and individuals and groups, and facilitating direct and indirect inputs to the courses.