Involving service users and carers in social work education

SCIE Guide 4

By Enid Levin

Published March 2004


In 2003 the Department of Health introduced a new qualification for social workers. Previously a diploma, for the first time the social work qualification became a three-year degree course, a move which reflected the difficulty and professionalism of the job. Also for the first time, universities and colleges offering the degree were required to involve service users and carers in the design and delivery of the programme.


This guide focuses on how service users, carers and providers of social work education and training can work together on the social work degree. It covers the principles, practicalities and range of approaches to building and sustaining these partnerships.


The guide is for all those involved in the degree - from programme heads to administrators - but is especially aimed at those responsible for educating and training social workers.

Messages from the guide

Step 1: Secure resources

It is essential to allocate an appropriately sized budget for service user and carer participation. The budget must allow for the training and payment of service users and carers. Staff must also be enabled to spend time on developing service user and carer participation.

Step 2: Decide who will lead on service user involvement

Setting up and sustaining user involvement requires a lot of time, skill, determination and effort. A single person could have responsibility, or you could share the task among several members of staff. Alternatively, you could work with other universities in your area to pool funding and jointly appoint a local coordinator.

Step 3: Define who service users and carers are

By defining who service users and carers are, you are establishing the spectrum of people you want to work with. Service users and carers are normally defined as only those people who currently use services or those who have used services in the past. However you may want to also consider involving people who are eligible to access social work services, that is, people who anticipate a future need for social services or those who choose not to use services available to them.

Step 4: Set the level of involvement from the outset

Programme providers need to be very clear about the principles, aims and intended outcomes of service user and carer involvement and agree this with the service users and carers they are working with. Failing to do this can often result in service users becoming disillusioned with an organisation and unwilling to participate.

Step 5: Train and support service users and carers

Service users and carers should be given training and support to enable them to contribute effectively to the degree programme. The type and level of training they require may differ. For example, service users who are designing and delivering a course module may benefit from a course on teaching adults.

Step 6: Pay service users and carers for their involvement

Paying service users and carers for their involvement is complicated and can affect the benefits they receive. At a minimum you need to consider paying a fee, covering travel expenses and other costs such as telephone calls, and making allowances for personal assistants and replacement care. You must also pay them quickly and on time.

Step 7: Identify who you are going to work with

Key questions to ask yourself include:

Step 8: Working with service users and carers

Approaching service users and carers takes time and should be done flexibly and without preconceived ideas about how the involvement process will work. For example, many service users and carers are not able to travel long distances to attend meetings. The provision of information in accessible formats is essential, as is a lead contact who can provide more information.

Step 9: Bringing service users and carers together

Willing participants are a valuable and scarce resource. Policies and practices must recognise and encourage their commitment. You must also be mindful of unintentionally creating competition between different service user and carer organisations.

To find out more

Guide 4: Involving service users and carers in social work education is available in full on this website. Use the links on the left to move between the sections

Alternatively, download the Guide in full using the link below.

SCIE also has a number of other resources on stakeholder participation and social work education.


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