Involving service users and carers in social work education
Many universities and colleges offering the degree programmes in England in 2003 and their allies in service user and carer organisations have made a good start at working together, but progress is uneven across the country and the specific aspects of the programmes. In November 2003, the GSCC and SCIE held a joint conference entitled 'Living and Learning Together’, to promote and share different approaches to service user and carer involvement. Ten workshops were planned and delivered by social work lecturers and their service user and carer partners. The report of the conference proceedings that will be published shortly after this guide shows that imaginative ways of involving service users and carers have been achieved. These include partnerships with children and young people, asylum seekers, people with learning difficulties, parents and carers, and the use of drama and poetry.
In the move towards active and systematic service user and carer participation in social work education, the areas for attention include:
Building and sustaining capacity: in order that the initiative may realise its potential, priority should be attached to building up the capacity of both service user and carer organisations and degree programme providers for joint working. Ring-fenced funding is one of the levers to facilitate this development.
Training and support: training for service user and carer trainers is high on the agenda of their organisations. This includes support for these organisations to develop their own training and support systems and the development at a national level of accredited training leading to qualifications.
Payment of service users and carers is a complicated area. Practice varies across the country and some guidance is required.
Codes of practice may help to promote and monitor fair treatment and good quality processes and outcomes.
Evaluation: a wide variety of different approaches to service user and carer participation are emerging. Programme providers and their partners need to have robust systems for tracking, monitoring, reviewing and revising their approaches. Research is required to assess the effectiveness of these approaches in terms of processes and outcomes.
The first three years of service user and carer participation in the degree afford everyone involved the opportunity to experiment in their approaches, build up a body of knowledge and experience, and assess how it makes a difference to social work education, practice and, above all, its outcomes for service users and carers. Arrangements for sharing experiences and learning from each other may move these developments forward creatively and sustain them. Further developments in service user and carer involvement must surely be based on the values and principles of service user organisations and seek to widen participation.