Involving service users and carers in social work education
Before the work with service user and carer organisations begins, each HEI has to decide about resources in terms of staff, time and budget that can be allocated to this development. These decisions require negotiation within the schools and faculties of the universities and colleges, between heads of social work departments and lecturers, with programme planning, management and curriculum development boards, administration and finance divisions.
This exercise is more complex than it may appear on the surface. The special grant through the GSCC of £6,200 to each programme in 2002/03 (total grant for England: £400,000) made a welcome contribution towards the expenses of developing service user and carer involvement in the first instance. A further grant (total for England: £420,000) has been provided for 2003/04. Both the programme providers and their partners in service user and carer organisations attach importance to the continuation of ring-fenced funding in future years. At the time of writing, discussions are progressing about the mechanisms and funding that are required in order to achieve the capacity for service user and carer involvement.
The respondents to the SCIE survey have commented that the issue of longer-term funding concerns them. While they are keen and, indeed, required to involve service users and carers, discussions with colleagues raise the issue of the proportion of resources that should be allocated to this element of the programme.
These debates arise because inputs into the courses are often subject to assessment in terms of how they assist students to meet their learning outcomes. Thus the courses have to be 'fit for the purpose’ of equipping students to meet the competencies, standards and academic requirements for the award of the degree and registration to practise. Resources assigned to one aspect of the programme affect the amounts that can be invested in other core aspects. A budget for service user and carer participation is regarded as essential, given that it is a core activity for programme providers.
As well as making decisions about how much of the total budget could be spent on service user and carer involvement, programme teams have sought to secure additional special funding. Sources of ring-fenced money include:
- Special funds within the universities for collaboration and development work. These funds have been influential in supporting early initiatives on service user and carer involvement in social work education and have provided seed corn money for the new degree (eg Open University, University of Portsmouth, University of Salford).
- The grants received by all potential degree providers through the GSCC. This money has been used in a variety of ways. These include funding development workers and outreach work to build up alliances with service user and carer organisations, paying meeting costs, travel expenses and fees, and supporting service user and carer-led work.
- The grants from the Practice Learning Taskforce for short-term regional projects. Some of these projects have covered the broad issues of service user and carer involvement or have focused on building links with more service user organisations to increase the pool of practice learning opportunities (eg East Midlands and North East Regions).
- The grants following bids to the Social Policy and Social Work Learning and Teaching Support Network (SWAPltsn), and to other organisations and funding bodies. For example, these are contributing to the development of course modules with organisations for families and to increasing the participation of children and young people (Royal Holloway College, University of London).
- Contributions from allied national and local training and workforce development bodies obtained by active approaches (Topss England and the Workforce Development Confederations).
- Creating or planning a joint fund in one region or town with contributions from neighbouring HEIs and others to work together with local groups and finance development work (eg Brighton and Sussex, North East, East Midlands).
Importantly, the essential but 'hidden’ contribution of many service user and carer organisations, individuals and programme providers must be recognised. Staff and members have already made a substantial investment in terms of time, money and expertise to the development of the degree. Time devoted to this initiative means less time for other core tasks.