Involving service users and carers in social work education

Securing resources

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:

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.