Guide 4: Involving service users and carers in social work education - Bringing partners together

Bringing partners together

Recognising that the lead-in time is long, some universities began the process of bringing potential partners together soon after they had applied to the GSCC for accreditation to grant degrees in social work. The events were either organised by one university with local social work employers (eg University of Lancaster, University of Plymouth, 2002), or by regional groups.

In other regions also, neighbouring universities have formed partnerships either to develop a joint degree or to coordinate their work on service user and carer participation (eg Liverpool and John Moores, Brighton and Sussex, Warwick and Coventry). These arrangements have the advantages of avoiding multiple approaches to the same organisations and employers, and maximising the use of resources. For example, by working closely together, the Universities of Warwick and Coventry have been able to harmonise many of their procedures and dovetail their placements.

Our project provides information on the numbers of groups and individuals who have expressed an interest in or become involved, after several months of preparatory work. The size of the pool of partners varies and is still building up, especially in relation to practice learning opportunities. Typically, a programme provider seems to be working with between four and ten groups. The number of individuals who are actively involved ranges from four to 20, and is usually around 8-10. This means that involving service users and carers directly in all aspects of the degree will remain a challenging task unless and until more people can be recruited. It also emphasises that willing participants are a valuable and scarce resource. Policies and practices must recognise and encourage their commitment so that individuals drop out for their own reasons rather than because of negative experiences.

In contrast, some universities and colleges have pointed out that there are many local service user and carer groups, individuals and voluntary organisations that they could approach. Therefore, they have to have some method of deciding either on their own or with their allies which ones to include. They point out that they do not want to create competition or other problems for the groups. For example, it would be regrettable if resources largely affected decisions in the sense that they selected partners who did not require fees.

Example: North East Region Conference: 'Listening to people’s experiences - Models of practice and the future of social work education and training’

In September 2002 a conference was organised by the North East Regional Liaison Group (Diploma in Social Work and Practice Teacher Programmes) and the North East Regional Topss Forum, in partnership with people who use services, parents and carers in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne. The HEIs that came together were Durham, Northumbria, Teeside, and Sunderland with New College Durham. The organisations represented were the social services departments across the region, local mental health trusts and centres, and service user and carer organisations. These included NCH Children's Rights Services and ALPS project, Barnardo's, Service Users and Carers as Trainers (SUCAT), and Citizens as Trainers in South Tyneside (Catalist).

Forty people attended. The programme consisted of a guest speaker from the GSCC, followed by a choice of four workshops, lunch, then a guest speaker from SCIE, again followed by four workshops, three of which were repeated from the morning. The workshop themes were based around the various aspects of the degree, namely recruitment and selection, the curriculum, research and quality assurance and management. The workshops had been planned with service users and carers. The specific topics were: social work skills to support carers; involving service users and carers in the ASW programme; users and carers in recruitment and selection; service users and students' assessments; and community development involving people with mental health problems. The issues addressed were: how service users and carers can be involved in each stage; what information, support and resources they need; how can people really work in partnership; and any other suggestions about the ways of involving service users and carers.

In introducing the conference, the regional chair made it clear that everyone viewed the conference 'as the start of the process and not a one-off event', and that the next step was to develop a detailed strategy together. A conference feedback report has been produced and distributed45. The members of the group have continued to pool some resources and work together at regional and sub-regional level. They held a series of workshops in the spring of 2003, secured resources for a partnership manager, and at the same time developed their own approaches and local contacts through in-depth work.