Involving service users and carers in social work education
Peter Beresford et al, 1994 (10) 'Changing the culture: Involving service users in social work education'
This example from 10 years ago is included because it raises a lot of key, enduring issues about developing meaningful involvement that still have to be tackled. The summary guidelines in the report cover overcoming the barriers to involvement (Section 1), and a coherent approach to involvement (Section 2). The recommendations in Section 1 include the following:
- The service user experience and perspective should have equal standing with other expert perspectives.
- Educational environments have to be made fully accessible. This includes the buildings, facilities, the languages used and the provision for information and communication in a range of accessible formats.
- Educators and students may also be service users. This experience should be validated and supported.
- Service user trainers should be paid at the same rate as other trainers. Payment should be in an appropriate form and cover all support required.
- A range of supports should be provided to help service user trainers make the most effective contribution. These include the chance to train in pairs and groups, information about the context of their contribution and about access and facilities, and flexibility in training arrangements.
- Social work educators need support to ensure that they respond positively rather than defensively to service user trainers’ increased contribution.
- Both service user trainers and educators need training to ensure the effectiveness of service user involvement in training.
Some of the recommendations in Section 2, such as the need for a systematic, coherent and comprehensive approach to involvement developed in partnership working, have now been firmly embedded in the national Requirements for the new degree. Those that deal with processes include the following:
- Appropriate forums will need to be developed to ensure that effective service user involvement runs the whole way through training.
- Full use should be made of the growing body of training and related material produced by disabled people and other service users themselves. Service user trainers should be supported to use a wide range of teaching methods, including workshops, videos and group exercises.
- New participatory and emancipatory approaches to research should be included in research teaching on social work courses. Service user trainers have a key role in teaching them.
- The theories and critiques of service users should be fully represented and given proper weight on the courses.
- Service user participation is one aspect of addressing involvement, which should also be included as a major subject of study and a key theme in training.
- Service user trainers should be sought from all groups, including, for example, people affected by HIV/AIDS, homeless people and people with 'hidden impairments’.
- Service user involvement should be seen as part of broader anti-discrimination and anti-oppression teaching. Service user trainers should be offered guidance and support on anti-discrimination.
- Educators should ensure that Black and other minority ethnic trainers have equal access, support and opportunities to provide training.
- Service user trainers should not be restricted to discussion about being a service user or user involvement.
- The issue of representatives is highly contentious. It is frequently raised as an obstacle. Local organisations offer a starting point. 'Representativeness’ should be addressed in training, and a wide range of service users’ views included.
- Social work can be concerned with restricting people’s rights. Service user trainers have a particularly important contribution to make in teaching about this area.