This paper will be presented by members of two project groups – service users, carers and academic staff – who have come together to reflect on our continuing journey towards service user and carer involvement on our Social Work Degree programme. At times it can feel like ‘two steps forward, one step back’, especially now we face the loss of ring-fenced funding. Will service user and carer involvement turn out to be a blip in the history of social work education? Or does the Reform Board’s stronger emphasis on partnership working signal a new era?
To research the paper we met with many employers mainly within local authorities to gain their experience and best practice in involving Service Users and Carers in the selection process, bringing it all together into a Best Practice Guide for Employers. We thoroughly enjoyed meeting all the employers and hearing what they did, from some inviting Service Users and Carers directly onto the interview panel and others asking Service Users to be involved in activities facilitated by candidates offering an opportunity to observe the candidates ability to engage effectively with them.
In 2010 we obtained a small scholarship grant to develop two linked projects. One group engaged with employers to produce ‘good practice’ guidance on involving service users and carers in student selection and assessing practice learning. The other group worked to develop an online resource bank, available to all our stakeholders, which supports involvement by sharing good practice.
Come and find out how we went about the projects and hear about our setbacks and successes. Our main focus, however, will be to share what we’ve learned from the process of working collaboratively. The research literature highlights that specific skills are needed by academics and service user/ carer consultants for involvement. The work can also be politically and ethically sensitive, and requires attention to power relationships. Flexibility – with organisational processes such as funding and timescales – is essential, in order to be responsive to unforeseen or changing circumstances. Funding and administrative support are also crucial. Our work presented challenges, but we are keen to explore its benefits: not only the tangible gains of the project work, but also it’s potential for building and strengthening our partnership in social work education