Service users inform social work degree courses

This article appear on page 40 of the magazine, under the title User-shaped course

The new social work degree requires user and carer involvement. Researcher Roxana Anghel evaluates one university’s project

From September 2003, educational institutions offering the new honours degree in social work have been required to involve service users and carers in every aspect of the programme.(1) Their experience and knowledge are uniquely influential for students’ learning and their future practice, in terms of developing respect for users and carers and genuine partnership.

Although students engage with users and carers in their practice placements, they need to understand the collective experience of users and carers and its implications for practice. The User and Carer Involvement project at Anglia Ruskin University covers the entire training delivery on the BA and MA programmes. Through it, the students meet users and carers (known as “consultants”) with a range of experiences, including mental health, physical disability, learning difficulty, homelessness, services supporting older people, ethnic minority groups, parents, young people and representatives of local community groups.

In the first two years we have evaluated the project to ensure that the involvement is meaningful to all the participants (students,
consultants, academics, practice teachers), and that we avoid tokenism. The evaluation involved all the participants
through interviews, questionnaires and focus groups, and it showed that the involvement of users and carers in social work education is beneficial and well received by most of those involved.

Students felt that it helped them empathise with and see the users and carers as human beings; made them aware of the
impact that services and professionals have on people’s lives; helped them understand the role of carers; distinguish between the positive and negative examples of social work; and see the users and carers as survivors not victims.

For most consultants the involvement has been “a great opportunity” and it made them feel that they “have something to give”, “do something for the future”.

The academic staff also acknowledged the value of the users’ and carers’ input.

They feel that it gives teaching a “real life” dimension and influences students’ attitudes and understandings, making them acknowledge strengths and think beyond stereotypes and labels.

Practice teachers found it difficult to implement the new requirements for user and carer involvement within their services because of a lack of a specific policy and training.

The evaluation showed that the success of such projects depends on:

● Adequate funding and support.
● Preparation and debriefing of students, consultants and academics.
● Extension of the involvement to module design and management board.
● Accessible language.
● Continuous monitoring.

Related to practice, projects need to work closely with practice teachers who are important links between the students’
classroom experience of user involvement and the opportunity to apply this experiential knowledge in practice.

Linked to this, projects also need to open a dialogue with the services offering placements for collaboration towards providing
students with the opportunity to work in partnership with users and carers and to witness examples of user and carer involvement within services.

(1)Requirements for Social Work Training, Department of Health, 2002
Roxana Anghel is research officer, Anglia Ruskin University, contact

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