Research into practice

How have universities engaged carers and carer organisations in developing the new social work degree?

To find out, a study of universities and carers’ organisations was carried out in February and March this year.1 Seven carers’ organisations were chosen as a representative group, and five universities were chosen to match the geographical settings. This gave a snapshot in the run-up to the first year of the new degree. It follows the work done in 2002 with carers and carer trainers’ focus groups.2 The research was commissioned by the Department of Health through Carers UK and City & Guilds Affinity.

The study found universities were involving carers’ organisations in their preparations across the whole range of activities, including curriculum development, recruitment and selection, teaching and practice learning.

The universities varied – inevitably, those starting the new course in 2003 seemed to be further along than their colleagues who were starting in 2004. But even these had started preparations, and most had made contact with their local carers’ organisations. Those with little or no experience of working with carers’ organisations had based their initial thoughts on the procedures that had worked with service users’ groups, although they recognised the two groups were different.

The carers’ organisations we interviewed differed in their levels of involvement in social work education, but all had similar experiences. Despite some of these experiences being negative, all the organisations wanted to contribute to the new degree. They saw this as an opportunity they could not afford to miss, as its impact on services for carers and those they cared for was likely to be positive.

The responses reflected the variation in origin, nature, aims and objectives among carers’ organisations. They range from small self-help groups that meet infrequently to offer mutual support, through campaigning organisations, to large local organisations that are providers of services. Different capacities ranged from those that could see themselves able to take on students in a placement to those that hoped to get involved at a strategic level in the development of the education and training of social workers. The groups’ ability to become actively involved was affected by organisational capacity, time, interest and nature of the organisation, and geographical location. Some are large enough to absorb requests from several universities, while others would struggle to provide more than one carers’ awareness session a year.

The themes emerging from the research were that, in pursuing involvement from carers and carers’ organisations, universities and carers’ organisations need to consider:

  • The university’s flexibility.
  • Pressure of work and capacity of the organisation.
  • Expense of participating for the organisation.
  • Carers’ costs and the difficulty of getting alternative carers.
  • Time and programme planning.
  • Access to resources of the university – for example, internet access and library.
  • Accreditation for carer trainers.

These points would equally apply as a checklist for any social services organisation attempting to involve carers and service users.

1 S Anfilogoff, Carer and Carer Trainers’ Involvement in the New Social Work Degree, City & Guilds Affinity and Carers UK, (unpublished)

2 S Anfilogoff, Reform of Social Work Education and Training: Carer and Carer Trainers’ Focus Groups, City & Guilds Affinity and Carers UK, 2002; see

Sally Anfilogoff is an independent consultant. She can be contacted through Carers UK on 020 7566 7607.

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