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Outcomes of user & carer involvement in social work education

It is now taken for granted that people who use social work services and their carers should be involved in the education and training of social workers. Their involvement challenges power imbalances and encourages students to consider the realities of life of the people they are working with.

It is important that involvement is meaningful for all the people involved in social work education and not just tokenistic. Last October the British Journal of Social Work published the findings of our study investigating models of involvement in advanced post-qualifying social work education. We identified four models – consultation, partnership, political and user control – each with different implications for social work education. The full paper can be downloaded here and a blog post about the paper can be found here.

Last week the British Journal of Social Work published online our literature review which informed this study. The full paper can be downloaded here.

We systematically reviewed studies which evaluated the outcome of user and carer involvement for students, practitioners, users and carers. Each paper which met our inclusion criteria was evaluated against a modified version of Kirkpatrick’s (1967) framework for the evaluation of educational programmes. This framework has been used extensively to evaluate the outcome of education and training. Our modified version has four levels:

Level 1: Perceptions about service user and carer involvement in social work education

Level 2: Changes in attitudes of students/practitioners and acquisition of new knowledge and skills as a result of service user and carer involvement in social work education

Level 3: Changes in behaviour of students/practitioners and organisational practice as a result of service user and carer involvement in social work education

Level 4: Benefits to service users and carers of service user and carer involvement in social work education

We found a large number of studies which reported positive feedback about service user and carer involvement in social work education (level 1). 29 papers presented evaluation data which showed that service users, carers, students and lecturers all valued the involvement of service users and carers in social work education.

Only 3 papers presented evaluation data at level 2 in Kirkpatrick’s framework. Of these, only one found that service user and carer involvement improved students’ knowledge. The others presented mixed findings about changes in attitudes.

No studies were found which presented data at levels 3 and 4, which means that we cannot evaluate the extent to which service user and carer involvement improves social work practice, influences organisational change or ultimately benefits other service users and carers. These are the most challenging levels to evidence as they require longitudinal studies which follow students into their future practice. These studies need to be carefully designed so that any changes in behaviour and the impact of this on outcomes for service users and carers can be traced back to the original user and carer involvement in social work training. This will involve an experimental design and comparison groups, perhaps involving different models of involvement.

The findings of this review have been cited in a recent Social Care Institute for Excellence report which establishes the current baseline for service user and carer involvement in social work education. This report echoes the findings of our literature review and qualitative study which call for more research into the outcomes of service user and carer involvement on social work practice and, ultimately, the children and adults they are working with.

Reference

Kirkpatrick, D. L. (1967) ‘Evaluation of training’, in R. L. Craig and L. R. Bittel (eds), Training and Development Handbook, New York, McGraw-Hill, pp. 87–112.

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