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Challenges of users' participation in social work education

Marijana Kleteki Radovi, Prof. dr. sc. Kristina Urbanc Mr. sc.Eva Anela Delale Department of Social Work Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb, Croatia

Project Service users as experience experts in social work education and research
Project supported by IASSW since Jan 2008, innitiated and coordinated by Department Of Social Work, Faculty of Law, University of Zagreb. Expected outcomes: Developing some more understanding about users involvement in social work education and research; Promoting stronger and more formal links between schools of social work and users in social work education; Sharing experiences on users involvement with our European sub-regional group and supporting network development.

About the project

Partners in the project: representatives of regional schools of social work (Eastern European Sub-Regional Association of Schools of Social Work of the IASSW). Applicant and coordinator: Department of Social Work, University of Zagreb, Faculty of Law, Croatia Faculty for Social Work, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia Institute for Social Work and Social Police, Faculty of Philosophy, Skopje, Macedonia University of Banja Luka, Faculty of Philosophy, Department for Social Work, Bosnia and Herzegovina Faculty of Political Science, Belgrade, Serbia Department of Social Work, Faculty of Political Science, Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Aims of the project - to develop some more understanding about:

How service users conceptualise and talk about social work education process; How other participants (social work agencies, social work schools, students, policy makers) conceptualise users involvement in educational process; What kind of issues users find challenging concerning field placement, content of courses and educational outcomes; What kind of support/information do users need to be better prepared for involving in educational process as experience experts; How can social work education and social work academic community in whole become more aware and more sensitive towards users involvement in social work education and research process. Planning further activities of sub-regional group.

About the conference

The conference was held at the Department of Social Work in Zagreb, on 23th of September 2008. The conference was the main activity of the project. The purpose of the conference was to put all the experiences from the region together and to see what we can get from each other, what our schools can get from our networking and what good can it be for service users in social work practice. Project partners were encouraged to analyze and define the level of users involvement in their own schools' curriculum and to discuss further steps in making users' role in education and research more explicit and visible It was for the very first time that there was a dialogue among all stakeholders (students, users, users run organisations, teachers, Ministry of health and social welfare, social work agencies and institutions).

About the conference (2)

Some participants have indicated they feel rather incompetent concerning the issue of users participation in their own curriculums. The intention was to incourage additionally participants who perceived themselves incompetent to discuss the obstacles for users' involving in education and research. The idea was to share the experiences, focusing on examples of good practice, discussing what parts of these examples could be transferable and useful for other schools and cultural context. This was the reason why the conference was the main activity of the project.

1. How service users talk about social work education process

Students are too busy to be committed to one single peace of learning or practicing, they are running from one course to another, expecting users to be in a mood for them when they come; students often expect people in the field to be adjusted to their schedule, free time and wishes, so do teachers... Field placement should be like a compact teaching, with no other obligations and classes at the same time; it is a process that matters...and they (students) simply do not have enough time for that. For users its important to have a view about general direction of social work education, participating in programme development and evaluation. It would be useful to teach us (users) how to transfer our knowledge and experiences, educate us about some techniques how to speak up in front of many students. Recording our sessions with students, it would be helpful for us (users) and for them (students), and for next generations. More official cooperation, contract with the school, not just informal contacts. It would be important to meet other fellow users and to make a kind of network of experience experts.

2. How other participants conceptualise users involvement in s.w. education

Requirements for cultural, professional and educational changes (service user/student oriented vs. service/institution/teacher oriented (Croatia, Slovenia, BiH, Macedonia, Serbia) Reluctant to include users: ...users do not belong to schools...its not an academic level...) (Croatia, BiH, Macedonia, Serbia). Need for strengthening users networking and informing users about possibilities of involvement (BiH, Macedonia, Serbia). The involvement of users is not a result of organised or strategic institutional efforts, but rather of individual teachers efforts (Macedonia, Croatia). Since 1999 more service users were invited to give lectures, seminars, workshops (Slovenia, Croatia).

3. What kind of issues service users find challenging in s.w. education (...its not just the teacing content, its about personal story...)
Possibilities of employing persons with disability as lecturers, field instructors, researchers (Croatia, Slovenia). Formalizing cooperation between users run oraganisations/individuals and schools (Croatia, BiH, Serbia, Macedonia). Respecting users initiative in curriculum planning (on the level of content and process) (Croatia). Sharing personal experiences/life stories, inviting students to disclose more easily their own vulnerabilities, finding out what was realy helpful and supporting in services/interventions/behaviour of professionals/their attitudes, language they use...(Croatia, Slovenia).

4. What kind of support do users need to be better prepared for involvement?

Better accesability (building, library, teaching materials) for people with experience of disability Strengthining networking of users run organisations (B i H, Serbia, Macedonia). Informing users about educational philosophy, missions, goals and programms (Croatia, Slovenia). Preparing users to feel more comfortable teaching students (Croatia, Slovenia). Educating users about participatory research methods (Slovenia).

5. How can academics become more sensitive for users involvement?

Supporting participatory research projects in order to get deeper understanding of users perspective (Slovenia, Croatia). Educating teachers/practice teachers/ administration staff/ministry of education in order to raise their awarness for users involvement (BiH, Croatia) Evaluating, on a regular basis, benefits from users involvement in education for students and users (Croatia)

6. Implications for future: - (re)defining roles of all included - formalizing cooperation between schools and users - promoting partnership between schools and users

Users Initiative Shared Initiative Assigned/ Informed Tokenism Manipulation/ Decoration

Conclusion (1)
This project was an initial step at the user involvement in social work education and research at national and regional level. The dialogue among all stakeholders (students, users, users run organisations, teachers, Ministry of health and social welfare, social work agencies and institutions) was initiated. In order to continue that dialogue and to establish more formal partnership between faculty and users, there was an initiative from both sides to organise regular meetings. Next meeting is planned for September 2009.

Conclusion (2)
There was articulated strong need for further events like this (conferences, round tables, workshops) on regular bases to continue the dialogue on involvement. Some faculty stuff members were really surprised at users responses, such as, that they do not feel actualy included in the process of education if they have no accessability to the building, classrooms and they need to be carried around in their wheelchairs, because of barriers at school. Actually, a point was made on the issue who is supposed to involve whom, since, teachers and students have to learn to see things from the users' perspective. From that point of view, it deals with teachers and students involvement in users' initiatives.