Service User & Carer Involvement is embedded into the social work programme at the University of Stirling, and students meet Unity members at the start of their professional studies.

 In the post below, undergraduate student, Tracey McQuillian reflects upon attending a seminar with Unity members, in which they talked about their experiences of using social work services.

I felt honoured that the UNITY members were willing to share their experiences of social work services with our class. It was both inspiring and empowering. It took real determination and strength to share their stories with us. This type of hands-on learning on an individual level was excellent. It helped me to see the impact of social work theories and legislation upon the lives of the individual. This individualised approach is something which is advocated through learning, however, I felt that meeting the UNITY members helped to put this into a context which felt more real.

The UNITY service user group particularly inspired me because I could see how empowering it was for the members to be able to influence the thought processes and learning of future social workers. I think that this type of partnership based learning sets the scene for future relationship based practice. As such, it was enriching and will impact upon my future practice.

A particularly potent moment for me was when a member said to the group “When you stop seeing the person as a person with problems, and start seeing a problem person… that’s when you run into trouble and your whole approach changes”.

Later that day, an event occurred which meant that this phrase resonated within my own life. It served as a powerful reminder that no matter where we come from, what our circumstances are, we are all essentially human beings, who all deserve a fair chance. It made me want to stand up for the rights of service users, and help support them in having a voice, and most importantly, having that voice heard.

I believe that the continued involvement of service users and carers within social work education is something which cannot be undervalued. It has the ability to create a generation of social workers who are connected to service user and carer perspectives long before they begin practice. Social workers must balance legislation, budgets, obligations and inter-disciplinary working. In the midst of the pressures of the occupation, it would be easy to lose sight of the very reason for undertaking training in the first place – to support people. I feel that by having service user involvement from the outset, our practice will be enriched by always being able to call to mind the voices of those who inspired us during the beginning of our training.