By Tracy Hind, EBE Co-ordinator
Tracy Hind, of Recovery Partners, a non-profit, user-led organisation, shares her journey of working with the SCRC Teaching Partnership on service user and carer involvement.
I have worked in youth and community development for nearly 30 years including with user involvement initiatives such as developing parent/carer participation on boards of directors, and training service users to conduct community research and to deliver and evaluate services. When Recovery Partners was commissioned to facilitate the Experts by Experience programme, I felt able to bring all this experience.
The Experts by Experience (EBE) programme was a direct consequence of the scoping we undertook in 2017-18 to find out what service user and carer involvement was going on in social work education. We made recommendations for how involvement could be improved and more funding became available, so we were able implement recommendations to recruit and train a cohort of EBEs.
The EBE programme included sessions on equality, working with practitioners, how social workers are trained, what social workers learn and do, self-management, and sharing lived experiences; how this might feel and how to look after yourself when this is challenging
We meet every six-eight weeks to keep developing as a group; we’re really cohering and people are taking on more responsibility. We had Christmas lunch this week and you could really see how they were supporting each other. The opportunity to develop the group has been great.
The EBEs we recruited were people who were interviewed as part of the scoping report. I asked them at the time if they would like to be involved in social work education in some way if there was a future opportunity and around two-thirds said yes. I kept in regular contact with them and when the funding was made available we were able to bring 19 people together for induction training. It’s a wonderful outcome from the scoping report.
We have had several challenges along the way. Some of the cohort’s expectations were quite high about how much impact they could have on social work practice (this was particularly the case for those that had had a negative experience). There was also some frustration around the pace of progress so we lost a couple of people along the way.
The diversity of lived experiences within the cohort is both a real strength and a challenge, and has certainly led to some lively discussions. There were some issues that were challenging to deal with between us, but we are now managing to work with this better. Right now it’s going really well, though we need more opportunities for the EBEs to become involved in.
We made a really conscious decision to work with the cohort taking a community development approach. We're really honest; we discuss everything including the challenges. We stay realistic. When difficult issues come up we surface them and if necessary follow up with one to ones. Nothing goes on that is unsupported or unaddressed.
Our meetings are very much about empowering ourselves as a group; this might include helping people who have struggled with confidence or supporting individuals to define what they want out of it, as well as further training including presentation skills, public speaking, and developing lived experience narratives. We appreciate people; we are hugely appreciative of the commitment the EBEs demonstrate. Some travel a long way to come along to all the meetings and at times some people have been really unwell, in these cases I stay in touch with them to keep them in the loop as much as they want. We respond to people; we don’t see them as having deficits because they are involved with services. Recovery Partners is user-led, I'm an EBE too there is no ‘them and us’, there’s only us. We’re grateful to the Teaching Partnership for supporting this approach.
We have two internal working groups; one to develop the values and mission statement (how we will work) which the group has signed off so it’s owned by the group. The other is an information pack which has anonymised biographies which include a bit about the EBEs’ lived experiences, what they are interested in doing, and what experience they’ve had. This will help raise the profile of the work we do.. It felt really good for the group to work on this together.
The highlight of my work with the Teaching Partnership has been the group work with the EBEs; when we come together as a cohort and we check in and talk about how we are doing, how opportunities have gone, what we need in terms of support. I’m really pleased the opportunities so far have gone well.
My hope is that this is just the start; sustainability is an issue but the Teaching Partnership is exploring ways to keep this going. It has felt like a lovely beacon of good practice in development - it feels really human, tangible and real. And there’s such a great amount of support around it.