Mend the gap – strategies for user involvement in social work education

Ole Petter AskheimDepartment of Health and Social Work, Lillehammer University College, Lillehammer, Norway
Peter Beresford  – Department of Health and Human Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester, UK; Department of Clinical Sciences, Brunel
Cecilia HeuleSchool of Social Work, Lund University, Lund, Sweden

A major strand in social work’s history has been its paternalistic
character, partly due to a philanthropic tradition, but also to the
tendency to import an individualist expert model into social work
practice. As a result, gaps have arisen between expert and experiential
knowledge. In this article, so called ‘gap mending strategies’ developed
by the international network PowerUs are discussed. PowerUs
consists of teachers and researchers from schools of social work and
representatives from service user organizations in nine European
countries. The gaps as the network identifies them are presented and
we share some processes within our practices that mend or maintain
gaps between service users and professionals. Two main strategies
will be explored in more detail—a strategy that has been developed
in the UK of mainstreaming service user participation in all stages
of social work education, and a strategy that has been developed
in Scandinavia of developing joint courses for social work students
and students from service user organizations. A main conclusion
is that alliances between educational institutions and service user
organizations will be important to get a fuller understanding of what
gaps we are facing and how they best could be mended.

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