Service user participation in social work education in Sweden

In Sweden, around 2500 people are annually accepted as new students in this field. In the Swedish social work education, a lack of service user participation prevails, as confirmed by The National Board of Health and Welfare.

Educational programs do touch upon service user issues, but rather in the sense of people with problems to be resolved by a variety of methods. What is missing is a user perspective. That is to say, a vantage point from which users are portrayed as actors in social change processes and which recognizes their knowledge about their own living conditions as an important source of information. The education to become a professional social worker takes three and a half years, and most Schools of social work are parts of universities. Social work is an independent research area since 1986.

Since 2005 there is a growing collaboration between the School of Social Work in Lund and approximately 40 service user organizations. A pedagogical concept has been developed where social work students study together with students from service user organizations developing the social work practice together. Aproximately 350 social work students and 150 students from service user organizations have attended the course. 2013 the fourteenth course will be held.

Teachers from other countries have been developing similar courses according to the method that goes under the name gapmending courses. Teachers from Lund have initiated national (BRUS) as well as international (PowerUs) organizations to promote a service user perspective and their participation in social work education, research and practice development. There are, so far, no other gapmending courses in Sweden, but in some universities teachers have developed other kinds of collaboration with service user representatives.

By Cecilia Heule & Arne Kristiansen, School of Social Work, Lund University