Jenny Weinstein is now an education and development consultant in health and social care following four years as Principal Lecturer in the Mental Health Department at London South Bank University. Jenny was previously Assistant Director Quality and Performance at Jewish Care and Project Manager at the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work. She is the author of several books from Jessica Kingsley Publishers, including the recent Mental Health, Service User Involvement and Recovery.

User Involvement

I first became interested in user involvement when I was working for the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (CCETSW) in the 1980s where I met an inspiring survivor of mental health problems. He broke the ice at meetings, where he was speaking, by telling the audience who at that time were quite unused to hearing service user speakers, how he had experienced his first break down while working as a civil servant. He had eventually been sectioned with the form that he himself had developed.

At about the same stage, I participated (in my own time) in a brilliant creative writing course at Birkbeck College run by Miriam Hastings. I remember thinking at the time how great it would be to be as creative as Miriam so I could write rather than work in social work. I was interested to discover later that Miriam was herself a survivor and had been co-writing a mental health guidance booklet with some of my CCETSW colleagues. Miriam was generous enough to contribute to the first book I wrote with Jessica Kingsley Publishers entitled Innovative Education and Training for Care Professionals.

I was fortunate to collaborate with some of the original founders of Survivors’ Speak Out on mental health training developments and I recall organizing a conference for Diploma in Social Work providers on User Involvement, which was brilliantly chaired by two charismatic service users – one whose disability required her to lie completely flat and one who was blind. One of the speakers who most moved the audience was a survivor of the care system introduced to me by the charity ‘Who Cares?’ She spoke passionately about the attitude to her education when she was in care explaining how she had been expected to miss an `O` level examination to attend a routine medical and, when it came to `A` levels, the Council could not support her because there was `no budget` for books. This determined young woman had overcome these disadvantages and was in her third year of a law degree at London University.

Since those days, I have tried to undertake any work that I am involved with, whether it is quality assurance, service development, teaching or writing, in partnership with service users. Most of the service users who co-wrote our book Mental Health: Service User Involvement and Recovery had worked with me on previous teaching or quality assurance projects at London South Bank University or Jewish Care. Working with service users has taught me that professionals like me, however experienced or well trained we think we are, often miss the most important issues from a user’s perspective. I believe that hearing service users’ views and having service users involved centrally in all aspects of planning, developing and evaluating services is absolutely vital to ensure high quality services that are fit for purpose.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2010

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