An Exploration of Care Leavers as Experts by Experience in Social Work Teaching in the UK and Epistemic Exploitation

Emily Chetty, Karen Mills, Brian Littlechild

Emily Chetty is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Hertfordshire and is a qualified social worker. Emily leads on co-production with care leavers and those with lived experienced within a social work qualifying programme. As a practitioner, Emily has worked within children and families’ statutory services in the UK, specifically with children in care and care leavers.

Karen Mills practised as a Probation Officer prior to taking up an academic career. Currently Programme Lead for the Step up to Social Work Programme at the University of Hertfordshire she teaches on topics such as social policy, reflective practice, and safeguarding/drugs use. Karen’s current research interests concern classroom culture and anti-racist/anti oppressive practice. Professor Brian Littlechild3 is Research Lead for Social Work, University of Hertfordshire and Visiting Professor, University of Ostrava, Czech Republic. He has a long-standing commitment to the development of research and services in health and social work / social care settings, professional social work, violence and aggression in health and social work / social care settings, and co-production and risk assessment in mental health and children’s work.

OBJECTIVES: This paper explores the participation of care leavers in social work education, possible links with epistemic exploitation, and how to alleviate these. THEORETICAL BASE: This paper sets theories of epistemic exploitation within the context of oppression in the UK, identifying care leavers as a marginalised group and considering their experiences of oppression. METHODS: This paper uses a mixed methodology approach with elements of appreciative inquiry, participatory observations and reflective accounts from an educator’s perspective working with care leavers as experts by experience within social work teaching. OUTCOMES: Experts by experience in social work education are a crucial part of student learning, bringing several benefits and developments to social work practice. Care leavers bring a nuanced position from lived experience and can offer insight into children’s social work. There is potential for this involvement to become exploitative if there is insufficient preparation and a lack of meaningful understanding for the students, the EbE’s, and educators. SOCIAL WORK IMPLICATIONS: This paper offers a different lens when considering EbE involvement in social work education, inviting the reader to consider the role of EbE’s, how this is developed within education, and to provoke consideration of the meaning behind this practice, to ensure that there is purpose and reduced tokenism or exploitative consequences.

Experts by experience, participation, care leavers, social work education, epistemic exploitation, epistemic injustice

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