Social care is a profession where people work in partnership with
those who experience marginalisation or
disadvantage or who have special needs. Social care practitioners may work, for
example, with children and adolescents in residential care; people with learning
or physical disabilities; people who are homeless; people with alcohol/drug
dependency; families in the community; older people; or recent immigrants to
Social care has been defined by
IASCE – the Irish Association of Social Care Educators – as:
a profession committed to the planning and delivery of quality
care and other support services for individuals and groups with identified needs
It has been more formally defined as:
the professional provision of care, protection, support, welfare
and advocacy for vulnerable or dependent clients, individually or in groups.
This is achieved through the planning and evaluation of individualised and group
programmes of care, which are based on needs, identified where possible in
consultation with the clients and delivered through day-to-day shared life
experiences. All interventions are based on established best practice and
in-depth knowledge of lifespan development.
In the broader
European context, social care work is usually referred to as social pedagogy and
social care practitioners as social pedagogues. In the United States and Canada
the term ‘child and youth care’ is commonly used.
What personal qualities do
you need to be a social care practitioner?
social care practitioner has ‘academic’ qualities that include: a broad
knowledge base in their field; the ability to work both independently and as
part of a team; research skills; and a problem-solving approach.
In addition, certain personal attributes tend to characterise practitioners,
such as reliability and trustworthiness; altruism; empathy, compassion; and
maturity. Social care practitioners must be open-minded and be prepared to
examine and perhaps even change their own attitudes towards others.
Social care work can be very challenging – emotionally and physically - and can
mean working in some very difficult environments – but it can also be uniquely
What qualifications do you need to be a social care practitioner?
The professional qualification is currently a 3-year National Diploma. These
courses will gradually be retitled Ordinary Degrees in the future. Many
qualified practitioners go on to complete an Honours Degree in the field, and
some may progress to postgraduate qualifications. Diploma and degree courses in
social care are offered at the Institutes of Technology in Athlone,
Blanchardstown, Cork, Dublin, Dundalk, Limerick, Sligo, Tralee, Waterford, and
at the Carlow College, and through the Open Training College (based in
Goatstown, Co. Dublin).
The government has indicated that in the near future all those wishing to
work in the social care field will have to be professionally qualified – the
Ordinary Degree in Applied Social Studies (Social Care) will be the basic entry
A course of study in Social Care typically includes subjects such as sociology,
psychology, social administration and policy, principles of professional
practice, law, creative skills (art, drama, music, dance, recreation) and
research methods. Many courses offer specialised modules in particular areas.
A key element of studying to be a social care practitioner is
involvement in a number of supervised work practice placements of several months
duration. Some students already working in the field (‘in-service students’)
build on their existing skills by following a carefully supervised programme at work.
Social Care students are challenged to develop academically through deepening
their knowledge, professionally, by learning and practicing social care skills,
and personally, by developing a capacity to look at their own strengths and
weaknesses in relation to the work
Most social care courses actively recruit mature age students (23+ years) and
those who have completed relevant FETAC and BTEC courses within the further
Where do social care practitioners work?
care practitioners may be employed in either the State (statutory) sector - (for
example for the Departments of
Health and Children; Education
or Justice) and in what is termed the non-governmental sector (in organisations
such as Barnardos, the Brothers of Charity, Enable
Ireland, Focus Ireland and many others – many of which are fully or partially
funded by government) and in community-based organisations.
Salary scales for qualified social care practitioners are (as of 2004) in the
region of €28000-€39000 plus allowances. Salary scales for more senior positions
such as childcare leaders are in the region of €38000-€44000 plus allowances.
What’s the difference between a social care
practitioner and a social worker?
Social care practitioners
will typically work in a direct person-to-person capacity with the users of
services. They will seek to provide a caring, stable environment in which
various social, educational and relationship interventions can take place in the
day-to-day living space of the service user. The social worker’s role is
typically to manage the ‘case’, for example by arranging the residential child
care placement in which a child is placed, coordinating case review meetings and
negotiating the termination of a placement.
It is possible for those with a degree in social care to qualify as a social
worker via the postgraduate route. A number of Irish universities (eg UCD, TCD
and UCC) accept the BA (Hons) in Applied Social Studies for applications to their
postgraduate social work courses. There is no guarantee of entry and the
universities continue to select their students according to their own criteria.
If you are interested in following this route you are advised to contact the
What is involved with a work placement on a
social care programme?
Work placements are central to the education and training of most social care
practitioners. Placements are found in a broad variety of settings, from crèches
to drugs rehabilitation centres, to secure residential units, and may be in
Ireland or overseas. The length of placement can vary from a short ‘agency
visit’ to a half-year, full-time, depending on the course and year of study.
Students are supervised on placement by experienced staff, must meet demanding
learning outcomes, and are visited by an external supervisor for what is called
the ‘3-way meeting’ between student, agency supervisor and college supervisor.
The work placement aims to achieve many outcomes. In particular it:
provides future social care practitioners
with ‘hands on’ experience, in a variety of settings
helps to maintain close links between the
social care agencies, practitioners and educators
introduces students to professional
standards of dress, communication and punctuality
helps students to recognise their
limitations and to manage their own expectations
provides experience of working
therapeutically with clients
provides students with the opportunity to
use their own initiative
helps students to develop their awareness of
the needs and rights of various client groups
develops students’ skills in forming
relations and communicating with others
develops students’ skills in working
constructively with colleagues
provides practice in keeping records and
using case files
emphasises the importance of confidentiality
assesses students’ fitness to practice as
professional care practitioners
Read the views of David Williams
a graduate of the social care course at Dublin IT.
You can obtain further
information about social care courses by contacting any of the educational
institutions listed below:
22 Jul 2005