What is Social Care Work?

Social Care Workers plan and provide professional care to vulnerable individuals and groups of all ages who experience marginalisation, disadvantage or special needs. As well as protecting and advocating for such individuals and groups, Social Care Workers professionally guide, challenge and support those entrusted to their care toward achieving their fullest potential. Client groups are varied and include children and adolescents in residential care; young people in detention schools; people with intellectual or physical disabilities; people who are homeless; people with alcohol/drug dependency; families in the community; or older people. Social Care Work is based on interpersonal relationships which require empathy, strong communication skills, self-awareness and an ability to use critical reflection. Teamwork and interdisciplinary work are also important in social care practice.

The core principles underpinning Social Care Work are similar to those of other helping professions, and they include respect for the dignity of clients; social justice; and empowerment of clients to achieve their full potential. Social Care Workers are trained, inter alia, in life span development, parenting, attachment & loss, interpersonal communication and behaviour management. Their training equips them to optimize the personal and social development of those with whom they work. In Ireland, the minimum per-requisite qualification to practice as a Social Care Worker in the publicly funded health sector is a 3-year Level 7 degree.

As undergraduates, students study a wide range of subjects, including:

  • Psychology
  • Sociology and Social Policy
  • Legal Studies
  • Principles of professional practice
  • Creative skills (Art, Drama, Music)

A key element of training is involvement in a number of supervised work placements, in a variety of Social Care settings. In Europe, Social Care Work is usually referred to as Social Pedagogy and Social Care Workers as Social Pedagogues.

Social Care practice differs from Social Work practice in that it uses shared life-space opportunities to meet the physical, social and emotional needs of clients. Social Care Work uses strengths-based, needs-led approaches to mediate clients’ presenting problems. A Social Care Practitioner will typically work in a direct person-to-person capacity with clients. He or she 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 client. The Social Worker’s role, on the other hand, is to manage the ‘case’, for example by arranging the residential child care placement in which a child is placed, co-ordinating case review meetings, negotiating the termination of a placement and responding to child protection concerns in a given area.

The profession will, in time, be subject to statutory registration by the Health and Social Care Professionals Council. The Council, which was established in March 2007 under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005, with the appointment of the Social Care Work Registration Board taking place in April 2015. Information is available on its website at: www.coru.ie.

The issue of defining Social Care is considered at length in Chapter one of Share, P. & Lalor, K. (Eds.) (2009). Applied Social Care. Dublin: Gill & Macmillan.

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