At a time when the number of people in Ireland that are in danger of living in poverty is disarmingly high – having gone from 14.7 per cent to 16 per cent in the space of a single year – the need for well-trained and capable social workers has increased along a corresponding trajectory.
Social Work has always been a popular career choice, providing, as it does, the opportunity for graduates in the field to have a tangible and positive influence on people’s lives. Two-year vocational Masters that provide professional training and are accredited by the National Social Work Qualifications Board are available from Trinity College, UCD, NUI Galway and UCC. As with all public service roles, employment prospects have suffered as a result of the recession, yet there is still call for optimism.
‘The country is never going to be in a situation where it doesn’t need social workers,’ says Simone McCaughren of UCC. ‘The qualification is highly transferable and so a real selling point is that graduates can and do go to work in places like the UK or Canada.’
While McCaughren agrees that social work is a demanding vocation – ‘you’re dealing with a lot of emotional situations and it can have an impact’ – Social Work programmes are designed to prepare students for such a challenge. ‘Learning to self-care is an important element of the programme, and it starts with the work placements,’ she says. The work could also be easily described as diverse and exciting: social workers are often required to provide their services to hospitals, community workers and asylum seekers.
Candidates for the Masters in Social Work (MSW) are usually required to have at least a second-class honours degree in Social Science, with Social Policy as a major subject, or have completed the Higher Diploma in Social Policy as a conversion programme. One-year HDips in Social Policy are available to study at UCD and UCC. Relevant work experience is also a requirement, although not necessarily of the paid variety, as voluntary work may be taken into consideration. Typical modules include Social Work Theory, Family Law, Child Welfare and a Field Placement.
Practising social work professionals might be interested in augmenting their careers with a research programme. These are available from UCD (MSocSc) and Trinity (MPhil) College. Students attend taught modules on how to advance their social research skills while they work towards completing their dissertation. It is possible to progress to a PhD programme at UCD after one year.
Experienced professionals from all sectors of the social arena – from policy formulation and research to social care provision and youth work – that wish to develop their skills and knowledge might consider enrolling in an Applied Social Studies programme – a course that is available at both MA and PhD levels at NUI Maynooth. The programme includes taught modules (both practical and theoretical) and research projects: facilitating high-level research experience and career progression.
There are alternative areas of study for those who wish to work within the social realm but who may not be entirely comfortable with the emotional intensity that much social work entails. One such area is the discipline of social justice. Anyone wishing to work in the advocacy of a marginalized or oppressed group, or anyone simply seeking to research and thus deepen his or her understanding of social inequalities, will be interested in a Social Justice qualification. Courses are available from All Hallows College (MA in Social Justice and Public Policy – two years part time); and by research from UCD’s School of Social Justice, where students can enrol in an MsC in Equality Studies (one year full time, two years part time; the course can also be taken as a Gdip).
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