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Professionalisation of Social Care in Ireland

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Health And Social Care
Wordcount: 1801 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The issue of professionalisation of social care in Ireland has been a difficult process. In this essay we look at how the role as a social care worker has changed by exploring the history of social care in Ireland. We will then have a look at the legislation that has been put in place to improve the field of social care and the skills that are required to move from a vocational status to achieve professional recognition. Social Care can be difficult to define but according to the Irish Association of Social Care Educators (IASCE), ‘Social care is an (emerging) profession characterized by working in partnership with people who experience marginalization or disadvantage or who have ‘special needs’ (Lalor and Share 2009). Professionalization is seen as an important component of attempts to gain status and recognition. As Hallstedt and Högström¨ suggest, all occupations in the field of welfare ‘are fighting for the right to call themselves professions’ (Lalor and Share, 2009). Professionalism is a process whereby an occupation with some status requires access to a specific body of skills and knowledge. Any process of professionalization is that of regulation, ethics and conduct.

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The history of social care can be found in the role of religious run organisations and institutions of the 19th century. During the 1800s Catholic institutions increased rapidly from 120 nuns in Ireland in 1800 to 8000 by the 1900s (Skehill, 1999). they established elderly care homes, orphanages, hospitals, schools, reformatory schools, industrial schools and Magdalen laundries. Reformatory schools were set up in 1858 for children between the ages of 12 to 16 who committed an offence. The industrial school system was set up under Industrial Schools Act of 1868 to care for neglected, orphaned and abandoned children. Over the period from 1936 to 1970 170,000 children and young adults entered the gates of the 50 or so industrial schools (Child Abuse Commission). Large numbers of children were detained in the reformatories. (Fitzpatrick, 2013). Ireland had the highest rate of institutionalisation in the world (World Health Organisation, 1961).

The Childcare Act 1908 was the primary legislation for vulnerable children during the twentieth century in Ireland, it dealt with several topics, including the prevention of cruelty to children, protection of infant life and provision for juvenile offence. Its most important provisions which can be found in part IV, which provided the constitutional basis for reformation and industrial schools. It was amended by the Child Care Act, 1991 which was not fully operational until 1996. The 1991 Act was then replaced by the Children Act, 2001 which was signed into law in July 2001 its main focuses are on preventing criminal behaviour, diversion from the criminal justice system and rehabilitation. The use of detention for a child is to be a last resort.

Several reports have helped shape the development of social care practice. The Tuarim Report (1966) was an independent organisation that were concerned with child care issues, they produced an influential pamphlet entitled: Some of Our Children. Tuairim visited nine industrial schools and two reformatories. They also spoke to ex-industrial school pupils and the responsible authorities. Their recommendations were excellent and represented progressive thinking on child care. They wanted the 1908 Act replaced and the Irish Department of Health to take over responsibility for all children in care from the Irish Departments of Education and Justice; they wanted institutional care to be abolished and replaced with children’s homes, and a proper aftercare service to be set up. In 1967, as a response to Tuarim, the government set up a Committee to carry out a survey of the reformatory and industrial schools known as the Kennedy Report (1970) from that the industrial and reformatory system was exposed as ‘far from satisfactory…haphazard and amateurish’ with a ‘general lack of awareness of the needs of the child’ (Kennedy, p.13). The Report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, also known as The Ryan Report, caused widespread controversy over its findings of sexual abuse in Catholic-run industrial schools and orphanages in Ireland for most of the 20th Century. The Report of the Kilkenny Incest Case Investigation which shocked and horrified the nation, saw continued physical and sexual abuse of a young girl at the hands of her own father over a 13-year period during which the family was known to several child protection professionals. Evidentially these documents were influential in shaping the type of education and training social care practitioners need. With less emphasis on some ‘practical’ skills and a greater emphasis on research, policy issues and academic knowledge. (Lalor and Share, 2009).

Most organisations operated on what was known as the medical model of service provision which operated around the individual ‘fitting into’ a service, with professionals (such as doctors, psychiatrists, nurses, OTs and social workers) making decisions regarding the types of support they received it was service focused rather than individual focused. Under the medical model, people with disability were viewed as having a ‘medical problem’ and should be ‘fixed’ within a hospital or therapeutic setting. The individual loses their independence, choice and control over their own lives. In the late 1980’s, John O’Brien, an American activist, developed an alternative model of service care, moving from a traditional (medical) model to a social model of care. (Lalor and Share, 2009) It places the service users in the centre of the caring and supporting process and ensures that the service users is the driving force in his/her care plan and supports individuals and families to generate information on their specific needs. Moving from the Medical Model to the Social Model, it is evident that that the Social Model emphasises and focuses on the strength of service users and their families in marked contrast to other care models which have attempted to correct weaknesses or cure deficiencies. The goal of intervention shifts from ‘doing for people’ to strengthening the functioning of the service user to become less dependent on professionals. It involves a shift away from the belief that experts should solve the problems of the service users towards empowering them to master the challenges in their own lives.

In April 1997 the Labour Court asked an Expert Review group to examine and report on issues affecting 10 health and social care related professional groups. It was recommended that the development of a joint committee should be set up to explore and report on the issues affecting the child care sector. In January 2002, The Labour Court also recommended that the joint committee be requested to examine the role of the Intellectual Disability Workers, it found out of 2000 staff 55% were qualified and 45% were not. The report of this Joint Committee for Social Care Professionals (JCSCP) defined social care as being ‘the professional provision of care, protection, support, welfare and advocacy to vulnerable or dependant people individually or in groups’ (JCSCP nd: 3). The Expert Group recommended that child care workers be accorded formal professional status and therefore recruitment of non-qualified personnel must eventually cease. On the 30th November 2005, Dáil Éireann signed into law the most significant piece of legislation yet to influence the professionalisation of social care practice: The Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005. Under this act to call oneself a professional social care worker, one must possess a minimum HETAC or DIT level 7 BA (Ord.) degree in Child/Social care or Applied Social Studies. (Lalor and Share, 2009). Therefore, if social care is to achieve a professional title with any credibility, the main task is to train all those in practice to the same basic standard.

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Furthermore, under The Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005, The Health and Social Care Professionals Council (CORU) a regulator for health and social care professionals has been set up. The name CORU is derived from the Irish word, coir meaning fair, just and proper. Its role is to protect the public by promoting high standards of professional conduct, education, training and competence through statutory registration of health and social care professional (Citizens Information, 2017). The reason for regulating education and training is to ensure that all graduates entering the register have the necessary knowledge and skills to deliver a safe and effective practice to the benefit of the service user. (Health and Social Care Professionals Council, 2010)

This essay has covered a brief history of social care in Ireland and how several reports have helped to influence the development of social care practice. The Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005 brought a new era for social care worker as they have attained legal status and they are now on par with other professions. It has been a slow and tedious procedure but it’s crucial for the future of social care in Ireland. CORU has been set up as the registrar to regulate social care workers, this is a positive development in the professionalisation of social care. Despite all advancements, people are still being employed in the social care practice who hold no formal qualification. Social care service users deserve the best quality care and us as the social care worker should make it our responsibility for our own professional development so that we can register ourselves in 2022 on the CORU register.


  • Anon., 2000. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse. [Online]
    Available at: http://www.childabusecommission.ie/rpt/01-03.php
  • Anon., 2010. Health and Social Care Professionals Council. [Online]
    Available at: http://www.coru.ie/en/education/education_overview
  • Anon., 2017. Citizens Information. [Online]
    Available at: http://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/health/health_system/registration_of_health_and_social_care_professionals.html
  • Fitzpatrick, R., 2013. Irish Examiner. [Online]
    Available at: https://www.irishexaminer.com/lifestyle/features/humaninterest/our-shameful-asylums-221854.html
  • Lalor, P. S. a. K., 2009. Applied Social Studies, An Introduction for Students in Ireland. 2nd ed. s.l.:Gill & Macmillan.


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