What is Social Care?

Social care is a profession where people work in partnership with those who experience marginalisation, disadvantage, or special needs. Social care workers professionally guide, challenge and support those entrusted to their care toward achieving their maximum potential.

Social care workers may work, for example, with children and adolescents in residential care; people with learning or physical disabilities; people who have experienced trauma and adverse childhood experiences, people who are homeless; people with alcohol/drug dependency; people with mental health or wellbeing difficulties; families in the community; older people; minority and marginalised populations; and others. 

In summary, social care professionals work with diverse service user groups presenting with complex needs.

Defining Social Care

CORU, the Health and Social Care Professionals Council, defines social care as: 

“A relationship-based approach to the purposeful planning and provision of care, protection, psycho-social support and advocacy in partnership with vulnerable individuals and groups who experience marginalisation, disadvantage or special needs. Principles of social justice and human rights are central to the practice of social care workers.”

In addition to a strong academic background, social care workers should have certain personal attributes such as reliability and trustworthiness; altruism, self-awareness, empathy, compassion, ability to work independently and as part of a team. Social care work can be emotionally and physically challenging and can mean working in difficult environments – but it can also be uniquely rewarding.

What qualifications do you need to be a Social Care Worker?

Social Care Workers require a Level 7 BA in Social Care. Member colleges of the Irish Association of Social Care Educators (IASCE) offer a range of social care qualifications at Level 7 Ordinary degree, and Level 8 Honours degree. Some programmes are delivered on both a full-time and part-time basis. For further details on specific college offerings, please refer to the contact list at the end of this article.

A course of study in Social Care typically includes subjects such as sociology, psychology, social administration and policy, principles of professional practice, law, creative studies (art, drama, music) and research methods. 

A key element of studying to be a professional social care practitioner is involvement in at least two supervised work practice placements of 400 hours each within a social care setting under the supervision of a social care worker employed in the placement agency.

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 involved.

In line with the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005, the Social Care profession is moving towards regulation and social care programmes across Ireland are currently being validated to comply with these statutory regulations. 

CORU (Health & Social Care Professionals Council) is the body responsible for regulating health and social care professions, with their main role being to protect the public by promoting high standards of professional conduct, education, training, and competency. 

All social care workers, once qualified, will be required to register with CORU to enable them to practice in the sector. Like other health and social care professions Social Care Workers will have to adhere to the code of professional conduct and ethics of the profession. 

What’s the difference between a social care practitioner and a social worker?

Social care workers 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, on the other hand, is typically to manage the ‘case’, for example by arranging the residential 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 postgraduate studies.

Several Irish universities accept holders of Level 8 social care degrees to social work postgraduate programmes.

Where do Social Care Workers gain employment?

Social care workers are employed in a variety of sectors including the public sector e.g. TUSLA and Health Service Executive, voluntary organisations e.g. St John of God’s Services, Enable Ireland, community development organisations, juvenile justice projects and in the private sector social care organisations.

Further Information

You can obtain further information about social care courses and qualifications by contacting any of the institutions in the box to the right.