Cross-border study explores Irish social workers’ professional identity

The “Shaping Social Workers’ Identity” study, which draws on a survey of social workers practising in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, explored whether the diversity of social work practice affects the professional identity of social work practitioners, finding its ‘breadth and adaptability’ to be a ‘key strength’.

The report found that ‘relationship-centred, value-based factors’ contribute to social workers’ professional identity, but that a significant proportion of social workers primarily identify as employees rather than regulated professionals.

The survey identified “bureaucracy, workload pressure, insufficient time to spend in direct engagement with service users, and media portrayal of social work” as the factors most significant in negatively impacting social workers’ professional identity.

It also found that many identify more closely with the non-social work colleagues they work alongside, than with their fellow social workers employed elsewhere.

The report decides upon 29 recommendations to foster a greater sense of collective identity across all sectors of the social work profession.

The research was undertaken by the British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland (BASW NI), the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) the Northern Ireland Social Care Council and Coru – Ireland’s multi-profession health regulator.

The study, described as the ‘first of its kind’ due to its large sample from social workers across the island of Ireland, received the views of nearly 1,700 social workers – representing the views of 15% of all social workers from both sides of the border.

Writing in the report’s foreword, David N Jones, Chair of the BASW International Committee and former President of the International Federation of Social Workers, said: “If social workers wish to be understood and respected alongside other professional groups, we need to own and celebrate our professional identity, not in a self-serving way but as an expression of our respect for human rights and self-determination whenever possible.

“This report provides an effective platform for the continued debate about these ideas and the appropriate place of social work in our communities in the difficult years ahead.”

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