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All-Ireland social work study explores professional identity

The breadth and adaptability of social work is a key strength of the profession. Central to the Shaping Social Workers’ Identity all-Ireland study is exploring whether the diversity of social work practice affects the professional identity of social work practitioners.

The research was undertaken in partnership 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 first research study of its kind, the data gathered from 1,691 social workers, via an online questionnaire, represents the views of 15% of social workers north and south of the border.

The research demonstrates the centrality of social workers’ dedication to working collaboratively with their service users to empower and facilitate them to make changes to improve their circumstances.

The findings reveal the relationship-centred, value-based factors which contribute to social workers’ professional identity. Yet despite this strong shared character, a significant proportion of social workers primarily identify as employees rather than regulated professionals. Furthermore, many identify more closely with the non-social work colleagues they work alongside, than with their fellow social workers employed elsewhere.

In addition, the survey identifies 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.

While individually social workers display a strong affinity with factors and qualities unique to social work, effort is required to foster a greater sense of collective identity across all sectors of our profession. The report concludes with a series of 29 recommendations intended to deliver this aim.

Click here to read the full report.