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9 Dec 22 IASW Press Release – Social Workers Call for Radical Change to Address Crisis in Services

Social work is in the throes of a chronic and deepening crisis in relation to training, recruitment and retention of social work professionals; and those with whom we work are suffering as a result. There are too few social workers in Ireland to begin with; many of those in post are overburdened as a result of high staff turnover and unfilled vacancies; and there are too few student social workers in training to replace those leaving the profession, let alone to provide expanded social services required because of increasing populations, new legislation etc. The impact of all this is that those individuals, families and communities who need social work services, for whatever reason, are being restricted or denied that access. The Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) has just published a scoping report on Training, Recruitment and Retention of Social Workers in Ireland, as a key step in addressing the relevant issues. IASW now calls on Government to take the necessary urgent steps to put strategic leadership, planning and other essential measures in place to deal with the problem.

Social work is the profession that supports people dealing with significant life challenges and facilitating positive change, as well as the profession of human rights and social justice. Speaking on the launch of the IASW scoping report, ahead of UN Human Rights Day, Vivian Geiran, Chairman of IASW stated:

We all know what the problems impacting social work are. They include a lack of even basic data, such as how many social workers there are, where they work and the numbers moving in and out of the profession in Ireland. There are too few social workers to provide existing services, let alone provide for expanded services in the future. We also urgently need a strategic plan for social workforce planning nationally. This will take a government decision to assign overall strategic responsibility for social work to one government department. Because social work services come under the remit of a number of government departments, strategic oversight is at best fragmented, at worst non-existent. There is a logic to the Department of Health being that coordinating department. Otherwise, we will continue to see the negative impact of the well-recognised problems continue and indeed worsen over the months and years ahead, in the form of waiting lists, unavailability of services and system failures.

The IASW’s Scoping Report on Social Work Training, Recruitment and Retention provides a comprehensive overview of the many current challenges faced by social workers and provides solutions for Government to act on an interim and long-term basis. These solutions include:

  • Provision of a greater number of social work training places in Ireland annually and taking steps to make social work an attractive profession, as well as attracting candidates with a wider diversity of life experience.
  • Reducing the cost of undertaking professional social work programmes and providing improved availability of grants and bursaries.  
  • The provision of a greater range of options for those wanting to pursue social work training, including part-time and distance learning options, and a wider range of post-qualifying courses.  
  • Need for increased access to practice placements for those in training.
  • A joined-up approach to operational social workforce planning and recruitment across relevant organisations. 
  • Improved induction, support and supervision, as well as access to Continuing Professional Development (CPD) particularly but not only for early-career social workers, so as to improve retention in the profession.
  • Research on why some social workers leave the profession and introduction of incentives to return to the profession.

Vivian Geiran emphasised that:

The overarching need, however, is for Government to identify a single department to be assigned clear responsibility for strategic direction, including workforce planning, in respect of the social work profession and the services they provide, with the clear mandate to ensure cross-sectoral cooperation necessary to link and deliver the appropriate solutions.

Notes for Editors:

  • Social work is one of the health and social care professions (HSCP) whose practitioners must be registered with CORU, the national HSCP professional registration body.
  • Social workers are key to the implementation of important government policies and legislation, working across Ireland with children, adults and families facing life challenges that may arise due to illness, mental health issues, disability, adult, and child protection needs, criminal behaviour, bereavement etc. They support people in crisis, helping them make the positive changes they want to see in their own lives. Social work is also the profession of human rights and social justice, identifying those barriers in our society that make life unequal and unfair for some people in our communities, and advocating for positive changes to address these barriers.
  • UN/International Human Rights Day is observed on 10 December each year – the day the United Nations adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), which proclaims ‘the inalienable rights that everyone is entitled to as a human being – regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.’
  • The theme for UN Human Rights Day 2022 focuses on how rights are the beginning of peace within societies, and a way to create a fairer society for future generations.
  • The IASW’s Scoping Report on Recruitment and Retention of Social Workers will be available on the IASW website: 

IASW Spokesperson: Vivian Geiran (Chair, IASW) via office on 086 0241055