Social Care Work; What is the Future

The announcement several years ago by CORU that Social Care workers were to be subject to registration was welcomed by some and sneered at by many; For what it’s worth I welcome any endeavour that will support the professionalisation of the Social Care field.

Sadly the process is very, very slow and that is the least of our problems. Social Care work is a very specialised field; it requires no little skill, an infinite amount of patience, an attention to detail and a willingness to put the people you advocate for above and beyond everything else. Because we tend to work with very vulnerable groups of people our practices have to be finely tuned, person centred, and beyond reproach.

Working at that level can place a huge amount of stress on a Social Care worker and all Social Care workers are taught how to look after their own mental health. The organisations that they work for have a huge responsibility to monitor how their Social Care workers are looking after themselves, all managers worth their salt will have trained in supervision and will in turn have procedures in place that support reflective practice. They will encourage critical incident de-briefings and support staff teams in being honest and open with each other.

What all this leads to is a positive, strong team relationships and a team cohesiveness that leads to a positive environment for vulnerable people to live in. The work that Social Care workers do is all based on relationships, relationships with each other, with the people they work for and with other professionals.

But the notion of positive relationships and stress management is being eroded in Social Care work. The last couple of years have heralded a paradigm shift in the way that Social Care workers do their job, and it’s not good. Some Social Care workers are being asked to become self-employed service providers, looking after their own tax, being paid poor wages, getting no annual leave, no holiday pay, no sick leave but most importantly no security.

I spoke recently to a number of Social Care workers who had worked three and four 24 hour shifts back to back, surely we don’t think this is right, how we can adequately look after vulnerable people when we are working in dysfunctional systems. Going into work feeling stressed is not an effective relationship tool, it will only cause more problems than it solves. Social Care workers need to start standing their ground. The professionalisation of Social Care work can’t happen soon enough, until then, we, the collective Care world need to really look at what we are asking our Social Care colleagues to do.

Adrian McKenna is a frontline Child Care Professional; he has worked and Managed for many years with young people and adults in residential care, detention services, mental health services and post-adoption services. He currently works with a large Dublin-based charity. He is a Committee Member of The Irish Association of Social Care Workers, Social Justice Ireland and was on the National Committee of the YES Campaign for Children.

All views expressed are entirely my own unless otherwise stated and are not representative of any organisation or employer past , present or future.