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Advances in social care education and training in Ireland: The light at the end of the tunnel is often the headlamp of an oncoming train

As I consistently receive queries from colleagues around the world re student numbers in Ireland I thought that for this column I would provide some information on current developments in Irish social care/child and youth care. Perhaps the most significant development in terms of the colleges involved is (a) the significant increase in student numbers and (b) the entry of several colleges into the education and training circle. There has been a nationwide pattern of increased numbers of social care students. First year intake figures available indicate:

Cork Institute of Technology                 80 (up from 60 in previous year)
Sligo Institute of Technology                 90 (up from 60 in previous year)
Waterford Institute of Technology      115 approx (up from 35-55 in previous years)
St Patrick’s Carlow                                     “field-based” (part-time) course with 20-25 students
Athlone Institute of Technology          118

A number of new providers have entered the scene or are likely to do so. Limerick Institute of Technology is running a course “franchised” from Cork Institute of Technology (about 20 students enrolled this year). Blanchardstown Institute of Technology and Tralee Institute of Technology are looking at introducing full-time courses soon, and there are indications that Dundalk Institute of Technology is looking at a course. We have come a long way from the 1980’s where, for example, in Waterford Institute of Technology there were only 18 students studying Child Care before we made the transition in the early 1990’s to social care/child and youth care!

One of the most exciting developments is the establishment of a Working Group on Social Care. Some readers may be aware that the last educational overview was published in 1992 with the National Council for Educational Awards Working Party Report on Social and Caring Studies. Since then, a new body has taken over the remit of national awards and training in this area called the Higher Education and Training Awards Council (HETAC). It is with this body that our second jaunt into self-analysis is taking place.

At the most recent meeting of the Irish Association of Social Care Educators earlier in October, Tom Cullivan from HETAC addressed the group. He outlined the role and current status of HETAC (which formally commenced operations on 11 June 2001), stressed the importance of both unity and diversity within the higher education system, and also spoke of the importance of social care education. This was an important information session.

As I mentioned in one of my previous columns, I am sitting on the Working Party representing the Irish Association of Social Care Educators. We have made progress in the following areas thus far:

Crucially, we have come to agreement amongst the practitioners, managers, social policy analysts, government representatives and academics of a definition of social care, which we hope to promote within the Irish social care community. This may not seem to be something vastly significant, but readers should bear in mind the paper by Thom Garfat and myself where we are now at 66 title designations being used in social care/child and youth care. It is central to have a definition of our work! So, to end the suspense, here it is “the agreed definition of social care in this country at least:

“Social Care is the professional provision of care, protection, welfare and advocacy for vulnerable populations, achieved through planning, delivery and evaluation of individualised and group programmes of care based on identified needs and established best practice and in-depth knowledge of life-span development.”

A point of interest for us is why so many students might be attracted into social care as a profession/craft/discipline at a time when remuneration and career structures remain poorly resourced and the job of a social care practitioner is becoming more driven by proceduralism and legalism. I–ll keep readers informed on our deliberations. Feel free to send me on any ideas.

Higher Education and Training Awards Council, (2001). Working Party on Social Care. Dublin: HETAC.
National Council for Educational Awards, (1992) Report of the Committee on Caring and Social Studies. Dublin: NCEA.

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