Careers in social care
Social workers and social care workers support the needs of communities, families and individuals. They provide services for children, families, older people and those with mental and physical health problems.
Social workers work with a wide range of people including children, families, people with mental or physical disabilities or illness, older people and offenders to improve and safeguard their social wellbeing.
They plan and put into place care packages for those in need to promote their independence, support their social inclusion and participation in society, empowering them to take control of their lives and helping them to keep safe.
Social workers practise in a wide range of settings, including:
- community-based offices
- residential care
- day care
- health centres
Skills needed for social work
Social work is a challenging but rewarding job, requiring a range of personal qualities including:
Social workers have to think analytically, to make decisions in difficult circumstances and to understand and work within a legal framework to protect children and vulnerable adults.
For further information on the roles and functions of a social worker visit:
Professional training and entry requirements for social work
All social workers hold a professional social work qualification.
The Degree in Social Work is the recognised professional qualification to be eligible to practise in Northern Ireland.
Both universities also offer a two-year full-time Degree in Social Work course for graduate-entry students who hold a relevant Honours degree.
Belfast Metropolitan College and South West College, in collaboration with Ulster University, offer a full-time BSc (Hons) Degree in Social Work, which is an undergraduate three-year programme.
The Open University
The Open University (OU) offers a part-time, work-based BA in Social Work in NI which was approved by the NISCC in 2020.
The OU degree programme is available to eligible applicants who work in a social care setting and have secured the support of their employer to do the course.
Students taking part in the part-time OU degree in Social Work are not eligible to apply for the Social Work Student Incentive Scheme.
Social work Student Incentive Scheme
A Social Work Student Incentive Scheme is available from the Department of Health for students who are:
The Incentive Scheme is available to students who are:
- living in Northern Ireland
- engaged in a full-time Degree in Social Work course in Northern Ireland which has been approved by the NI Social Care Council (NISCC)
- registered with the NISCC as a student social worker
If eligible for this scheme, you'll receive an incentive payment of £4,000 for each year of study and £500 a year toward expenses related to work-based practice learning.
A student social worker must have completed enrolment with the relevant university or college before making an application for the Student Incentive Scheme.
The course provider will then email registered students information about the scheme and guidance on how to apply. You should read the guidance carefully before completing the application form and returning it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registration of the social work profession
The Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) is the regulatory body for the social work workforce in Northern Ireland.
Registration with the NISCC ensures that social workers and social work students are suitable to study and/ or practice within the social care sector.
Following successful completion of a degree in social work, graduates entering social work employment in Northern Ireland must complete an Assessed Year in Employment (AYE) as part of continuing social work registration requirements.
During this year all newly qualified social workers will be supervised by an experienced, registered social worker.
Social care worker
Social care workers give practical and emotional support to a wide range of different people. Working with individuals, families and communities, they often help to protect and promote people’s wellbeing so that they can enjoy a better quality of life.
A social care worker provides services under the supervision of a qualified social worker or case manager, often in partnership with other health or social care professionals.
Skills needed to be a social care worker
A social care worker should have good communication and time management skills. You'll need to be committed to working with people and their families, with the aim of improving their physical or mental wellbeing.
Becoming a social care worker
There are a number of routes into a career in social care and qualification requirements may differ, depending on the area of work or the job role.
A social care worker can be required to provide services in different settings, such as in:
- someone’s own home (domiciliary care)
- a day centre
- a nursing or residential home
Some employers require applicants to have formal qualifications (usually QCF level 2 or 3) however it's possible to become a care assistant or support worker without relevant qualifications.
Qualifications can be obtained after starting work as employers encourage staff to develop their skills and improve their practice.
Career pathways for social care workers
Social care workers in Northern Ireland are employed by statutory, voluntary and private sector providers.
Many social care workers begin their career as domiciliary care workers or care assistants, but with experience and qualifications progress to senior care workers or service manager roles.
Registration of the social care workforce
Further information about the registration requirements for social care workers is available from the Northern Ireland Social Care Council.