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 worker

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 implement 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
  • hospitals
  • health centres
  • prisons
  • probation
  • schools 

Skills needed for social work                                            

Social work is a challenging but rewarding job, requiring a range of personal qualities including patience, understanding, resilience and tolerance.

Social workers have to think analytically, to make decisions in difficult circumstances and to understand and work within a legal framework in order to protect children and vulnerable adults.

For further information on the roles and functions of a social worker, please 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. 

Queens University Belfast and Ulster University offer a BSc (Hons) degree in Social Work, which is an undergraduate full-time three-year programme. 

Both Universities also offer an accelerated route (a two-year programme) for graduate-entry students who hold a relevant Honours degree.

A part-time route is also available.

A full-time three-year programme is also normally offered at Belfast Metropolitan College in collaboration with Ulster University.

If you wish to apply to do a social work degree  you are advised to have some experience in employment or voluntary work of a social care nature.

All applicants being considered for an offer of a place will be interviewed to assess their suitability for entry to the Degree in Social Work. The interview is organised on a regional basis so that candidates have a single interview for all of the degree courses.

Current entry requirements for each of the above courses are available on the universities' and colleges' websites above.

Social work Student Incentive Scheme

A Student Incentive Scheme is available for students who live in Northern Ireland and complete their social work degree in one of the above institutions.

The Incentive Scheme is available to students who are:

  • living in Northern Ireland
  • taking part in a Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC) approved programme of study in Northern Ireland leading to the Degree in Social Work
  • currently registered with NISCC on the relevant part of the Register
  • not employed as regional social work degree trainees

If eligible for this scheme, you may benefit from an incentive grant of £4,000 for each year of study and  £500 toward expenses related to work-based learning.

How to apply

Your course provider will send you applications for the incentive scheme when they send your enrolment instructions. Fill in the form and return it to the Office of Social Services (OSS) in the envelope provided. OSS will give you notes of guidance with all the information you need about the award.

It is usually November before the first of the two annual instalments is paid.

For information on other financial support available see Student Finance.

Career pathways for social workers

There are many career development opportunities which can lead to specialist posts within social work agencies.

The Health and Social Care Trusts employ the majority of social workers in Northern Ireland.  Social workers are also employed in many areas within the voluntary and community sectors. 

All Probation Officers in Northern Ireland are required to hold a professional social work qualification.

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 will 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 is 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.



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