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Social?

Social

The Social person's interests focus on some aspect of those people in their environment. In all cases the social person enjoys the personal contact of other people in preference to the impersonal dealings with things, data and ideas found in other groups.

Many will seek out positions where there is direct contact with the public in some advisory role, whether a receptionist or a counsellor. Social people are motivated by an interest in different types of people, and like diversity in their work environments. Many are drawn towards careers in the caring professions and social welfare area, whilst others prefer teaching and other 'informing' roles.

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Interviews

Mary Ita Heffernan, Social Worker

Mary Ita Heffernan is a Social Worker who works for the HSE in Kilkenny.  After completing her Leaving Certificate she did a degree in Social Science and a Masters in Social Work. This led to a National Qualification in Social Work which is the only recognised qualification to be a practitioner in this field.

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first question!

What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?

, Social Worker

Whilst in secondary school, I changed my mind many a time regarding the career path I wanted to pursue! I always knew that I wanted to work with people but was unsure about the profession which would most suit my interests and skills in this regard. In Leaving Cert year, I identified Social Work as a very possible option that I wanted to pursue.

There were a number of factors which ultimately led to my final decision. Firstly: while in school, unfortunately an immediate family member became unwell and their illness necessitated intervention from a Social Worker with our family at that time. The Social Worker allocated to my family played a significant role in my consideration of Social Work as a career choice. I was so impressed by her professional and personal skills in terms of her interpersonal skills e.g. ability to relate to people respectfully, genuinely and honestly (even when it’s something one doesn’t want to hear!) and her ability to skilfully and appropriately counsel family members and the patient both individually and as a family group – all of which were carried out and conveyed in a professional manner.

I was very inspired by this lady. I also observed her interact with other patients and families and these observations further affirmed my opinion in this regard. It seemed to me that her job was for a very worthy cause as I had firsthand experience of her intervention and in general, I learned that Social Work is about working with people who are at their most vulnerable be it for whatever reasons.

Secondly, I decided to do a 3 year degree in Social Science UCC, Cork which was a clear cut route into the area of Social Work.  I then completed a two year Masters in Social Work in UCC in order to obtain a Professional Qualification as a Social Work Practitioner.

My voluntary experience (working in the community in community based projects and working with a telephone counselling service where I was in receipt of calls from the public) definitely helped me realise the areas of ‘people related’ professions that I had a desire to learn more about with a view to specialising and the areas of practice I did not want to pursue. 

Finally and notwithstanding the above, after my first year in practice as a Child Protection and Welfare Social Worker, I took a year out to travel – not because of the job by the way but because it was a longstanding dream!! During that year I did ever type of job going and after it all, I realised that the amount of effort and time I had invested in developing my skills and knowledge in the area of Social Work Practice – this was something I was not willing to ‘let go of’ and I knew that this was the area where I was more likely to achieve my potential. So here I am, back working in a Child Protection and Welfare setting and my travels are a very distant memory!

Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?

, Social Worker

Definitely, my parents were a huge support to me. While they knew little regarding the area of social work per se, they were supportive of my choices regardless.

Also, my friends always held an interest in my courses and continue to remain interested in my job and the varied aspects of it. In fairness, the majority of my friends and I share common interests which has helped and they also work in people related jobs.

I also remain friends with people I met on the course who are also in the same job which helps in terms of being able to talk to someone who is in the same position etc.

How did you go about getting your current job?

, Social Worker

It was advertised in a job section on newspaper. I went for a formal interview and received a letter stating my success in getting the position. Within the HSE, a panel of successful applicants is formed after the interviews and this panel usually remains ‘active’ for a year in that there is a chance you may be offered a position within that timeframe.

Describe a typical day?

, Social Worker

Everyday is very different in this job particularly given the variety of our responsibilities and the fact that we work with a variety of different people. Within a normal working day, one can find themselves doing the following;

  • administration
  • home visits to clients
  • direct work with children
  • facilitating access for children in care with their birth family
  • participating in court proceedings and preparation for same
  • report writing
  • meetings
  • networking with other professionals involved in a case
  • and many telephone calls!

What are the main tasks and responsibilities?

, Social Worker

Our role is to work with children and their families where the children are at risk because of child neglect, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and physical abuse.

When a child is deemed to be at significant risk of harm and has been or is likely to continue to experience the above whilst in the care of their parents, then generally an application if made before the Court for a Statutory Care Order i.e. for the child to be placed in the care of the HSE who then assumes the role of ‘loco parentis’.

Our main aim to maintain a child in the care of its parents and all supports and interventions are given to the family in an effort to achieve this aim. However, in certain cases these interventions do not effect change in the child’s circumstances or the parent’s ability to change. In this regard, we usually then consider care proceedings which is an option of ‘last resort’.

What are the main challenges?

, Social Worker

As a family’s social worker, we continue to assess the family’s situations and apply interventions accordingly. One has to continue to keep ‘their eye on the ball’ within this profession as many of the family’s difficulties can be very much underlying and covert or ‘hidden’ to an extent. Our job is to continually investigate the child’s circumstances.

Also it can be challenging when continuing to working with parents when Court proceedings are involved. You must be able to handle this confrontation as well as maintaining your role as a ‘support’ to the family while attempting to effect positive change in family circumstances.

It’s important to remember that when working with a family you should always be ’firm but fair’ as you may have to be appropriately confrontational when addressing issues and concerns while also remaining fair and understanding some people’s life circumstances.

What's cool?

, Social Worker

Team support and support from colleagues is a pivotal factor in sustaining oneself in this job. Also knowing that there are very few people I know who could undertake this work which in itself is an indicator of the skills unique skills and abilities required for this role.

What's not so cool?

, Social Worker

Administration tasks!!!

What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?

, Social Worker

Good time managements skills, an ability to relate to people, patience and being non judgemental as well as being empathetic of people’s circumstances and good time spirit and ethics - plus a sense of humour !!!

What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?

, Social Worker

I decided to do a 3 year degree in Social Science UCC, Cork which was a clear cut route into the area of Social Work. I also decided to undertake this broad degree course as it would provide me with a variety of different options to pursue after completion of my degree especially in the event that I chose a different career path to Social Work as I got older!

I also chose this course as it provided an introduction to a variety of subjects e.g. Social Policy, Psychology, Sociology Philosophy, Law, Economics and other interesting topics pertinent to certain areas of society .eg. homelessness, social issues such as drug use etc.

In second year, I had to choose which subjects I wanted to specialise in for my degree which ultimately meant that the subjects in question would be focused on in more detail rather than in a generalised context.

In my final year of the degree, I was very determined that Social Work was the career I wanted. Hence, I then completed a two year Masters in Social Work in UCC in order to obtain a Professional Qualification as a Social Work Practitioner. I loved this course and felt like I had finally “come into my own”. Again, this course offers an array of subjects (such as Family Law, Psychology, Working with Children and Families, Policies and Legislation governing Social Work Practice etc.) and skill development based classes (e.g. development and use of counselling skills etc.).

Throughout this two year Masters, one is required to complete two student placements in the field of Social Work - one in a voluntary area, the other in a  statutory agency – the student lists their preference in certain areas of Social Work. I worked firstly in a community development project and my second placement was in a child protection agency in a statutory setting on a specialist team working with children and families at risk where a parent(s) is a drug user.

What is your education to date?

, Social Worker

Leaving Cert, a degree in Social Science and a Masters in Social Work which gives a NATIONAL QUALIFICATION IN SOCIAL WORK - the only recognised qualification to be a practitioner. There are ongoing training opportunities when in the job.

What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?

, Social Worker

I also chose Social Science in UCC as it provided an introduction to a variety of subjects e.g. Social Policy, Psychology, Sociology Philosophy, Law, Economics and other interesting topics pertinent to certain areas of society e.g. homelessness, social issues such as drug use etc.

In second year, I had to choose which subjects I wanted to specialise in for my degree which ultimately meant that the subjects in question would be focused on in more detail rather than in a generalised context.

In my final year of the degree, I was very determined that Social Work was the career I wanted. Hence, I then completed a two year Masters in Social Work in UCC in order to obtain a Professional Qualification as a Social Work Practitioner. I loved this course and felt like I had finally “come into my own”.

Again, this course offers an array of subjects (such as Family Law, Psychology, Working with Children and Families, Policies and Legislation governing Social Work Practice etc.) and skill development based classes (e.g. development and use of counselling skills etc.).

What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?

, Social Worker

For me, definitely, the most rewarding aspects of this job are the positive changes you can make in a child’s life. While there are many challenging aspects to this job, what sustains me is the fact that I have effected positive change and experiences for some children. It is a hugely satisfying experience for a practitioner whose job is to protect and safeguard the welfare of children who are most vulnerable in society.

What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?

, Social Worker

An ability to relate to people regardless of their circumstances, remaining objective and non judgemental, confidence in your capacity as a professional with a qualification to take on this role, patience and an ability to work within this area without becoming over attached to cases and case dilemma’s.

What is your dream job?

, Social Worker

I would love to be a presenter of a travel programme….ideally! - mainly because I love travel, new experiences and meeting new people and sharing this experience with others. Or perhaps to work with animals.

Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?

, Social Worker

It is reasonably paid. I'm lucky to have a secure job as I am in a permanent post. It is very much a family friendly role in that there is a lot of flexibility for those people who are parents and have childminding responsibilities etc.

There is scope to vary your working hours around such commitments e.g. part time, parental leave etc. Also the hours are 9-5, Monday to Friday which allows you free weekends etc to pursue other interests etc.

What advice would you give to someone considering this job?

, Social Worker

Whilst in secondary school, I changed my mind many a time regarding the career path I wanted to pursue! I always knew that I wanted to work with people but was unsure about the profession which would most suit my interests and skills in this regard.

While in school, I definitely found that being unsure about the type or area of work you want to pursue is a very difficult and confusing position to be in, especially given the array of career choices now available and the pressure one feels in trying to make one’s mind up.

To this end, I would strongly advise anybody in this position to research courses and job descriptions well in order to make the most informed decision possible at that time in your life. 

I recommend one tries to gain as much work experience as possible as it will provide you with valuable insight into your skills, ability, likes/dislikes for certain areas of employment!!!!

Also I would research the courses and job areas as much as possible so that you can make an informed decision regarding your choices. If you can't gain enough information in school, contact the college directly or arrange to talk to somebody who facilitates the course. In particular, it would be really valuable to talk to somebody in the profession to gain a realistic and practical insight into the job.

What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?

, Social Worker

An ability to relate to people regardless of their circumstances, remaining objective and non judgemental, patience

What is your favourite music?

, Social Worker

Bruce Springsteen is a must. Lots of varied tastes from rock e.g. Guns N Roses, Byran Adams, to contemporaries e.g. Snow Patrol, to pop to the oldies e.g. Dean Martin, Sinatra etc.

What is your favourite film?

, Social Worker

Shawshank Redemption, Sleepers, Fallen ..................to name but afew

What is your star sign?

, Social Worker

Capricorn

Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?

, Social Worker

There are ongoing training opportunities in this job which are organised and facilitated by the HSE. Training pertinent to Social Work is actively promoted by the agency. For example, I have completed courses in the following:

  • domestic violence,
  • mental health,
  • framework of assessments when working with families and children,
  • attachment theory in practice etc.
Also there are opportunities for a social worker to take on students for their college placements which mainly involves being their ‘mentor’ while they gain work experience in your agency setting.

At present, I am also considering doing a part-time two year course in addiction studies and counselling. The benefits of a Social Work Qualification is that it opens many 'doors' and provides much opportunity to explore or specialise in other related areas.

What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?

, Social Worker

Definitely college placements should be chosen carefully and an experience in both a Statutory and Voluntary setting. Any form of Residential work is a huge experience be it in a setting for young children, adolescent’s, homeless or those with disabilities.

To gain experience, much of the opportunities available are in a voluntary capacity as opposed to being paid e.g. the Samaritans etc.

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