Cathy McCarthy, Masters in Social Work

Having successfully completed an undergraduate degree in Social Studies and studied the postgraduate diploma in Leadership and Advocacy in Early Years, I worked in pre-school and after-school service for 6 years, gaining hands-on experience in the delivery of community-led services.

When IT Sligo launched the MA in Social Work, it really appealed to me. I have a strong desire to work with the most vulnerable in our society and make a meaningful contribution.  The Social Work profession is adopting new ways of working and the new Social Work framework puts emphasis on building a safety network of trusted support, equally valid and reliable, working towards keeping families together.  There is a huge demand and need for suitably qualified Social Workers in our region.

As a mature student, returning to education was challenging, particularly balancing family and the commitment needed for the course. I took the decision to stop working and focus full-time on my studies.

Modules like ‘Professional Ethics in Social Work Practice’ and ‘Social Work Skills and Competencies’ prepared you for working with those in vulnerable situations. The Law and Social Work module built essential skills for work placement, as you need to have that grounding for all the scenarios you find yourself in. The teaching was very practical in nature, ensuring we were ready to partake in meaningful work placements.

During the taught modules, we had several guest lecturers with expert knowledge in specific disciplines. The IT Sligo lecturing staff on the course are highly qualified, many to Doctorate level and the course coordinator has extensive experience working in Social Work. You really are learning from the experts.

Throughout my studies, I found the Academic Writing support center a great resource to lean on. From initially getting up to speed quickly on the high academic standard required for assignments to helping with preparation for the final year thesis, the tutors were able to provide excellent guidance and support.

As part of the Masters, I completed two statutory placements in Tusla in the area of Child Protection The first was in the long-term care team and the second was as part of the duty intake team.  I had to demonstrate a certain level of competency to gain a placement, as I was accountable for the work completed during my time with the service. The teams I worked with were very busy and I had to be adaptable and proactive about getting up to speed quickly. Historically, there has been a high level of burn out in Social Work, so while on placement, my supervisor checked in to ensure I was partaking in reflective practice and self-care.

Another positive for the MA from IT Sligo is the course fees. They are reasonable when compared to other similar CORU approved courses available in Ireland. The course is a real asset to the region and provides an opportunity to become professionally accredited in the local area enabling students balance study and life commitments while furthering their education.

In the post-COVID world, there is evidence emerging that there will be increased demands on vital social care services. Early intervention in areas like mental health are being missed as referrals to services have reduced significantly. The issues haven’t disappeared,  unfortunately they are not being detected as the world stays in lockdown.

For those seeking a career in Social Work, there is huge demand for the service and positions are filled on a panel basis. Prior to graduating, I applied for and was placed on the Tusla panel, so when an opportunity arises, I will be ready to commence my work in a profession I am passionate about.