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Why are they staying? Retaining social workers in child protection and welfare in the Republic of Ireland

Paper presented at 2010 JSWEC Conference. There is a perception, both domestically (Ombudsman for Children, 2006; Andrews, 2008) and internationally (Tham, 2006, Stalker et al., 2007), that retaining child protection and welfare social workers is problematic. This paper presents the findings of a recently completed qualitative study that examined this issue in one Health Service Executive (HSE) area in the Republic of Ireland. Semi-structured interviews were undertaken with child protection and welfare social workers to explore their understandings of the factors that influence their decisions to want to stay in or leave their current employment. Contrary to expectations, the study found that the turnover rate for these social workers was quite low and that two thirds expressed their intention to stay in this work. This paper examines the professional, organisational and individual factors which contribute to these social workers’ retention. Particular emphasis will be placed on one aspect of this study that examined social workers’ understanding of career pathways in social work and explores how these understandings influenced their employment decisions and retention. This analysis looked at social workers use of metaphors to describe their motivations for ‘doing’ this work. This led to the development of a typology of social workers’ entry motivations which contributes to our understanding of how social workers make decisions to stay or leave decisions which are often made before they even start working in child protection and welfare. The research found that the situation might not be as pessimistic as an initial reading of the literature might suggest. The presentation will conclude with an examination of the implications of these findings for the users of child protection and welfare services, social work education and child protection and welfare service managers.

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