Professional Identity and the Irish Social Care Worker
2012-08-02T13:42:08Z (GMT) by
Social care work in Ireland was designated as a regulated profession in 2005, a change in status that led to an increase in the number of unqualified staff registering for degree level professional education. The formation and expression of professional identity among final year in-service social care degree students in the disability sector was explored through a hermeneutic phenomenological approach focused on lived experience, utilising semi-structured interviews and thematic analysis. The study found evidence of an emerging professional identity, which could be described from the perspective of changes in respondents’ values, behaviour and self-concept. Respondents’ values were highly consistent with new professionalism, its emphasis on the service user-service provider relationship and issues of trust, empowerment and quality of service; and they operationalised these values through the deliberate promotion of service user independence, autonomy and self-determination. A change in respondents’ self-concept was evidenced in an enhanced sense of competence and an increase in the confidence they brought to their daily work and interactions with colleagues and other professionals. They also demonstrated very high levels of employee engagement and revealed a need for emotion management skills in their everyday work, and it is suggested that these aspects of the role need to be addressed by educators and employers. The research identifies a range of influences on the development of social care workers’ professional identity, including: pre-career life experiences; workplace influences including role models and other professionals; personal motivation for enhanced status and the influence of the programme of professional education. Each of the influencing factors can be positively utilised by educators in assisting students to develop a robust values oriented professional identity.