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Social Work students at Queen’s qualify early to join the frontline

Final year Social Work students from Queen’s have qualified early so they can enter the workforce and join the frontline during the coronavirus pandemic.

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It is not compulsory for the students to qualify early, however 103 final year Social Work students from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s opted to fast-track their studies in order to support social work service delivery, and health and social care services more widely during the pandemic.

Social workers and the wider social care workforce play a vital role alongside their colleagues in medicine, nursing and health supporting, caring for and protecting those in need at this time. 

Congratulating the students on qualifying early, Dr David Hayes, Director of Undergraduate Education in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen’s said: “The social work staff team are proud of our Social Work class of 2020. Their response to the disruption to their studies, their determination to complete assessments early, and their desire and willingness to enter the workforce to support the delivery of services to the most vulnerable people in our community have all been exceptional. 

“I would like to thank our students for responding to the current crisis with such resilience and fortitude.  We wish them well as they enter the Social Work profession in these challenging times.”

Many of the Social Work students have already been working or volunteering in frontline services, either in the Health and Social Care Trusts or the voluntary and community sector. They have had to balance completing their studies with work responsibilities, and the impact of the current crisis on themselves and their families.

Katie Ní Chléire is a final year Social Work student at Queen’s who is currently working in a children’s residential home. Speaking about her experience, Katie said: “Working in health and social care can be difficult at the best of times, but during a global pandemic it’s got added challenges. We’re doing our best to create a sense of normality for the young people, despite the global situation. Although my job can be stressful, I am so grateful that I get to work with incredible young people, and work within an amazing, strong team, who I can turn to for support. We’re getting through this together.

“You don’t go into social work expecting praise or recognition- you go into social work to make a real difference to people’s lives. I am so proud of all my friends and my classmates for qualifying early, and working hard to keep people safe during this crisis. I think my classmates and colleagues are all heroes.”

Niamh Cusack is also a final year Social Work student at Queen’s who is currently working with the Southern Health and Social Care Trust. Niamh commented: “Being a key worker during this pandemic has been nothing short of inspiring. Witnessing first-hand the hard work that goes on within our Health and Social Care teams has been a very humbling experience.

“A lot of work has gone into adapting our social work practice to meet the demands of service users who are self-isolating, shielding or unwell during this pandemic. In the Community Learning Disability team that I work for, we have been working hard to ensure all of our service users and families are safe and supported. This includes daily phone calls to service users who may be at risk of mental health deterioration; intense therapeutic intervention has been extremely challenging to do over the phone, but our service users are deeply grateful, and this gives me a sense of pride and purpose. I am excited to start practising as a Social Worker and to help and support as many people as I can.”

The newly qualified social workers will be entering posts in the community, hospital, residential, and day care settings working with adults and children who are facing significant challenges in their lives, which have been exacerbated by the current pandemic.

Carolyn Ewart, Director of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) Northern Ireland said: "On behalf of BASW Northern Ireland, I want to thank all our final year social work students as they enter the workforce to support the most vulnerable individuals in society at this unprecedented time. Now, more than ever, newly qualified social workers will face testing scenarios. However, I want to reassure all new social workers that by relying on the skills and knowledge developed during your training and through keeping a clear focus on the values and ethics central to our profession, you will be able to handle the challenges you encounter.”

Sean Holland, Chief Social Work Officer at the Department of Health commented: “I am very grateful to all concerned for the effort this has taken. I am especially proud of the students for their ability to respond quickly at a time of crisis as I know so many students including those in first and second years have already put themselves forward to help in any way they can.

“Becoming a qualified Social Worker can be daunting at the best of times. New social workers may feel apprehensive and fearful about entering the profession at this time. I am confident that the foundation of knowledge, experience and support that students have gained while at Queen’s University Belfast will prepare them very well for the challenges that lie ahead.”

Patricia Higgins, Chief Executive of the Northern Ireland Social Care Council said: “Congratulations to the Social Work class of 2020 – you have stepped up to the challenge of completing your training earlier than expected to support your frontline colleagues during this difficult time.  The social work profession welcomes you and applauds your commitment.  A special thanks to Queen’s University for working in partnership with the Social Care Council and the Department of Health to support social work students to complete their qualification.”

The Social Work students officially received their qualification from Queen’s University Belfast on Tuesday 5 May, 2020.



Media inquiries to Zara McBrearty at Queen's Communications Office on Tel: 07795676858 or email