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Student social workers slam proposed graduate scheme as 'complete exploitation'

The Child and Family Agency said the proposal is at an early stage but it has made initial contact with unions to start developing the details.

A PROPOSAL FOR a graduate placement scheme, similar to the one currently in place for nurses, has been slammed by a group representing students training in this area.

The news of the proposal first emerged in January when CEO of the newly established Child and Family Agency Gordon Jeyes said many vacancies could be filled by students who have completed social work courses.

This week the agency confirmed to that it is proposing a scheme whereby “every newly qualified social worker would be guaranteed a one year contract with the agency in which they would be mentored and receive dedicated training support”.

“The scheme would also have the advantage that every graduating social worker would be able to start working and gaining practical experience from day one,” a spokesperson said.

‘Cheap labour’

Representatives from the Social Work Action Group (SWAN) in Galway have expressed concern that these graduates will be placed on a salary below that of starting salaries negotiated by trade unions with the government.

The group said this represents a cynical move to “drive down salaries within the social work sector and would install a new layer of cheap labour within the the profession”. They also said it dilutes the significance of training programmes accredited by the regulator CORU and “ignores the fact that students will have already completed lengthy placements as part of their training”.

One masters student in Galway, who is a member of the group described it as “demoralising”.

“The qualification we have – it’s like saying we’re still not qualified after six years,” she said. “It just feels like cheap labour and complete exploitation.”

Though the programme would guarantee a year’s work, the student said she was concerned graduates would be “turfed out” after that and replaced with new graduates.

‘A stable and protected initial environment’

The Child and Family Agency stressed that discussions about the scheme are “at an early stage” but said initial contact has been made with trade unions and the providers of social work professional qualifications.

“The agency is hopeful that all parties will agree on the merits of the scheme and will work together to develop the details,” the spokesperson said.

Social work is a highly challenging career and the Child and Family Agency believe that newly qualified social workers would benefit from a stable and protected initial environment within which they can hone their skills in practice as they move through probation to full registration.

SWAN plans to hold a national demonstration outside the Dáil on 21 March to protest against the proposal.

Read: Graduate nurses to protest “€6.49 per hour” training wage>

Read: Just 84 applications for graduate nursing scheme processed>

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