Research: Voices of Social Work Through The Troubles


“It is only on reflection that I realise how crazy times were! I found myself in places with people which were totally unsafe. I was immune to things happening around me—no-one flinching when bombs or shooting could be heard, making plans to visit people when the city was gridlocked with bomb scares. The mind-set of delivering the service was ingrained as I was alongside like-minded people. We did take enormous risks with our personal safety but didn’t appreciate this at the time.”

“I am glad of this work. I am concerned that as a society and profession we want to forget the challenges we faced and the role we played at this time.”

This research project, jointly funded by the British Association of Social Workers Northern Ireland (BASW NI) and the Northern Ireland Social Care Council (NISCC), was undertaken in 2017–2018.

It explores the vital role social workers played during The Troubles in Northern Ireland (1969–1998), a subject previously unexamined in such a focused and rigorous manner.

At the core of this study is the intention to listen to the voices of social workers who continued to provide services to the most vulnerable people in a society torn apart by political conflict and violence.

These voices have not been heard before now and this Introduction opens with two examples of such voices. What is clear from the findings of this report is that social workers faced immense challenges in discharging their professional duties during The Troubles, yetthey adhered to the values of social work to ensure the needs of their clients always came first.

The social work profession in Northern Ireland has much to be proud of in putting ‘people first’ during this incredibly difficult period. However, this has come at a cost.

Social workers had to endure daily disruption to practice, with road blocks, threats and bomb scares, all common features of working life. Social workers were also on the front line in response to some of Northern Ireland’s worst atrocities, working tirelessly with others to help and support people.

To this day, several social workers are living with unexpunged death threats, and the majority of social workers felt at risk in their daily work.

As a result, for some social workers, the trauma of what they experienced in The Troubles is still something they have to deal with. The job, however, always came first. Some social workers in this research reported risking their own lives to ensure they fulfilled their protective functions to clients.

This was occurring against a backdrop of being ill-prepared by social work education and employers who were equally wedded to the ‘just get on with it’ attitude….

Click here to read the full report.