The Nature of Social Work in Ireland: A Historical Perspective

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This volume provides the first comprehensive account of professional social work in Ireland, to contribute to a better understanding of its present form and nature. It considers the development of social work from the late 19th century to the present. In addition to analyzing the main shifts and continuities over this period, it also considers its surrounding conditions: the relationship between social work and philanthropy in its earlier phases, the impact of the Catholic Church on the development of Irish social work and the influence of the State over the shape and form of social work. In addition, it contributes to a debate about its present form and nature at a time when many uncertainties surround its future direction. For a reader outside of Ireland, in particular, the book provides insight into the cultural, political and social context within which Irish social work emerged over the past century.

“. . . this book is a must for all social workers and students of social work in Ireland. As the first of its kind it will also be of importance to those researching the origins of social work in Europe and throughout the English-speaking world. . . . there are many gems throughout the text. . . .” – British Journal of Social Work

“. . . as a groundbreaking survey, this book will in the meantime remain the authoritative source for students of Irish social work and for researchers who take up Skehill’s challenges to dig further into the puzzles of informing the present b reference to the past.” – International Social Work

“This book provides a detailed, well-documented account of ‘social work’ from the nineteenth century until the present day and is therefore an invaluable source for students, lecturers, researcher and professionals who are trying to understand social work practices and the profession within Ireland. . . . Skehill skillfully draws on available source material to document how the State, Catholic Church and civic institutions have influenced the development of social work in Ireland.” – European Journal of Social Work


“Caroline Skehill’s work on the history of social work in Ireland represents an important stage in the development of a fuller understanding of the relationship between the State, charity and philanthropy in Ireland. Theoretically sophisticated, and despite the absence of adequate source material, Skehill has skillfully documented and interpreted the changing nature of what was to become known as social work in Ireland. . . . For future students of social work, charity, philanthropy, and the role of the state in shaping these developments, this book will prove to be indispensable.” – Eoin O’Sullivan

“the wealth of historical details and the accessibility of their presentation are a real strength of the book. Generally, this is well organised around emerging themes which facilitate the drawing of inferences for the present. . . . The author’s style reads fluently and accessibly and deals with complex issues in a competent manner. . . .should stimulate a whole series of scholarly reflections of further details of Irish professional social work.” – Walter Lorenz

Table of Contents

Table of Contents:
Preface, Acknowledgments
1. Introduction: Setting the Scene: Choosing a historical approach; A critical overview of historical accounts of social work in Great Britain; Using history to problematise the present; Conclusion.
2. Phase One: Emergence of the Conditions of Possibility for a Strategy of Social Work over the 19th Century: Social and political context of philanthropy in 19th C. Ireland; The relationship between religion and charity in 19th century Ireland; The gendered nature of philanthropy in 19th century Ireland; Conclusion
3. Phase Two: Social Work as a Dual Process: Charity Work vs. emergence as a distinct occupation: Expansion of State involvement in health and welfare vis-à-vis the ever-growing monopoly of the Catholic Church over matters of welfare and the poor; The nature of voluntary and religious-based social services over the early 20th century; Institutional and intellectual developments – the emergence of trained social workers and the employment of professional social workers; Conclusion
4. Phase Three: Social Work Evolving into a Separate and Expert Strategy: Conditions of possibility for social work within its surrounding social, cultural and political influences; Institutional developments in professional social work – defining its space within the statutory and voluntary arenas; Concerns of social workers over the mid-20th century; Conclusion
5. Phase Four: Professionalisation and Expansion over the Past Thirty Years: Institutional developments in social work – employment of social workers in the statutory and voluntary sector; Key challenges for Irish social workers over Phase Four; Conclusion
6. Exploring the Nature of Social Work – Problematisations in Terms of the Past: Continuities and discontinuities within Irish social work over the past century – an overview of recurring themes; Problematising the nature and form of Irish social work in the present day; Conditions of possibility for social work in the 21sat Century
References; Index

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