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Abstract

This article suggests that social care in Ireland is at a crossroads and that the Irish Association of Care Workers is now at a crucial stage of its twenty-six year existence. It acknowledges that a number of practitioners and academics have spent an enormous amount of time and energy attempting to convince their peers and the general public that social care deserves independent professional recognition, but with little real willingness to problematise the discipline of social care. I argue that social care practitioners and advocates will be forced to fully embrace change and become both more dynamic and proactive than heretofore in a number of areas if social care is to achieve professional recognition rather than maintain a vocational status. The national organisation representing care workers started life in 1972 as the Association of Workers in Care (AWCC) with only 73 members. By 1992 it had changed name and orientation and had 200 members, but 0' Connor (1992, p. 250) rightly observed that the title, status, qualifications and pay accorded to people working with children remained unclear. As of February 1998, the organisation had approximately 500 members, but increased numbers does not necessarily equate with increased political mobility. The proverbial path to enlightenment has not been smooth with 0' Connor (1992, p. 256) further noting, at the beginning of this decade, that despite a membership of approximately 200, the body had failed to gain recognition as the voice of care workers and that any attempt to professionalise child care would face "considerable difficulties in the Irish context". The current organisation has the potential to act as an effective lobby and interest group on behalf of both its membership and clients, but to achieve this, the organisation must (re)structure itself - from within. The paper concludes by commenting on the irony in seeking the Holy Grail in social care - professional status.

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