In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section History of Social Work in Northern Ireland

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • Archives and Reference Resources
  • Philanthropy and Social Work: Late 19th Century to the 1940s
  • Social Work From 1950
  • Social Work and the Troubles
  • Social Work with Children and Families up to 1970
  • Social Work with Children and Families From 1970

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Social Work History of Social Work in Northern Ireland
Caroline Skehill
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 February 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 February 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0048


The history of Northern Ireland is a complex one that has involved changing borders, governance, and jurisdiction over the centuries. In 1800 the whole of Ireland was brought into the United Kingdom as part of the act of union. Northern Ireland was established in 1921, following the war of independence, remaining constitutionally part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. This means that in order to understand the history of social work and related issues in Northern Ireland up to the 1920s, it is important to consult early histories of both Britain and Ireland. The general history of social work in the United Kingdom provides a broad context for the history of social work in Northern Ireland throughout the 20th century, but as in the case of each of the other United Kingdom jurisdictions, Northern Ireland also has its own unique (and changing) context, which must also be understood in its own right. Because of the unique positioning and history of Northern Ireland, an all-Ireland perspective is also important. Notwithstanding the importance of understanding the history within this broader context, because there is not a great deal written about the specific history of social work in Northern Ireland except for during what is commonly referred to as the Troubles (1968–1998), the focus of this entry is on the developments specific to Northern Ireland. Associated entries can be accessed for insight into the broader context. In relation to the details of this entry, other contemporary writings on key moments in history as well as selected writings from particular moments in the past are included here. The period covered goes approximately to 1985, and the sections are divided to reflect the main sources of the history of social work in Northern Ireland and to highlight the gaps for further research.

Introductory Works

The best overview of the history of social work is provided by Caul and Herron 1992. The more recent history of child care, Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety 2003, is a useful beginning source for understanding the development of social work in the welfare system from the post–World War II period onward. Anderson, et al. 1998 is a 20th-century text, but each chapter provides some useful but brief historical background to each area of practice considered. Likewise, Campbell and McColgan 2001 provides both historical and contemporary context.

  • Anderson, M., S. Bogues, Jim Campbell, H. Douglas, and M. McColgan, eds. 1998. Social work and social change in Northern Ireland: Issues for contemporary practice. London: Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work.

    While based on 20th-century practice, each chapter in this edited book provides the historical context of both policy and the main forms of practice in social work in Northern Ireland.

  • Campbell, Jim, and Mary McColgan. 2001. Social work in Northern Ireland. In Social work in the British Isles. Edited by Malcolm Payne and Steven M. Shardlow, 105–130. London: Jessica Kingsley.

    An important introductory chapter on contemporary Northern Irish social work that gives an excellent historical background, especially to developments from the 1970s onward.

  • Caul, Brian, and Stanley Herron. 1992. A service for people: Origins and developments of the personal social services of Northern Ireland. Belfast: December Publications.

    The most comprehensive overview of the history of social work and social services in Northern Ireland. It looks at developments from the late 19th century and is the only book available that currently gives a broad overview of developments from this period up to the 1980s.

  • Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety. 2003. A better future: 50 years of child care in Northern Ireland 1950–2000. Belfast: Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety.

    Gives a broad chronological account of the development of child care services and practice in Northern Ireland since 1950. While focused on child care, it is also useful in giving a general introduction to the development of social services in the Department of Health, Social Services, and Public Safety.

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