MORE than 100 social work students from Queen's University have qualified early to join frontline services during the coronavirus pandemic.
The 103 students from the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work at Queen's fast-tracked their studies to support social work service delivery, and wider health and social care services, during the crisis.
Social workers and the wider social care workforce play a vital role alongside their colleagues in medicine, nursing and health supporting, caring for and protecting those in need. Many of the social work students have already been working or volunteering in frontline services, either in health and social care trusts or the voluntary and community sector.
Katie Ni Chleire is a final year social work student at Queen's who is currently working in a children's residential home.
She said: "We're doing our best to create a sense of normality for the young people, despite the global situation.
"Although my job can be stressful, I am so grateful that I get to work with incredible young people, and work within an amazing, strong team, who I can turn to for support. We're getting through this together."
She added: "I am so proud of all my friends and my classmates for qualifying early, and working hard to keep people safe during this crisis.
"I think my classmates and colleagues are all heroes."
Niamh Cusack is also a final year social work student and is currently working with the Southern Health and Social Care Trust.
She said that being a key worker during the pandemic has been "nothing short of inspiring".
"Witnessing first-hand the hard work that goes on within our health and social care teams has been a very humbling experience," Niamh said.
"A lot of work has gone into adapting our social work practice to meet the demands of service users who are self-isolating, shielding or unwell during this pandemic. In the community learning disability team that I work for, we have been working hard to ensure all of our service users and families are safe and supported."
The newly qualified social workers will be entering posts in the community, hospital, residential, and day care settings working with adults and children who are facing significant challenges in their lives, which have been exacerbated by the current pandemic.
Congratulating the students, Dr David Hayes, director of undergraduate education in the School of Social Sciences, Education and Social Work, said they were "exceptional".
"I would like to thank our students for responding to the current crisis with such resilience and fortitude," he added.
Sean Holland, chief social work officer at the Department of Health, expressed his gratitude to the students, including those in first and second years who have already put themselves forward to help in any way they can.
Patricia Higgins, chief executive of the Northern Ireland Social Care Council, thanked Queen's University for supporting the students in completing their qualifications.