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A Decade of Dedication: Niamh Quinn's Unwavering Journey to Become a Social Worker

“The thought of helping someone everyday, there’s no better feeling than that”

Working as a social worker is something Niamh Quinn always wanted to do. Now, just over a decade later, she is finally on the road to reaching her goals.

The 32-year-old from Clonoe, County Tyrone, always had a deep interest in social work. Growing up as the youngest of her siblings, Niamh always felt drawn to playing with her young neighbours or babysitting her sister’s children.

Through doing this she often heard people tell her how she was a natural with children, so it was an easy choice when she had to pick courses for her UCAS application.

The first-year social work student said: “I always knew I wanted to work with children. I don’t know why but everybody always said to me that I was really good with them. So, when I was doing my UCAS I applied for primary school teaching, I also applied for Social Work at that time. I got as far as the interview stage for social work, but I didn’t get in.”

After receiving a rejection from the social work course, Niamh went on to do a primary school teaching course, but dropped out after a year and a half as it wasn’t what she wanted to do.

“It was a conscious decision to apply for teaching too” she explained, adding: “Working with children was the only avenue I really wanted to go down, I didn’t really want to teach, but I like working with children. So, I went down that path.

“I only completed a year and a half, I just knew it wasn’t for me.”

Niamh didn’t stop here, she continued on her path to working with children, knowing it was something she was meant to do.

“After I left teaching I went to tech and got my level three childcare, then I went straight into a job in a creche and stayed there for six years” she said.

However, still not where she wanted to be and looking to the future, Niamh decided it was time to try something completely different.

She said: “I decided I needed a bit of office background so I went into a solicitors. I’m still working there two days a week, on the side of my social work studies, as a secretary.

“The solicitor’s two main things that they deal with are family and criminal so they deal with social workers all of the time. It’s interesting because I’m seeing it from the other side now too.”

Working closely with social workers, families and solicitors made Niamh realise it was time to finally get back on her original path and complete her social work studies.

Speaking about why she is so passionate about social care work, she said: “Just the thought of helping people. It would be such a great feeling to just come home every day and think you’ve helped somebody. I’m quite a positive person so to bring that to somebody else’s family, there is no better feeling.”

With her experience working in the solicitor’s, Niamh knows she could go down many different routes of social work, something that she feels isn’t widely known.

“I actually didn’t even realise the breadth of opportunities within social work. There’s so many avenues that someone could go down. Obviously, there are so many children that need help, so that’s a big one, but there really are so many choices.

“There’s definitely a big misunderstanding when it comes to the role of the job.  A lot of people just hear the job title and assume you’re there to take their children and that’s just not the way it is at all. The social worker is there to help you, they are not against you.”

Now she’s finally pursuing her dream, Niamh said understanding exactly what the social work course entailed is important for anyone thinking about applying.

She explained: “I was prepared for the work, but I wasn’t as prepared as I thought I would be. The written side of things is quite intense, but I just love the learning.

“The classes are brilliant. In South West College, all of the tutors are social workers so we’re being taught by people with first-hand experience.”

Although the coursework can be full on, Niamh is confident it will all be worth it when she reaches her end goal. Looking back, Niamh is thankful that she didn’t get on the course the first time around.

“I think at that stage, I probably wasn’t actually ready for it. I feel like I was too immature and young at that time. I’m kind of glad now that I didn’t get in at that point of my life. Of course, I was really disappointed, but I’m glad that I went and got some experience behind me” she said.

One warning Niamh has for anyone who is applying for the course, is to be prepared for the emotional side of things.

“You have to be prepared to take time out for yourself” she said.

“Don’t be afraid to take 20 minutes, if you need to. There’s been a few times on the course where I have had to step out of the room, but that is okay.”

Speaking about the application process, Niamh advises: “Take your time. Don’t rush filling it out. For my personal statement, I also spoke to a mum of one of the children I worked with to get her thoughts. So, if you can, also get perspectives from other people. Make sure you also include examples of how you have helped someone. Just make it as personal as possible.”

The main message that Niamh wants to get across, is that it is never too late to go for it. Having taken just over a decade to get to where she is now, Niamh knows that every choice she made work wise were all conscious decisions, connected to where she wanted to be.

“I just want everyone to know that it is never too late” she said.

Feeling inspired? For more information on how you can train to be a social worker in Northern Ireland check out our Interested in becoming a social worker? page.


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