Ontological (in)security in early career social work during COVID-19: experiences in Scotland

Robin Sen (Lead / Corresponding author), Maura Daly, Trish McCulloch, Scott Grant, David Clarke, Claire Ferrier

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The impact of COVID-19 on the working lives of professionals has been of much interest. Within social work, the pandemic had increased workload demands, while the way in which work was done had shifted significantly. This article uses data gathered from newly qualified social workers (NQSWs) who began their working lives during the pandemic. These first years in practice are viewed as an extension to social workers’ formal education and as a vital stage in their professional development. Survey (n=124) and interview (n=12) data were gathered from NQSWs across Scotland. Findings were considered through Giddens’ lens of ontological security, to explore NQSW transitions during a context of pandemic disruption and its impacts on NQSWs’ confidence and competence, as well as their sense of self and identity. Consistent with other studies, respondents were most impacted by home working and the associated isolation and separation from colleagues, particularly when engaged in emotionally charged work. Findings uncovered a trichotomy of experience, with variation in the quality and availability of formal and informal support, induction, training and development. Implications for practice include a need to focus on how we support and nurture NQSWs at such a critical stage in their professional socialisation.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages19
JournalBritish Journal of Social Work
Early online date6 Jul 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Jul 2023


  • COVID-19
  • early career social work
  • newly qualified social workers (NQSWs)
  • ontological security
  • professional identity
  • supervision


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