Social Service Professions Towards Cross-European Standardisation of Qualifications

Aila-Leena Matthies, Professor of Social Work, University of Jyväskylä, Finland

1        Introduction: social services as a growing field of business

No doubt exists that social and health services for the population of the European societies are becoming a considerable European political and economic issue. The social and health service field in general, is becoming increasingly interesting to the market sector, to larger companies, and to the political and economic power structures regulating them. The European Union’s Lisbon strategy states that the public service sector should be open to market competition in all Member States as far as possible. Growth in the need for services and the simultaneous opening of services to the market indicates an enormous new potential economic shift from state, municipalities, and third sector organisations to the market. As a consequence, national governments and ministries in charge of trade and employment are increasingly involved in governing welfare services that used to be part of other ministries such as social and health care, or family ministries. This may mean not only a shift of power relations between different experts, but a new understanding of the issues of care, welfare and social needs. Sufficient number of qualified staff for the needs of services, the development of entrepreneurship and the pre-conditions for entrepreneurship as well as the growth of productivity in services is now more focussed.

These themes, rooted also in the Lisbon strategy, concern all Member States but raise questions about the qualifications of staff working in services (Kröger & Zechner 2009). Will the question of staff be solved from the viewpoint of professional interest groups and service-users, from the viewpoint of employers, or according to the interests of trade and economy? How these various interests match each other and are negotiated is vital to the future of social services, also with regard to social services’ own content of qualification differing essentially from that of health services.

Entrepreneurship, a considerable issue, may need to be included in the qualifications of professionals, at least as an option for further education. The neoliberal tendency to consider personal services as “products” whose productivity need to be improved might be reflected on critically from the perspective of service users and service staff. As experienced in many countries, efforts to increase the productivity of services means limiting individual and personal aspects in the contents of services and increasing the size of groups to care for and the number of cases per staff. This also concerns the qualifications of staff and to what degree they can communicate a particular character of social services in relation to the industrial production of goods and services. In the same time, the strong tendencies of medicalisation, juridization of social services and a certain “curricularisation” of childhood by “early education” make it extremely necessary to clarify a own profile of qualification in social professions.

In this article, which is based on a broader report (familyplattform 2010), I would like maintain a trial to map out the qualification of the core professions of social services from a comparative cross-European view. Social workers refers here in general to the professionals with the highest academic qualification in the field of social services, and its profile might no more need a further definition in this context (see IFSW 2010). Secondly, qualification of the staff in child day-care services - i.e. child day-care centres, kindergartens, and child day-care groups will be analysed. Finally, the current state of cross-European definition of qualification of social carers in practical work supporting people in need will be included in this discussion. Unfortunately the analysis is limited only to more formal and quantitative dimensions of qualification while a more substantial analysis of the qualifications cannot be included in this paper. The analysis is based on available comparative documents on qualification in the three comprehensive professional fields of social services and will focus on following questions:

·         whether a formal qualification is required at all; (especially in social care)

·         how various task levels are differentiated in the qualification inside of the service field, especially in child day care;

·         whether an academic education either at Bachelor (BA) or Master (MA) level is required, especially in social work.

By viewing these three central fields of tasks in social services, a more comprehensive understanding of the entire profile of social service in Europe is aimed at. As Munday (2003) states, the field of social services is not very clear to define even from the viewpoint of the labour market. Terms such as ‘social services,’ ‘social welfare,’ ‘welfare services,’ ‘social protection,’ ‘social assistance,’ ‘social care,’ and ‘social work’ are used with mixed meanings. Social services may be provided in various locations such as individual homes, day centres, residential establishments, offices, and by various organisations such as local authorities, NGOs, and private agencies; and by various staff (Munday 2003, 10). The qualifications of social service professionals may be even less complicated to define than the services themselves. Therefore one could as whether a shared identity of social services in a society is even easier to achieve via shared professional concepts and identities than via institutions.

2        State of the Art of knowledge on qualification - Relevant documents

Current comparative international literature on the qualification standards of various professions in social services is not plentiful or detailed. Some existing research does compare qualification standards in social services between two or more countries (see Boddy, Cameron, and Petrie 2006) or between countries participating in individual research projects (for instance Kröger 2003 or Salonen 2009). Systematic comparative research has not yet been carried out. But a small number of comparative reports have been published, particularly regarding the interests of professional organisations on the one hand and the interests of policy makers and administrations on the other.

Elizabeth Frost and Maria José Freitas (2007) have published a coherent book on “Social Work Education in Europe.” In this book, different authors discuss professional issues particularly from an educational viewpoint. The most recent report concerning a comparative data of social workers and their qualifications—entitled “Standards in Social Work Practice Meeting Economic, Social and Cultural Rights” has been published in 2010 by the International Federation of Social Workers, Europe. Also have The International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW) and the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) published in 2004 a paper entitled “Global standards for the Education and Training of Social Work as a Profession.”

UNICEF’s The child care transition (2008) report provides a coherent overview of the qualifications of staff in child day-care provision in the 25 OECD Member States. The European Commission’s Expert Group on Gender and Employment Issues (EGGE, 2009) has published a comprehensive report on child care provision in the 30 European states, also containing a comparative table of the qualifications of staff in child day-care. This report is not very exact in its comparability, as being based on a questionnaire to national authorities from each country. If used in connection with further reports and research, however, the EGGE report is useful for its comprehensive nature. In 2006, the OECD published a third relevant international report that included comparative information on the qualifications of professionals in child day-care—the second report in the “Starting Strong” project (OECD 2006).

The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2006) has conducted important research into current and future general issues concerning the care service sector in Europe, based on nationals reports. The first part of the “Labour supply in care services” project was based on data from six Member States, namely Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, and the UK. The second covered data from five new Member States, namely the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Poland, and Slovenia.

These reports are used as main base for a joint comparison of the three core professions in social service in Europe in this article. Another tool for comparison is now provided by the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) , but which has not been developed comprehensively for the field of social services. As the EQF might take an important role in cross-European comparisions, it will be introduced in short in order to be able to use it in the discussion later on in this paper.

3        The European Qualifications Framework and Social Services

In most European countries, the regulation of social service professionals started as late as the 1980s. Requirements for the more academic staff of social services, as social workers and kindergarten teachers have, however, already been more clearly defined. Over the last ten years, discussions about the qualification standards of social service workers have become increasingly common, motivated in part by the increasing mobility of professional staff across Europe.

 The European Qualifications Framework (EQF) for Lifelong Learning, published by the European Parliament (2008) is designed to ease translation between different qualification systems and different fields of education. In practical terms, the EQF ranges from formally non-qualified levels of qualification to doctoral levels of formal qualification and can be applied to both practical vocational work and to highly specialised academic tasks. The European Parliament (2008) underlines that each level of qualification can be achieved in various educational and career paths. The definition of each level relates, therefore, to the required knowledge, skills, and competences, not to a particular degree. However, in the practical cases of applying the EQF as a frame of reference, formal degrees will certainly play a central role.

The possibility that knowledge, skills, and competence can be attained by means other than formal education is confusing in an era of the knowledge society. If clear educational standards are not required, frameworks such as the EQF might even lead to the de-professionalisation of areas such as social services. Social services is a vulnerable area in this regard: assumptions about the ‘natural talents of women’ for caring still exist in many countries and have been strong—for example—at the beginning of social work as a distinguished vocation in the late nineteenth century and at the start of the twentieth century across Europe (see Kuhlmann 2000, Salomon 1927).

Table 1 presents an initial effort to apply the EQF from the perspective of social services, examining how the qualification of staff in these services can be analysed and compared. I have used the EQF -table published by the European Parliament (2008) and applied the description of knowledge, skills, competence and degrees to the field of social care and social work.

Table 1. The EQF from the Perspective of Professions in Social Services ( Matthies 2010)[1]





Related degree of education in national qualifications frameworks


Basic general knowledge and social-care-related knowledge based on life experience

The basic skills required to carry out simple tasks, and everyday skills in social services

Work or study under direct supervision in a structured context of social care, and lay and citizenship competences

No formal degree

(but informal qualification based on social and family life, as well as voluntary engagement)


Basic factual knowledge of field work

The basic cognitive and practical skills required to carry out tasks and to solve routine problems

Work under supervision with some autonomy in social services

Compulsory basic education, for example at a secondary school (at the age of 16, after 8 to 10 school years)


Knowledge of facts, principles, processes and general concepts in field work

The cognitive and practical skills to accomplish tasks and solve problems by selecting basic methods, tools, and information

Taking responsibility for the completion of tasks in social care, and adapting one’s own behaviour to the circumstances so as to solve problems

A vocational qualification without a formal degree, with long vocational experience or short-term training


Factual and theoretical knowledge in a broad context within the field of social services

A range of cognitive and practical skills required to generate solutions to specific problems in the field of social services

Exercising self-management within the guidelines of contexts that are usually predictable, supervising the routine work of others, taking some responsibility for the evaluation of and improvements in social services

A matriculation examination and a basic vocational degree or upper secondary vocational qualification (for example, 3 years after compulsory basic education)


Comprehensive, specialized factual and theoretical knowledge within the field of social services and an awareness of the boundaries of that knowledge

A comprehensive range of cognitive and practical skills required to develop creative solutions to abstract problems

Exercising management and supervision in contexts of social services where there is unpredictable change, and reviewing and developing performance of self and others

An upper or specialised vocational degree


Advanced knowledge of social services and social work, involving critical understanding of theories and principles

Advanced skills, demonstrating mastery and innovation, required to solve complex and unpredictable problems in a specialised field of social services and social work

Managing complex professional activities or projects, taking responsibility for decision-making in unpredictable work in social services and social work, and taking responsibility for managing the professional development of individuals and groups

A BA degree from a university or polytechnic/ university of applied sciences


Highly specialised knowledge, some of which is at the forefront of knowledge in social services and social work field, as the basis of original thinking and/or research; critical awareness of knowledge issues in social services and social work and the interface between different fields

The specialised problem-solving skills required in research, innovation, or both to develop new knowledge and procedures and to integrate knowledge from different fields

Managing and transforming work in social services and social work that are complex, unpredictable and require new strategic approaches; taking responsibility for contributing to professional knowledge and practice and/or reviewing the strategic performance of teams

An MA degree from a university or a polytechnic /

university of applied sciences


Knowledge at the most advanced frontier of social services and social work and at the interface between fields

The most advanced and specialised skills, techniques, including synthesis and evaluation, required to solve critical problems in research and/or innovation and to extend and redefine existing knowledge or professional practice

Demonstrating substantial authority, innovation, autonomy, scholarly and professional integrity, and sustained commitment to the development of new ideas or processes at the forefront of social services and social work contexts, including research

A doctoral degree or licentiate degree

4        Current Standards of Qualification in Comparison

4.1         Social Workers

The social worker’s profession is probably the most clearly-defined, standardised social services profession in the Member States. In particularly, the social work professionals in local child and youth protection being in the authority positions responsible for significant expertise and decisions based on Child Care Act have increasingly to meet clear and comprehensive requirements of qualification. Most Member States require in child protection an academic qualification achieved at a university or even post-graduated specialisation, only few accept a social work qualification achieved at a university of applied sciences. While most countries require already a MA degree in social work at universities or are moving towards it, other countries require at least a BA degree in social work, achieved at a university of applied sciences as a minimum qualification for social workers. An increasing number of countries are offering a doctoral degree in social work and many of them are involved in joint cross-European and international doctoral programmes of social work (e.g.,;

Due to the Bologna process of the European Higher Education Area, nearly all European countries are now applying or moving towards a two-step model of education consisting of Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in social work. The Bologna process has been a success for the social work profession in so far that practically all social work education programmes in Europe are now fully integrated nationally into the systems of higher education (see Martínez-Román 2006, 28). Some countries that before the Bologna process required a four-year university degree in social work are now either requiring a four-year BA degree—such as in Slovenia and Poland—or are including a legal professional qualification only at MA level, while a BA is not regarded as relevant to the labour market, like in Finland. Other countries that previously had no clear definition of social work qualifications, or had social work education below a BA level, are now up-grading their social work education to at least BA level at a university or a university of applied sciences. But countries that used to have a three-and-a-half or four-year diploma degree in social work at college, polytechnic, or universities of applied science level —including Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands— have partly reduced their previous, longer diploma degrees to a three-year BA degree as the basic qualification required for social work.

Regardless of how the Bologna process is applied, significant differences remain in the qualifications of social workers due to differences in previous educational systems, to different traditions in understanding the professionalisation of social work, and to differences in the structure of higher education institutions, such as having, or not having, a dual system of universities and universities of applied sciences. For instance, the new Bachelor’s (BA) degrees differ quantitatively between 180 and 240 ECTS. (see Martínez-Román 2006, p. 28). Over fifty percent of social workers' education in Europe is now offered at university level only, in countries such as the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Scotland and the United Kingdom. Outside universities, education in social work is offered by accredited higher education institutions, polytechnics and universities of applied sciences (Hogeschol, Fachhochschule) that adhere fully to a tertiary education system, although in most national languages, they are not called “universities”. (Martínez-Román 2006) The profile of social work studies at these non-university institutions is more practice oriented than academic, usually not connected to research and the often not clearly separated from the education of social carers, social educators, social pedagogues or youth and community workers. Some universities of applied sciences offer now an additional, optional and specialised MA degree, but not all students continue to this level as it is not demanded at the labour market.

The implementation of the Bologna process, the two new BA and MA degrees, the European Credit Transfer System (ECTS), and the system of modules—which has also been new to many educational institutions—have caused significant structural changes in the education of social workers in Europe. The next large reform, the implementation of the EQF in the National Qualifications Frameworks of social work education, will not perhaps affect structures so much as it will bring change in the methods of understanding the content and goals of education. It is to be expected that in along run the increasing academic education and research in social work will also improve the status and quality of knowledge in the comprehensive field of entire social services.

4.2         Child Day-Care Staff

Outlining the qualification requirements for staff working in the child day-care systems and early education in the Member States is currently the focus of significant public interest. A growing awareness exists of the interrelation between the quality of pre-school services and the learning performance of children in school as well as their further options in life. Early childhood services and their quality are becoming increasingly important due to long-term development in most societies towards the labour market participation of mothers, today a very clear strategic aim of the EU and of most Member States. However, as seen in comparative studies (UNICEF 2006; EGGE 2003), the issues concern not only the availability of child day-care but also the quality of child day-care in terms of the qualifications and number of staff. In such questions, cross-European comparisons are very fruitful and exciting.

The UNICEF report “Child Day-Care in Transition” (2006) uses the qualifications of staff as a core criterion for evaluating the quality of child care. UNICEF proposed as minimum that at least 50 per cent of staff in early education centres supported and accredited by governmental agencies should have a minimum of three years tertiary education with a recognized qualification in early childhood studies or a related field.The UNICEF report states, however, that twenty out of twenty-five OECD countries were able to meet this standard. The UNICEF minimum only addresses primary- and pre-school teaching qualification, with no special training in the social support and developmental needs of children.

When comparing the qualifications of child day-care staff, most attention is paid to the quantitative level of qualification in terms of the required degree. However, analysis of the content and orientation of the qualification, another very important issue, depends on whether child day-care is regarded mainly as a social care service, an educational service, or a mixture of both. The answer may differ in a society according to the form of child day-care services. In countries where child day-care is regarded as both a social care service and an educational service, the groups of children are smaller and the staff-to-children-ratio is lower. Also, both ‘types’ of staff are available, experts in social care and experts in early childhood education. Where the only aim is to provide care, the demand for qualifications is not very high and groups are small, such as in children’s private day-care groups, or care through private nurses. Where the focus is mainly on education, groups are quite large, the staff-children-ratio is quite high, and the qualifications of staff are educationally-oriented. The German traditional Kindergarten, which does not provide all-day-care, is an example on this.

Cross-European variation in the qualification requirements of staff caring for children is broad, ranging from the MA degrees in early education of kindergarten teachers in Finland to Portugal’s stipulation—stated in answer to a EU-questionnaire about European child-care provision—that “child minders should be able to read and write(EGGE 2009, 46). Despite such huge variations, very clear commonalities exist in the qualifications of child care staff. Most countries differentiate between types of staff according to three levels: child minders or care assistants with a qualification level of 1 -4; child carers, educators, or pedagogues with a qualification level of 4 -5; and kindergarten teachers, supervisors, social educators or managers with a qualification level of 6 – 7. Beyond this very similar structure across Member States, differences emerge in questions of how rationally qualification requirements work in reality. Finally, one of the most important factors in the quality of child day-care are child-to-staff ratios and group sizes, which vary significantly between countries.

4.3          Social Carers in Social Services

Although care issues are even considered as a global challenge (see Ehrenreich & Russel Hochschild 2004; Camenon & Boddy 2006), comparable systematic data on the qualifications of social care staff working with various age groups is poor in deed. This category of staff in social services also consists of highly heterogeneous vocations starting from informal carers towards trained social carers, social pedagogues, social inspectors, social assistants, social educators, family helpers and childminders. Also the differentiation with nursing staff is not always clear or even aimed at. In a “knowledge-based society” in Europe, increasing formal qualification is demanded also from the staff working in the caring task and everyday assistance with various people in need. But in the same time, due to the high quantitative lack of workers, standards of qualification are not put on the agenda as first but also uneducated “experienced carers” are welcome to the field. Some cross-European publications are available on social care work, including issues of qualification (Boddy & al 2006). The already mentioned report published by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2006), attends to critical future issues of staff shortages in care services. Another publication, based on the results of the EQUIP project (Salonen 2009), explores home care practices and education in six European countries.

Compared to professionals in nursing and education, workers in social care have a lower level of education if at all (Brannen & al 2007). Brannen & al (2007, 77-78) The lack of options for promotion or career progress in social care might be one important reason why it does not attract many young people, particularly men, and why many existing care workers change field. The European notion of Lifelong Learning and the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) should be developed therefore into “ladder instruments,” instruments that enable promotion to more demanding and qualified tasks, continuing the process of education in social care for those who look for new challenges. It became evident to Brennen & al (2007) that most care workers move across different areas of care work during their working years, a fact that can be regarded as strength of social care, enabling working options and widening of experiences and perspectives in a vertical direction also.

In Finland, for example, two paradoxical tendencies in the qualification of social care are visible: increasing and decreasing of the qualification standards. Constant upgrading of the qualification of the already working staff as well as making the training for social carers attractive for young people, even as a BA-degree of social carers and social instructors at the universities of applied sciences at the level 6, are examples on this. In the same time, the ministry of Trade and Employment has introduced new one-year short-time training for adult social carers and for migrants as care assistants in 2010, in order to supply the high quantitative demand of staff in social services. (Super 2010).

The low or unclear standards of qualification of the social care staff mirrors generally the attitude, that the everyday issues of citizens in need in Europe seems still be either a “private issue” to be solved by informal networks and voluntary organisations.

5        Concluding comparison of the qualification of professionals in social services

As considered above, while trying to achieve a joint picture about qualification demands and education of staff in social services across Europe, the state of date is not complete and rapid changes are going on in it. However, the following table aims at giving as comprehensive comparative view about the qualification standards as possible based on the available sources of valid data from all Member States of the EU.

Table 2. The qualifications of social care workers for families in the EU Member States, according to the European Qualifications Framework (EQF) (Matthies 2010). The number refer to the level in the EQF.


Qualifications of social workers

Qualifications of staff in child day-care services

Qualifications of care staff in social care services[2]


A change from college (5) to universities of applied sciences (diploma) took place in 2001; a change towards 3 years BA (6) /2 years optional MA (7) took place in 2007.

Kindergarten pedagogues: 5- years upper secondary education (5); trained (2) training. Training for childminders not mandatory in all provinces.

comparative information not available


The Flemish community: A change from colleges to universities of applied sciences in 1995 enabling diploma (BA 6) The French community: non-university higher education (institutes of higher education) in social work either as a BA (6) or BA + MA (7)

The Flemish community: only 25% of jobs require a diploma; nursery school teachers: 3- year tertiary education (6); child care workers: a secondary level degree (3 to 49. The French community: teachers: 3- year college degree (6); ; nurses: 2-year secondary education (2); child minders “useful experience” required

comparative information not available


A 4-year BA degree (6) and 2-year MA (7)


No details available; “Staff education has been introduced in working with children and improving management skills”; (2)

comparative information not available


A 4-year BA degree (6) at a university

Child carers: college diploma (4-5); kindergarten teachers: BA (6)

comparative information not available

Czech Republic

A BA + MA university degree (7)

95 % of pedagogues have an upper secondary degree (4); university BA-degree (6) has started

comparative information not available


A 3.5-year BA degree at a college (5 -6) required; two universities also offer an optional MA degree (7)

Social pedagogues: a 3.5 year degree (6); basic educational training for careers (2); informal qualification of childminders only (1)

Social and health care assistants have vocational level 4; social and health care helpers have vocational level 3


A BA +MA university degree ( 7)

Teachers in child day-care institutions: upper secondary vocational degree (5 – 6) or secondary

vocational education (4) with specialisation in pre-school education

Social care worker


university MA degree (7) as social work qualification required, in some areas further specialisation (8, (licenciate) possible

Kindergarten teachers: MA or BA degree (6–7) in early childhood education; child nurses: 3-year secondary vocational degree (4); childminders in family day-care: access to vocational degree (4) (majority still 2 to 3)

Social instructors, pedagogues and carers: a BA degree at university of applied sciences (6), or a upper vocational degree (5); more basic practical social carers: a vocational degree (3);


3 -year tertiary-level education (diploma) at level 5; three universities offer undergraduate-degree-level in social work training at level 5; private schools train the majority of social workers


Teachers at école maternelle: a university degree and specialisation (7); educators: a tertiary degree (5 to 6): children’s nurses at école maternelle or at a crèche: specialisation (4)

comparative information not available


BA degree (6) at university of applied sciences) in practical SW, MA degree (7) optional; university degree (7) demanded in all management and leading tasks

Educators: majority has 2-year degree (5); child nurses: a vocational degree (4); childminders; no education; social pedagogues (6 – 7) in leading positions; a BA degree (6) in early childhood education started 2005

In particular family support of child care: BA degree (6); Educators in residential care (5); carers in services: a certificate of a 80-hours adult training (3) or without qualification


BA and MA university degree (7)

Educators: tertiary degree (6); assistants: mainly a upper vocational degree (5)

comparative information not available


Three previous different professions now developing towards social work with a strong social science and social policy content; a 4-year university BA degree has been established (6)

2/3 of staff in kindergarten: tertiary degree (6); trained child nurses: secondary vocational training (4); workers in nurseries mainly: secondary vocational education (4)

comparative information not available


A national professional certificate in social work and BA degree (6); an additional 2-year Ma degree (7) optional at universities

No national minimum standard of qualification (“qualification poor/ experience rich”), 1 to 2); National Child Care Strategy has suggested a training framework, several universities now offering qualifications and degree courses

comparative information not available


3-year BA – degree (6) + 2-year MA degree (7) at universities

Since 2003 kindergarten staff: university degree in primary education (6); still practicing staff: vocational training (5)

comparative information not available


4-year university BA degree (6)

Kindergarten and pre-school teachers: a pedagogical degree in education should be higher than that of and pre-school pedagogues. In-service training demanded every 3rd year. No training of private childminders.

comparative information not available


3,5-year degree at a college (5); a 4-year BA degree at university (6); an MA degree after an additional 1 to 2 years, level 7

Teachers in pre-school education: a secondary or higher degree (4 – 6) related to pre-school education

comparative information not available


No one social work education existed for a long time; a BA degree has now been established at the University of L (6)

“Most workers working in the care sector are qualified employees with training that may differ by function (management, education, and cooking and cleaning).”

comparative information not available


4-year BA degree (5)

Supervisors: training in management and administration (4). Carers in home-based facilities need a recognised training in childcare (3 to 4)

comparative information not available


4-years BA degree (5); One university offers an international MA in comparative Social Work (6)

The minimum qualification requirement for childcare staff: relevant secondary vocational schooling (4); directors: tertiary degree ( 5 -6)

Care workers: vocational training (3); care helpers below it (2)


3-year BA and 3-year MA university degrees (6 - 7)

Pre-school teachers: the same as teachers in other educational programmes: post-secondary education (5)

comparative information not available


A 3 to 3.5-year BA degree (6) + 1.5 to 2 further years for an MA degree (7) at university

Teachers in crèches and in Kindergarten: a 4-year university or polytechnic education (6), nurses and

social workers have tertiary education (5); Care assistants: secondary education (4);

Childminders are not legally obliged to have a education

comparative information not available


3-year BA degree (6) + 2- year MA degree (7) , at universities, introduced according to the Bologna process

comparative information not available

comparative information not available


comparative information not available

The compulsory education for a kindergarten teacher is tertiary schooling (5) or special secondary education (4)

comparative information not available


4-year university BA degree 6); 1-year MA degree (7)

Pre-school teachers: advanced or higher education or university degree (5 - 6); Care assistants: upper secondary qualification (4)

comparative information not available


A 3-year undergraduate degree (5) will be changed into a 4-year degree (6) and a 1-year postgraduate degree will be changed into a 2-year MA degree (7)

Educational services in pre-school: the minimum required qualification is a 3-year university degree (6) in (pre-)school education or a professional qualification (4 – 5)

Social and health care workers at home have level 2; a home helper has level 1 (no qualification)


3.5-year BA degree 6 required; 2-year MA degree introduced (7).

One half of the workers and all directors in child day-care: university qualifications (6); child care assistants: 3-year diploma degree (4 – 5); family day-carers: training (4)

Social carers have a 140 ECTS degree at college level

United Kingdom

3-year undergraduate degree in England and Wales (5 – 6); 4-year BA degree in Scotland and Northern Ireland (5 - 6); 1-to-2-year postgraduate degree (specialist areas, management, research), (7)

20% have a university or tertiary qualification 5- 6); senior managers and supervisors: a minimum professional qualification (3); at least half the staff must be trained (2); child minders must complete a pre-registration course within six months of service; 30% have no qualification.

Level 3 is required, but has been achieved by all (70% of providers have fewer than 20% staff with any relevant education); Family support workers are under pressure to upgrade their qualification ( to 2- 3); Domicial care workers / care at home staff: varying training (1 to 4)

 (Boddy, Cameron, & Moss 2006; Frost & Freitas 2006; Hofer 2005; IASSW 2004; IFSW 2010; Ministry of Education, Finland 2009; Salonen 2009; SuPer 2010; Pantucek & al 2008; Panayiotopoulos & Athanasiou 2005)

The above presented trial to compare by country the qualification of staff in social services is indeed a challenging task and can only be understood rather as a for initiative than a completed result. It also shows how difficult it is to find comparative data even in this “knowledge-based era of Europe full of different comparative networks. Therefore, further completing data and discussion about the criteria of comparison is needed. However, certain phenomena can already be concluded on this data basis.

For professional social workers with academic degrees at BA and MA level, the European qualification standards are already quite clear. International professional organisations (IFSW, IASSW) have tried comprehensively to define joint standards and learning outcomes for social work education worldwide. The professionalization is also related to the gender equality in the societies and the public value of traditionally female fields of tasks. While university MA –degree was earlier required in social work in mainly societies like Nordic countries and some post-socialistic countries (Forsberg & Kröger 2010), which used to have strong professionalization of all social and pedagogical services, nowadays also several South European countries and all post-socialistic countries are aiming at this qualification of social work. In the conservative type of welfare states in Middle- Europe, social work education seems to remain at the level of university of applied sciences, but increasing number of these schools are aiming at MA –level degree, too (Kommission Sozialpädagogik Deutsche Gesellschaft für Erziehungswissenschaften 2009).

A clear similar tendency is also visible in the qualification of child day care, where almost a BA degree will be required in most European societies. At a European level, efforts are emerging to define minimum standards for required qualifications in child day-care and early education (see for example UNICEF 2008). However, professional qualifications in social care services have not yet been discussed at a cross-European level. This third area seems to consist of a mixture of staff who are not formally qualified, staff trained on the job and staff such as social educators with vocational degrees.

6        Tendencies of Current Development

A cross-European tendency exists to upgrade the qualification standards of social workers, child day-care staff, and social carers, which can be considered a positive tendency in the frame of the “knowledge-based society,” a tendency towards better skills, knowledge, and competences for work with the most vulnerable members of society. But several experts in comprehensive studies (see Boddy, Cameron & Moss, 2006; Brannen & al 2007, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, 2006; Henriksson & Wrede 2004; Kröger, Leinonen and Vuorensyrjä 2009; Vuorensyrjä & al 2006) and many practitioners in their daily work contend that there is a contradictory co-existence between ‘rising demand’ and ‘decreasing supply’ in social services. All the Member States have an increasing need for workers in social and care services but limited resources or a limited willingness to pay them in regular jobs. The flexibilisation of labour market regulations is used widely in care services. On the one hand, temporary part-time contracts might be useful for staff in particular life situations, but for most staff members and particularly for service users, permanent contracts and continuing working relationships in personal services. The comparative evaluative research of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (2006, 7) states, that one part of political power in the EU and in the Member States speaks for joint regulations to require higher qualifications and good training for social service professions; another part feels that doing so would invite an unacceptable financial burden on the Member States. Qualifications specified by law also may be very high, while the job itself is unrewarding.

Worsening working conditions and low salaries mean that many qualified professionals are leaving the field of social services and less qualified staff must replace them in many societies. Due to the privatisation of services and mixture of providers, staff qualifications can no longer be controlled to the same extent by the public sector. Reduction of qualification requirements is often regarded positively as flexibilisation. Perhaps the largest challenge for qualification standards in social services is the neoliberal labour market policy. As each unemployed individual has to be “activated” in any kind of job and as local authorities are under pressure to find for those individuals practical placements, short-term jobs, or other means of labour market integration, the service sector is often seen as a solution.

Regarding the tendencies mentioned, the introduction of the EQF can be seen as a promising step to facilitate the movement of staff in social services to regions where they are most necessary and where working conditions are the most attractive. By enabling an objective comparison of qualifications between countries, the EQF may in turn create positive pressure to upgrade standards in the European main stream. However, the comparison may lead to political pressure in another direction and a type of ‘de-qualification’; if less highly-qualified professionals are sufficient in Southern European countries, one might ask why such highly-qualified staff are necessary in Northern Europe. It seems reasonable to hope that cross-European reflection might encourage valuing skill, knowledge, and competence in social services—rather than belief in ‘natural competences’ of caring.

Gaps between living standards, income, and working conditions between different regions inside Europe—and on the borders of Europe—motivate for the mobility of workers in social services between Member States and from outside of Europe. But the exact consequences for services and families in the poorer regions sending staff to better-off regions, as well as consequences for service users in the recipient regions, have not yet been systematically studied. It is also important that incoming workers can achieve the necessary qualifications as soon as possible, so as not to be exploited in the de-qualification of professional standards.

Interestingly, it is easier to coax women from the another side of the globe to Europe to work in social services than to convince European men even inside of a family to become involved in social care. Most documents analysed for this report emphasise the importance of recruiting more male workers to this predominantly female sector of the labour market. Banez and Ehlert (2006, 68) contend that to strengthen the relevance of gender issues within the social work curricula, gender must be considered part of the criteria in the national accreditation, evaluation, and quality assurance process. They regard the guidelines given by the EU and by international organisations as very important, therefore.

In many countries, qualification for a certain vocation in social services marks entrance to an “empty-ended” career. However, understanding EQF levels as optional steps towards higher education—according to the concept of lifelong learning—might be both possible and motivational.

It is typical for the qualifications and professional work of social services to be in the middle of disciplinary and sectoral disputes. Health care professionals and agencies, on one side, and professionals and institutions with backgrounds in educational thinking, on the other, take part in social work and social care in each of the professional fields concerned, namely social work, child day-care, and family support. On one side, a medicalisation and over-pedagogisation of the social needs of people must be avoided. A solid multi-professional cooperation may be achieved only if the content of the qualifications of social professions has its own clear identity, an identity in which social aspects, social work, social policy, and other social science-rooted contents are central.

The global standard of social workers, formulated by the International Federation of Social Workers (2004), points out the critical nature of relationships to service users and states the following points concerning the most important goals for the qualifications of social workers. This could perhaps be a base for a own cross-professional base for a own identity of social professions. Firstly, a social worker “respects the rights and interests of service users and their participation in all aspects of the delivery of programmes.” Secondly, ”the core purpose of Social Work is to form short and longer-term working relationships with and mobilise individuals, families, groups, organisations, and communities to enhance their well-being and their problem-solving capacities.” Moreover, concerning the paradigm of the social work profession, “there is a clear requirement that the curriculum should focus on capacity-building and empowerment of individuals, families, groups, organisations, and communities through a human-centred, developmental approach” (IFSW 2004).

[1] According to the European Parliament (2008), referring also to the Ministry of Education Finland (2009); to Boddy; Cameron and Moss 2006;

[2] In most member states, data on the qualifications of staff in social care for families of this type is not available; required qualifications are either not defined or social care services for families are not established.


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Author´s Address:
Prof. Aila-Leena Matthies
University of Jyväskylä