Both domestically and internationally, retaining social workers in statutory child protection and welfare work has been identified as a problem. However, this issue appears to receive only modest attention from researchers. This paper reports on the findings of a study that examined the retention of ‘front line’ child protection and welfare social workers in one Health Service Executive area in the Republic of Ireland. A qualitative study was undertaken with forty-four social workers with experience of this work setting. Whilst familiar themes, such as organisational supports, social exchanges with peers, amongst others, were highlighted as important in social workers' decisions to stay or leave, a grounded analysis of the data highlighted the importance of a theme not previously presented in this research. In this study, participants made links between their understandings of career pathways for newly qualified social workers and what they perceived as the key role play by child protection and welfare in ‘proving’ or inducting newly qualified social workers and the likelihood of their retention in this sector. This analysis led to the construction of a career preference typology with three ‘types’ of social worker: ‘career preference’, ‘transients’ and ‘converts’.

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