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Coronavirus and Social Work. How Are We Coping?

While the majority of UK press attention has been on medical services and their ability to cope with the current and looming Covid-19 crisis, social work has largely been left on the sidelines. However, as an essential service we must consider the best way of serving our clients while keeping ourselves safe.

The main issue for social workers currently is how to carry out their statutory duties under conditions of social isolation. Much of social work relies on face-to-face contact, which cannot always be achieved over the telephone or conference calls. The climate of social isolation can also exacerbate certain problems, such as domestic and child abuse (see our article

Concerns have been raised that care home workers are not receiving the same resources and support as NHS staff. This includes government support for those being laid off, a lack of access to hand sanitizer and preferential hours for staff in supermarkets.

Social isolation in care homes is clearly impractical, putting the most vulnerable members of society at risk. There is a clear need to prioritise cases by urgency, which can place a burden on individual decision-makers. When there is a clearly-defined need to take action, or not, then this must be dutifully recorded in case files. These are clearly unprecedented times when individuals are prone to take decisions they would not normally take.

The Principal Children and Families Social Worker Network (PCFSWN) have highlighted a focus on virtual platforms and the sharing of best practice among teams. This has been a challenge for some, however, as investment in technology has been greater in some local authorities than others. In practice, many have downloaded free apps as an informal means of communication.

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has been surveying practitioners to find out how they are coping with the crisis, and what steps need to be taken. They found that the majority of social workers are unclear on the protocols and resources to keep themselves safe. In particular, it is unclear how those caring for others with an underlying health condition are being effectively isolated.

They found that individuals and local authorities have been striving to safeguard workers and services users through virtual meetings, home working and mobile technology. When practitioners or their families are at a high risk of the virus, some employers have worked to ensure essential visits are carried out by others. Rota systems have also been implemented for homeworking.

BASW have called for priority access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and hand sanitizer. They also called on support to safeguard people who are at a particular risk of harm, isolation and neglect during the current crisis.

While difficult times can bring out the best in people, others may buckle under the strain. Rhetoric circulating in the media and from public figures is almost warlike in its tone, calling for national unity and the collaboration of all. While front-line social workers are making the best of a difficult situation, there is a call for guidance on best practice.

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