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Social Work in the time of Coronavirus

Government guidance has stated “you should work from home unless it is impossible for you to do so”.

This seems to put most professions into two categories. However, one grey area of this is practicing Social Work – a profession that is broadly split between office and face-to-face meetings with clients and other teams. 

There is no question amongst the Social Work community the restrictions are absolutely necessary to prevent the spread of Coronavirus, indeed like all of us, the protection of their own families and loved ones is paramount.

However, the lockdown has presented concerns brought about by confining families vulnerable to abuse: the Domestic Abuse Helpline has seen a 25% increase in calls in the last two weeks. Furthermore, the almost full closure of schools has cut off an important contributor to supporting children in need.

Given the speed at which measures were brought in to close down office spaces and encourage home working, Social Workers have been forced to adjust very quickly to their new circumstances.

Here’s a view from the frontline…

The view from an adult social worker

Report writing is, of course, a key aspect of the Social Work role, and many practitioners were already home-working to complete all the necessary paperwork for their caseload.

“I would usually arrange home visits on the days I was office based and ensure that I was available for Team Meetings, case discussions etc. on these days” says Colin, an Adult Social Worker on placement in the North East.

However, he has since had to change his working structure to take on more flexibility. Some authorities have had no option but to strip back some projects that are unable to run due to the restrictions, which means social workers are having to broaden their remits.

“We are having to ensure that alternative provisions are in place due to the closure of some services.”

Video conferencing facilities, like Zoom and Skype, have meant that supervisions and case meetings can still go ahead. In many ways, Social Work has been able to adapt to this as other businesses have.

Colin says: “Everyone is very anxious about having contact with others so no one seems too worried about not having face to face contact”.

However, transferring professional meetings has actually appeared to increase engagement. To combat potential feelings of isolation amongst teams, WhatsApp groups have been set up for more informal interactions. 


The view from children’s social work

Of course, technology can only go so far to allow Social Workers to practice as they did before.

Central to the Social Work role is the establishment of relationships with their caseloads and their support networks, and in-person meetings are hugely important.

Neale, working in the East Midlands on a Children’s Services Social work team says, “face to face dealings with clients have been restricted to only very urgent/serious cases of the highest priority. All other contact is via phone or video link.”

And this is where Social Workers are having to ensure all their interactions with clients are as meaningful as possible.

“With regards to safeguarding there is an increased risk given the limitations of virtual contact. It is important to maintain contact with the wider network around the chid/family”, said Neale.


The shortcomings of technology  

The concern that potential risks and challenges – non-verbal communication - that could be picked up during a home visit are more likely to be unseen during a video call with vulnerable clients is shared by Colin.

“I think the main challenge of working from home is the inability to arrange home visits and having no face-to-face contact with clients. This is a key form of contact and communication with people with a learning disability and it’s often difficult to get a full view of a person’s needs when calling them by phone. And then we have some people with more severe disabilities who are unable to use the telephone.”

Risk assessments have been put into place to allow essential home visits to go ahead. In these instances workers have been provided with information about protecting themselves from coronavirus, PPE and social distancing, coupled with this many authorities have devised risk mitigation strategies for their workers which mean home visits have to be signed off by management.

And then some disciplines of Social Work, particularly Child Protection, have to allow more essential visits, but there has had to be a greater reliance on client engagement to allow ‘virtual’ meetings to be effective. 


The impact on client groups

We are still only a couple of weeks into lockdown, however, Social Workers like Colin and Neale have concerns about the effect the restrictions will have on their client groups. We have already seen how ‘at risk’ families may be effected by enforced confinement, but vulnerable individuals are also struggling to adjust to guidelines.

Colin says, “We are finding that some adults with learning difficulties require additional support and re-assurance and concerns have been raised about people who lack capacity to keep themselves safe”.

As such, Social Workers are having to be prepared for new challenges unfolding every day, and the long-term effects are yet to be seen. 

Across many sectors, restrictions brought about by Coronavirus have compelled employers to be innovative in finding ways to uphold quality of work with limited resources.

However, what is not limited is the commitment by Social Workers to safeguard the most vulnerable and their contribution to mitigating adverse effects of the government measures will not go unnoticed.  


About Search Health & Social Care

Our Health & Social Care team works across the UK with local authorities, NHS trusts and specialist charitable organisations. We represent contract Social Workers in all disciplines of the profession, from safeguarding vulnerable adults, through to child protection, children with disabilities, fostering and adoption, and youth offending.

We are well-placed to support them in seeking new opportunities and furthering their careers.

Are you looking for social work jobs over these challenging times? Check out the social work jobs available right now.