5th Edition July 14th, 2020 Lifang Wang

The social worker and their services under the spread of coronavirus in China — Based on the lockdown city Wuhan

Since the coronavirus outbreak in the beginning of 2020, social workers in Wuhan began to work under this uncertain environment. However, innovative ways for social workers to offer services have been created by collaborating with other professional groups. 

First, when the coronavirus broke out in January 2020, the environment for social workers to deliver their services was  uncertain and challenging.At the beginning of lockdown, the coronavirus prevention policy was changeable and no one knew what it would be the next day. As cases continued to surge, people with similar symptoms to Covid-19 rushed into the overcrowded hospitals for fear of catching the terrible contagious disease. Meanwhile, with a working overload every day, doctors and nurses were in an extremely fatigued state and under tremendous pressure with the serious shortages of protective equipment.

Second, social workers set up or participated in different sorts of online collaboration groups to help medical workers, relatives of patients, suspected patients and vulnerable groups affected by the Covid-19.

To help reduce the mental pressure on doctors and nurses, or to lend a hand to their family members in trouble, a new online group had been created by combining social workers with psychological consultants. With psychological consultants relieving the pressure of medical workers, the role of social workers was to make an assessment on behalf of medical workers to find out what linked resources could  overcome their difficulties. For example, by recruiting volunteers among college students committed to help the kids of frontline medical workers, social workers had organized an online group to accompany the medical workers’ kids who were alone at home through online reading, drawing or playing games.

As the situation changed, social workers provided a  service to the four kinds of service users below.[i]

Patients who had been diagnosed as Covid-19 positive could be classified as either a severe case or mild case. Severe cases would be sent to hospitals and mild cases housed in mobile cabin hospitals.

Suspected patients with similar symptoms, but who had not been diagnosed, had to be isolated collectively in an  isolated area.

Patients having a fever but for whom Covid-19 was not confirmed or ruled out had to be isolated collectively, but separated from the patients mentioned above to prevent them being infected by each other.

People who had intimate contact with  diagnosed persons had to be isolated in the isolation  area.

According to the classifications mentioned above, social workers’ responsibilities were to deliver services to patients in the isolation area, the mobile cabin hospital and in the community as well.

In order to serve the isolation area and the mobile cabin hospital, another multidisciplinary group consisting of social workers, medical volunteers, psychological consultants and ordinary volunteers had been created online. The three professional groups each performed its own functions to tackle the problems and meet the needs of patients, doctors or nurses. For example, social workers had the capability of helping the new patients to adapt to the environment; collecting the requirements from the patients; and, supporting patients leaving the hospital by linking them to community resources. Medical workers were in charge of responding to individual questions in the field of medicine. Psychological consultants were responsible for the personal consultant and advocating active ways of thinking.[ii] 

In addition, social workers also took part in coronavirus prevention within the wider community. For example, by working together with community workers, they advocated the correct prevention methods against Covid-19, checked the temperature of community residents and took care of the vulnerable families in the community.[iii]

Third, under the public emergencies, bringing hope to life has become a new ethical principle for social workers. In normal times, social workers should tell the truth to let the service user know the boundary of their capability to deal with their issues. However, it focused on bringing hope to service users’ lives, instead of refusing them support by telling them it was beyond the social worker’s scope or ability. For example, at the time of the pandemic, hardly anyone was able to get access to a bed in hospitals. Nonetheless, social workers would tell the service user asking for help for a bed in hospitals how to apply for one from another, new path and let the service user wait and see if that path ultimately proved successful. That is to say, social workers would abide by the principle of bringing hope to a desperate person during the pandemic. [iv]

Fourth, during the unprecedented pandemic, most frontline social workers needed to reduce their mental pressure and manage emotional disturbance arising from their roles during the pandemic.  

As an ordinary person in the pandemic, the social worker had concern about the health of themselves and their loved ones. On the one hand, they were under great pressure as to how to protect themselves from being infected in the process of serving to others, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when all the personal protective equipment was in short supply.

On the other hand, social workers were stuck in a dilemma as to how to balance family and work when faced with the increasingly heavy workloads in the time of the coronavirus crisis. For example, many of them berated themselves for not having been able to take good care of their kids or other family members during these dangerous times.[v]

As coronavirus took its toll on social workers’ mental health, a cross-country online supervisor group designed to help social workers to learn how to manage pressure themselves. and relieve the anxious mood, came into being.[vi] The nationwide group was  quickly set up through the Internet out of necessity and was made up of 10 multidisciplinary online working groups, consisting of 60 senior professional supervisors across the country. Communicating by Wechat and group video conference regularly, supervisors paid more attention to having greater empathy for frontline social workers, by listening more closely to what they complained about, and what they were worrying about. Until the middle of April, the supervision group had provided 786 supervision sessions lasting for a total of 476 hours through the Internet for the frontline social workers in Hubei province[vii].

Lifang Wang [1]

Associate Professor in the Department of Social Work , China University of Labor Relations, China.

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[ii] Guidance for the social work participation into serving for the mobile cabin hospital in Hubei Province. Written by Hubei Federation of social work and other organizations.(Second Edition) (Feb.2020)

[iii] Handbook for the volunteer participating into the prevention against the coronavirus in Shanghai. Written by Shanghai Civil Affairs Bureau.(Feb.2020)

[iv] A video conference on the summary of the nationwide supervision in support of the frontier social worker in Hubei Province on 19 April,2020.

[v] A video conference on the summary of the nationwide supervision in support of the frontier social worker in Hubei Province on 19 April,2020.

[vi]  A video conference on the summary of the nationwide supervision in support of the frontier social worker in Hubei Province on 19 April,2020.

[vii] Wuhan is the provincial capital of Hubei province. After the lockdown of Wuhan in Jan., many other cities in Hubei Province announced lockdown one after the other due to the prevention of coronavirus.