1st Edition April 9th, 2020 A social worker in the middle of the country

Safe social work in the time of Corona

I don’t suppose anyone can start a sentence about the current circumstances without saying these are strange times. As a social worker in a critical role (child protection) it is very strange indeed to hold meetings with parents via a conference call and to be socially distant from families with whom I am developing a relationship. I am sure social workers are being creative about communication, because creativity is a daily need in our role, but we will also be worrying about children who are currently not seen in school/nursery, some of whom were fairly socially isolated before any of us were locked down. 

It is a privilege being a social worker, people let us into their lives often at a time of crisis, and they talk to us. Whilst we can limit our news consumption, it is hard to avoid COVID-19 in any real sense, even listening to a completely unrelated radio programme, I was conscious of the reason why all the contributors were dialling in. I am acutely aware that the omnipresence of COVID-19 information feels overwhelming at times, and I am not in crisis, subject to a child protection plan, or in the midst of care proceedings. 

All of this would have been a lot harder to manage without the clear guidance and support I have received from our managers, right through from my line manager, to the Director of Children’s Services. As it became apparent that COVID-19 would be a national crisis, we were informed about the multi-agency meetings taking place at senior levels, the outcomes from those, and given really clear guidance on an ongoing basis. This began with bi-weekly updates, which increased as the situation changed, and we currently receive daily updates. I’ve taken myself away from Twitter now, but if my feed was representative, this was not the case for all social workers in local authorities. I did of course offer to share information with anyone who raised the issue and that kind of collaboration, which is always impressive within social work, was also reflected in the way that resources aimed at supporting children were quickly shared. 

The guidance I received not only reflects the directives which we are familiar with from central government briefings, but has also included information about the practical ways the LA is addressing the needs of staff.  There has been a lag in the provision of technology, but you’d expect that given the needs for additional funds for this, in the context of years of cuts (but I won’t get into that now). Even without that background, having enough laptops for everyone to work remotely was always going to be an issue, and the pressure on the LA network means remote working is incredibly frustrating at times. Primarily though, the most helpful communication has been the very clear directions about how to keep ourselves and those we are working with safe, whilst continuing to support them. 

I wouldn’t be a social worker if I wasn’t busy reflecting on this, particularly because some workers are in receipt of a tangle of information, which is not only unsafe, but discombobulating. I’m not someone who is often uncritical of senior managers, but I know that I feel (relatively) safe, supported and well informed, because I have been in receipt of impressive and comprehensive information sharing from mine. This means that, whilst I am in role which  could present some risks for myself, and the families I work with, I have felt ‘held’ and can continue to support them. There are outstanding issues, it is clear that PPE is being (quite rightly) prioritised for the NHS, there is a shortage of hand sanitiser, and I feel the loss of some face to face contact which is intrinsic to our work (my work phone is clunky enough to only be able to make calls!). 

I am writing this article anonymously, because as all LA social workers will know, we’d need our comms department to approve copy otherwise. My comms team are a little tied up now, which is a shame, because it means the shout out I would like to give to other agencies may not reach the ears of those it is aimed at. Being the agency with responsibility for taking the lead on safeguarding can feel isolating at times, and whilst I value multi-agency working, I don’t think I have ever felt so keenly that there is a concerted effort from all agencies to ensure our most vulnerable families are supported as in the time of COVID-19. In the same way that most of us will be reflecting on ‘normal’ life post COVID-19, I will be thinking about how this can be more effectively continued when normal service is resumed, and particularly my part in that. 

A social worker in the middle of the country. 

“In the rush to return to ‘normal,’ use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to.” David Hollis.