As a frontline practitioner these are worrying times, never in my 17 years of direct social work experience and over 30 years in social care have I ever seen such sights.
Social work is a people activity. The engagement we have with people is key. Our relationships enable us to cross many boundaries while we attempt to protect and safeguard those most vulnerable within our society.
My colleagues have, and are, continuing to look at creative ways to provide services and ensure that their statutory duties and obligations are met, whilst managers are doing their best to look at the structural processes that are required.
There are major issues that we face, one of which is when do frontline staff get their protection? In unpicking this, I am talking directly about the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the support we give to staff both formally and informally.
While I welcome the Public Health England (PHE) guidance, there is little in relation to discussion of the real practicalities of how do services deliver on their statutory responsibilities? I don’t wish to speak for social workers alone, I have the greatest admiration for all the frontline staff in the NHS and associated services.
I do not understand whether the equipment is available, and if so, if it is sufficient for what is required. But if it is, why is it taking so long to get it out to people and what do we do in the meantime?
People are dying and although there is guidance, we need so much more.
All my colleagues are working collectively to meet the pressures on the service, we know that there are some families considered as ‘critical’. These are the children who we are most worried about and are looking at crisis planning to ensure these children are seen to the best of our ability. The restrictions in no way enable us to see or speak to them as we would like to. I myself recently had to see children in a closed McDonald’s car park, with the police wondering what I was doing there.
Staff have their own care to consider and that of their families. I personally have been threatened a few times over the years, but I have only once had the misfortune to think my life was at risk. Now I look at the current situation, see colleagues unwell, scared, crying that they can’t carry out their duties, and managers being asked to do lengthy risk assessments. I am not saying that assessments are not needed, although at this critical time no one should feel bad about not being able to step forward. Many social workers will of course because we are trained, skilled, conscientious practitioners. Ours is the role that I have often said many others would not wish to do every day and do what is needed as safely as possible.
I also have another hat, as a member of BASW. I have asked the question as to how a professional organisation is responding to this pandemic and the challenges which there are. Information is present for practitioners, and online meetings and forums are available, which aim to assist and support staff. I now understand that a letter has gone to the government, and while this is to be welcomed, we need to be the strong voice that we are during these difficult times.Both BASW and DfE recently issued guidance on this, which is welcomed, but does it go far enough?
I am not advocating any form of action that would inhibit our work, but we need to be heard, most importantly we need to be safe. We work in fear on a regular basis, of failure, media, of what we can or cannot do. I urge everyone to take note now and protect themselves. If we do not have, get – buy, if we need it – the necessary equipment, children, families and society will become a lot less safe.
If we look at the media, people are dying, children are generally not able to avail of the safe havens of nurseries and schools, so they are not seen as often. I would hate to see a Serious Case Review in the future that in any way blamed social workers unnecessarily for not seeing the children due to COVID-19.
Let us advocate together, politically and strongly with our associations to ensure that we get access to the equipment we need to keep all people safe.
We will overcome this together, collectively and succeed, I dearly hope we will not fail our families or ourselves.
Good luck, stay safe, and continue to do what you can.
Mark A Monaghan, the views expressed are the author’s own.