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1st Edition April 9th, 2020 Shabnam Ahmed

Remembering a different way

We all know that organisations can spend a huge amount of resources such as money, time and energy planning a transformation of their services or carrying out restructuring, as us oldies call it, only to find ourselves going full circle and often ending up yet again on familiar ground.  How many of us have gone through service reviews, transformations and restructures and somehow still not felt satisfied?

This is all too familiar to me as a social worker in adult social care, then suddenly, 21 years into my career, a virus comes knocking at all our doors and the whole world is transformed.  The beast known as Corona is fierce; it is strong and it is powerful.  We learn very quickly that to fight this beast we must return to our most primal instinct- survival.  That intrinsic drive to survive, to fight and to protect is the strongest I have ever witnessed in my life time through this crisis.

What emerges almost immediately is an organic restructuring within adult social care, with humanity, love and kindness at its core.  Within days, we start to operate without panels and forms; we liberate social workers to exercise judgement freely to simply help people with what matters to them most at these uncertain times.  Some need food and medicine, whilst others just need a listening ear.  We stop othering as for once we are all faced with the same fear – death and the same hope – survival.  We realise that there is no us and them.  We start speaking to people within our services we have never spoken to before.  Strong partnerships form between the various departments within the council.  Layers of bureaucracy are removed so practical solutions can be exercised without having to wait weeks for them to be rubber stamped.  

We learn that very quickly we have all the resources and skills within the council to transform, adapt and act and there is no need to bring in an external consultant to show us how it is done.  All we need is love, a love that is rooted in a desire to act.

As social workers, working with older people and those who are not in the best of health, like the NHS, we witness death often, and it is never easy.  However, there is something about our current situation which unleashes a different emotion, forces us into a new and uncomfortable zone and level of anxiety.  I believe it is of being faced with your own mortality and potentially, for the first time, truly knowing that no matter the colour of your skin, your bank balance, your job title or how good your English might be, you and the person you are helping are equal targets for the beast.  Your suffering is potentially the same.  This I think has been aptly described by Kessler as Anticipatory grief who added to Kubler-Ross’s stages of loss.

We know that when this beast has quenched its thirst and disappears, our world will be a different place.  What I hope is that we never forget the lessons it taught us.  It enabled us to be the social workers we have always wanted to be and came into the profession to be.  It united us in an intentional way where compassion shaped the decisions and not the rules set by the masters.  For those of us that are still standing in the new world, let us not allow ourselves to build the walls again, to create the divide or look to consultants to come in and show us the way.  Let us remember how Covid19 made us more human and intentional in our practice and question what we really need, to do the work we do.

“Bright will shine the fields of England,

Purer shall its waters be,

Sweeter yet shall blow its breezes

On the day that sets us free”.

(George Orwell, Animal Farm)

Shabnam Ahmed, Adult Social Worker 30 Mar 2020