It is a privilege to be writing this editorial for the 2nd edition of this free online magazine exploring social work and social work-related issues in the time of Covid-19. I have had a front row seat as the articles have come in and have greatly enjoyed interacting with the diverse range of contributors through the editing process. Each has provided, in their own way, from their own patch of the Earth, a story of, or relating to, social work in the time of COVID-19. Our heartfelt thanks to all our contributors.
We start with sad news of the passing of a much-loved and respected social work colleague, Dr Michele Raithby, who worked in the social work department at Swansea University and with the social work MA programme at Cardiff University. We send our condolences to those who knew and loved Michele, and in particular to her wife, Karen. We celebrate Michele’s life and career by commencing this edition with an obituary written by two of her colleagues, with support from Karen.
As we go to press, we would also like to take the opportunity to send our thoughts and prayers to the family, friends and colleagues of social worker Muhammed Islam of Birmingham Children’s Trust, who we have just learned has died of suspected Covid-19.
إِنَّا لِلَّٰهِ وَإِنَّا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعُونَ
A number of the articles in this, and the last, edition raise concerns about the potential erosion of rights and legal protections for those we support as a result of measures implemented by the state, ostensibly in relation to Covid-19. Some of these concerns were articulated in the last edition by Carolyne Willow of campaigning organisation Article 39. Yesterday, some of those concerns manifested when the government announced changes to secondary legislation relating to child and family social work in England. Those changes came into force today. Carolyne Willow provides an analysis in a blog on Article 39’s website. We strongly recommend readers read it and consider joining the campaign to shine a light on, and oppose, these changes.
Elsewhere, we carry two pieces about the importance of bridging the digital divide in pandemic, one from people with lived experience and the other from a social work academic. A social worker in Camden reminds us of the vitality and power of community-led solutions. Three academics advocate for the social model in re-imagining approaches to child protection in pandemic, while two more explore the implications of securitisation as response to pandemic. A team leader in a youth service in Scotland describes how the crisis has impacted and will continue to impact on the work of his team. The myth of Covid-19 as “equal opportunities disease” is laid bare in two excellent and illuminating pieces on the disproportionate impact on BME/BAME people, one from an academic and one from a person with lived experience of receiving services. We have two pieces on the impact of the crisis on social work students – one from a collective at the Master of Social Work at Durham University (of which I am alumnus) on ways to support students and the other from a social work lecturer exploring the impact on practice placement opportunities. An academic and a research consultant in Scotland contribute a powerful and urgent discussion of the impact of lockdown on the experiences of women with learning disabilities affected by gender based violence. The General Secretary of the Social Workers’ Union gives his views on the importance of advocating for the profession at this time. We proudly carry a piece on the importance of not letting children in care slip even further out of view during the crisis while a care leaver and activist offers some sparkling insights in the first of possible series of video messages. A group of local authority social workers describe their approach to adapting child protection practice in an unprecedented, evolving situation. And we end with a moving, hopeful piece on the life and soul of Becca, a nurse who died of Covid-19, written by her friend.
I would like to use the privilege of this platform to express my respect and gratitude to workers, volunteers and informal carers everywhere who are doing essential work in hospitals, homes, care homes, shops, services and supply chains everywhere, too often without the necessary protection. In particular, in light of deplorable pay and difficult working conditions for many of our skilled care and support workers, I appeal to social workers to advocate as strongly for proper recognition, remuneration and protection for these essential workers as we do for our own workforce. This crisis has highlighted once again that they have precious little in the way of formal representation for their rights and interests as workers. Without them much of our work would have little effect for we are but part of a bigger, richer tapestry of support that includes them and other valued workers.
While many social workers directly address the daily impact of COVID-19 on the lives of those we hope to support, I am also aware of others expressing feelings of frustration and guilt at not being able to provide the support they would like to in the current circumstances preventing the in-person contact we have until now relied on to undertake our roles. I recently commenced a role in a specialist multi-disciplinary team, arriving just as the lockdown began. While I have not been able to get out and meet people, my colleagues and I have been providing vital telephone support to the people we support, their families and carers, paid and unpaid. We have encountered ethical dilemmas arising from disruptions to care arrangements due to social distancing and self-isolation measures. Negotiating these has required that particular, legally literate, rights-focused, theory- and research-informed lens that social work brings.
In doing these things, I have been reminded of the importance of listening to and paying attention to people’s stories. The big stories about their lives and what happened to them that led them into contact with services but also those seemingly small stories about who they saw when they went to the shops that morning, or the funny thing the carer said yesterday, or the kindness of a stranger. In this strangest and most worrying of times, we can still listen. We can still learn. A large part of our job as social workers is to pay attention to and articulate how the bigger picture impacts on the small places. For many social workers, it will be in the post-crisis period that they find they are most needed, for the social implications of the pandemic will reverberate down through the years. In the meantime, we can listen to and gather the stories, use them where we can to inform decisions, effect positive change and help maintain a focus on the person in a rapidly changing situation.
We have been pleased to learn this magazine has global reach and to have received messages of support and solidarity from as far afield as North America and New Zealand. Whether you are in Cumbernauld or Vancouver, Northampton or Auckland, we hope this magazine provides something useful, interesting and/or of meaning to you.
We are inviting submissions for the next edition up to end of Tuesday May 5th 2020. (Email SW2020covid19@gmail.com). We are particularly keen to hear from anyone who feels they are not being heard, for whatever reason, in the public discourse re Covid-19. The spirit and intent of this enterprise is to offer a platform to anyone who would like to submit (see our updated submissions criteria). If you have any suggestions as to how we can make the magazine more accessible and inclusive please let us know and we will see what we can do with the resources at our disposal.
Finally, we have been delighted to hear this magazine has proven a useful resource for student social workers. We hope it contributes something for career-long learners too. With that in mind, I’d like to suggest a reflective exercise for social workers at any stage in their careers:
If you were outside the profession looking in during this time, what would you see? Hear? Think? Feel? What would you want to see, hear, think or feel? Are there any differences between what you perceive and what you want to perceive in current social work and, if so, how could those differences be reconciled?
Try it. You never know. You might find yourself writing a chapter in the future history of social work…
Thank you for reading. And, as a good friend often says:
Watch your wellbeing.
Christian Kerr is a social worker in England, and member of the SW2020 Covid-19 editorial collective