Social workers’ views on the practice during confinement

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Photo: Jacob Lund / Adobe Stock (posed by model)

Nearly 500 people took the time to respond to Community Care’s recent survey of social workers and their close colleagues, exploring the practice under coronavirus lockdown.

While these responses produced surprisingly cohesive themes – around the impact of social restrictions on practice and on how those supported by social workers endured increasing hardship during the lockdown – they also highlighted the very challenges. different that the practitioners were confronted with according to the branch of the profession. they belong to.

We interviewed three practitioners – two working with children and youth and one with adults – to learn more about these issues and the work being done to overcome them.

Social worker with learning disabilities

It was very difficult to do some things during the lockdown. Working with people with learning disabilities and autism, there are often communication challenges – many can be related to reading non-verbal signs and body language.

Not being able to see this, seeing the dynamics in a room is difficult, especially for mental capacity assessments but also for back-up investigations. We will conduct an emergency visit if we believe the criteria are met, but other than that there are a lot of recordings by phone or video call, and some of them compromise the true message of what is happening. , and the risks may perhaps be masked.

It is quite frustrating. Ultimately, we are here to protect, work with, support and empower a group of people who are severely discriminated against and who are likely to be against them. We can’t do it efficiently and correctly through video chat – when you’re in the room it’s easier to balance the power dynamics and put a client or lawyer first. In a Zoom meeting there may be background noise, technical issues – it’s not impossible but adds a series of new challenges.

When working with people who are non-verbal, who use signs, or who are even more nervous when using technology to talk, not being able to meet face-to-face significantly impairs the quality of communication.

This is in the sense that we make a list, that for the mental capacity assessments, because we have to do them, we will come back to them as soon as possible and repeat them. As a supervisor, looking at the quality of what I get from people, we are all doing our best but it’s not very good, or not good enough, compared to our usual practice.

Thinking of the people we support, I worry about parents who have lost all respite, the impact on people with learning disabilities or autism who are stuck at home – around mental health, issues behavior, the domestic violence that has arisen, and what protection issues we have not discovered.

So far however, I don’t feel a tsunami of need for our service team or other conversations. Maybe I am naive? There may be a lot of extra work that we need to respond to, but hopefully we have a chance to define things and respond adequately. It’s things like mental health support that people might need, to deal with the legacy of what for some will have been unpleasant but manageable, while for others it is extremely traumatic.

The child exploitation specialist

The young people I work with are used to having a strong team around them. It can’t really work under lockdown, so there are fewer eyes on them and they don’t have any positive influences – the things we were trying to hang on to them are gone, so they’re brought back to more negative things. . Children also say there are fewer people willing to move drugs [under lockdown] so more pressure is put on them.

As for the young people missing, arrested outside the district and telling us that they were forced or paid to leave, it has really increased. We discussed if that’s because all the other stuff that normally gets in the way – like in little missing episodes that aren’t really risky – have been removed.

But over time, it’s all the time, children are arrested across the country. It is positive that they are increasingly being arrested by the police, because they are being brought home.

But more and more children are disappearing for long periods of time – many of them for weeks at a time. “

In a small multidisciplinary team like mine, most of the members were unable to see the young people for one reason or another. I am fortunate to have no health issues, but even the number I can visit has really gone down – these are just the riskiest. So, obviously, there is less capacity for support and relationships with children to nurture.

Video and phone calls are great, but it’s not the same as being able to pick up kids and say, “Let’s go for a drive and let’s talk about what’s going on.” Compared to traditional social work, the focus is much more on their relationships with people outside the home, on drug addiction – all of which are difficult to talk about on a video call. We feel like we are missing a lot of information that we would normally be told face to face – they will just say, “I’m fine, stop worrying, it’s fine.

Another related thing is that, because we’re a multi-agency team, and traditionally the police are heavily guarded, being face to face and having these office relationships breaks that a bit. But when everyone is working from home, it’s very easy for different parts of the team to get to their little nooks and crannies. The positives about multi-agency work can get lost, and it all feels more like a battle.

It makes me sad to see all that is happening with the children and that we cannot support them the way we would like. Fortunately, some juvenile delinquency services are starting to be re-established now, which is really positive because some of these workers are really important to the children. I think that once again the places in the community where we can go with the young people are open again, things will be easier.

The head of the team for children with disabilities

We identified, just before the crisis, all our families with social workers and put emergency plans there for children who we knew could not be taken care of, due to specific needs, by n ‘anyone. We put those families first, with the agencies we work with, and we said that if anything happens, you should not stop providing services to them.

We also looked at families that we knew were going to go into crisis and what it would look like – difficult behavior, the impact of sleep deprivation with schools closed, the impact of children not attending respite. which means there is literally no break for the parents looking after them. We have written to all of our parents and guardians to explain our plans – everything is virtual until we can get PPE.

Then we said okay, within our team who can support the implementation of these emergency crisis interventions, work to support social workers, and how can we work with the schools around which the children at high risk must enter, otherwise their family situation would shatter down? In the current situation, the reception, already difficult, would be almost impossible.

We have chosen the routes most likely to cause difficulties for families and have sought to tackle them with suitably qualified professionals. In our networks, we have concocted packages, offered additional listening visits to parents and succeeded in obtaining them an unlimited Zoom license.

These families are already socially isolated because of the needs of the children in their care.

We want to have a lively meeting moderated by a different professional every week, where they can have a focused discussion or just mull over coffee, share some ideas.

It’s been a tricky time as a manager – during confinement, working from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. was not unusual – trying to manage team cohesion and maintain communication, as we all know that in times of stress, people all act differently. It is important to be aware of the personality of each employee, their living conditions, state of health, family responsibilities and what they might be at that time. It was about trying to make sure that we deliver statutory things that we cannot compromise, but ensuring that they are proportionate and without waiting for cases to go into crisis.

There were some positives [of practice under lockdown]. You have a little more time – while on each visit you may need to allow 30 minutes for a round trip, doing things virtually you have that extra hour, so the frequency of contacts may increase. If someone had asked me a year ago if all of my staff worked from home, I would have said no, that’s not good, because of peer support, this, that and the other. It was really interesting to watch things work, despite the computer issues.


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