Looking into the Future of Social Work after the Pandemic
With the vast majority of social workers expressing their frustration caused by Covid-19 and the impact it’s had on their work and the lives of those they support, the field has come under even more scrutiny.
A recent study revealed that over half of all professionals in social work have been put in jeopardy, as the pressure to work despite the significant risk of infection has caused them anxiety and stress. Consequently, it has been reported that front-line workers are more at risk to develop adverse mental health issues, both during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
Struggling to Deliver Quality Service
Social workers admit to the virus diminishing their efficacy in carrying out their services, and as a result, the vulnerable groups such as children in care and individuals they support have been negatively impacted due to the restrictions.
With the ever-changing landscape of social work, the pandemic has caused a seismic shift in the foundations of how they operate. Here are some reasons why:
- Several social workers have found they are unable to meet statutory requirements and responsibilities. This is due to them having to self-isolate, or colleagues falling sick.
- Many have developed anxiety due to carrying out duties that put them at a high risk of infection.
- The availability of Personal Protective Equipment has been low and unsatisfactory, increasing social workers mental health issues.
- What was already a difficult job has now become even more testing, as many staff have taken lengthy times off due to falling ill, or through loved ones getting sick or dying.
- Social workers must now weigh up the risks of infecting their own families due to being a front-line worker.
As we can see, the pandemic hasn’t been kind on the profession, and the much-needed help from governments and local councils hasn’t been sufficient enough to provide employees with the support they need.
It is clear to see that the immediate future looks uncertain for social workers, and this is partly due to the lack of clarity in government guidelines.
Until sufficient vaccines are released and made readily available to the majority, social workers have an extremely hard role to handle. They must visit children, individuals and families in the midst of a cacophony of complex situations, all of which increase anxiety.
Since the pandemic, things have become increasingly harder as staff have to work remotely and are at a distance from management. Mentors and peers who could have previously provided 1-1 support are required to keep spirits high, but without the framework they operated with pre-COVID.
With families experiencing increasing amounts of pressure such as coping with children being stuck indoors, and stresses such as being made redundant, the hardships only seem to multiply.
This is also why the role of the social worker has never been more needed within society. As families struggle with poverty from reduced incomes due to the pandemic, it has become harder to gain access to the resources, food and accommodation needed.
What’s on the horizon for social care?
Despite the increasing number of caseloads as a result of staff calling in sick and self-isolating, things haven’t been as bad as expected. During this unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe, social workers have responded magnanimously.
Government guidance has been unclear, and this is especially the case relating to children in care. Many social workers have been unsatisfied with the guidance provided in April, and guidelines have been disputed as duties were too relaxed for vulnerable children.
The positives to come for social workers
Amongst all of the issues, problems and stress put on social workers, there is, in fact, a silver lining to all this. It has been expected that the following benefits will materialise for those in the social care profession:
- Public support will increase for social workers.
As referrals for children, families and adults continue to surge, many are realising social worker’s vital role in maintaining the safety of our society. Even down to issues that were kept behind closed doors now coming to light due to lockdown, social workers are being viewed as more valuable than ever before. It has also come to surface that there is a severe lack of funding in the field, which will hopefully bring about positive changes.
- Mental health and social work will be closely aligned.
Some of the pressure may be lifted from social workers as covid-19 pushes us to realise the psychological aftermath on people. Specialist mental health social work is moreover becoming more prominent and gaining influence. This is because people are realising after the crisis of a pandemic that people not only need ways to cope, but also that strong social networks are more important than ever.
- Working conditions will change for the better.
From self-care resources to flexible working and personal risk assessments, the field is looking to adapt to the new normal, in order to help staff thrive under these difficult circumstances. Those requiring more support, formal or informal, will be given priority.