When the signs of the pandemic showed up in January 2020, I have heard social workers wondering how it would impact their work. By March, the wonderings became more and more real as organisations, including social service agencies, had to operate in shifts and then have everyone working from home to stamp the spread of the COVID19 virus.
It may be hard to imagine doing social work devoid of the face-to-face interactions that we have been trained to do in our profession - a necessary practice to engage, assess, intervene, monitor, and evaluate our client's progress.
Adapting Our Social Work Practice
Yet, here we are, approaching June, adapting our ways of doing social work. The necessity to serve the marginalised, the poor, the oppressed, the ones in need of help and intervention calls for different ways of working. These are balanced with ethical and safe practices to prevent risks of infection to the self and the clients.
Social workers are using video calls to check on how their isolated elderly clients are doing. They carry out virtual home visits. When face-to-face contact became necessary, we developed new protocols to protect public health while fulfilling the ethical obligations to clients. Online counselling became a service offered by agencies. Some even embarked on group work using online video conferencing platforms. Senior social workers used the same platform to conduct supervision, case discussions, and training. Social media becomes a prominent tool for rallying volunteers and community organising.
Working Remotely Can Work
While face-to-face interactions are still necessary and reserved for the most vulnerable, social workers are beginning to realize that remote work is doable. Of course, there needs to be adjustments and tweaking of work processes - like safeguarding clients' confidentiality within the context of working from home, dealing with the technical challenges of virtual meetings, balancing work and other commitments within the same location and space, etc. Yet, in time, social workers are able to ensure service continuity with some creativity and ingenuity.
Social service organisations are also learning to see that working remotely does not necessarily compromise quality and effectiveness; that work still gets done without the omnipresent oversight of supervisors and senior management.
The Opportunities Ahead
This pandemic crisis is providing us with opportunities to review our work practices and processes. It is an opportunity to revisit the old ideas of what social work should be. Our past norms are borne out of the comfort of certainty. We have engaged in social work through what we have learned in school, how we were supervised on the job and what we experienced from the cases that landed on our desks. We have now discovered that technology can take a more prominent role, beyond just data and record keeping.
So, when the situation improves and we get into new homeostasis, we cannot ( and should not) be going back to our old practices. Just as we expect our clients to bounce forward in the face of crises, we too should take this opportunity to learn and grow from this experience. The pandemic has shown us how resilient we can be as a profession.