Social work diary: ‘It’s hard for anyone to know what to do with the situation changing daily’

As the measures to tackle the spread of coronavirus step up, a social worker writes about a week of tough decisions, suspended support services, and adjusting to working from home

Photo: angelinachirkova/Adobe Stock

Monday

There’s a knot in my stomach. I’m going into the university where I work to do an interview day for new social work students. How many will turn up? It’s hard for anyone to know what to do at the moment with the coronavirus situation changing daily. We have about half the normal number of candidates and we try to carry on as normal.

The truth is I’m struggling to think straight. Like everyone else, I’ve got a hundred things going around in my mind. There’s my underlying respiratory health condition, elderly parents miles away, the children’s school, and all the stuff that’s getting cancelled. I’m also worried about my husband, J. He runs a mental health charity providing mental health support services and also supporting carers and service users with Alzheimer’s. Last week the thought of suspending those vital services seemed infeasible; now it seems almost inevitable.

University students are anxious. There are all kinds of implications for teaching and exams, as well as particular concerns for students on placement. A few students come to my office asking about what is going to happen.

“I just don’t know,” I keep saying. It’s not what people want to hear, but I have nothing else honest to offer.

When I get home, J tells me he spent the day making decisions about what services to suspend and writing policies and messages to staff. Then at the end of the day the new announcements came from government and the situation changed. All face to face services will have to be suspended.

Tuesday

It’s 4 am. I can’t sleep. The space next to me on the bed is empty, J is already downstairs on his laptop. He can’t sleep either; the decisions he is making will affect very vulnerable service users and they weigh heavily. He also has his employees to think of and the financial implications for the charity.

I spend the day at home trying to keep up with the tide of emails. I take part in my first online Zoom meeting and update myself on the technology which will mean we can carry on teaching students remotely. The tech is good; we’ll be able to keep going.

The sick feeling in my stomach continues. I’m due to meet a group of friends tonight. I very much want to see them. The ironic thing about social distancing is that I seem to want to be with other people to talk and process it. We decide we will meet anyway and keep a good distance from each other. My head knows meeting friends has to stop but there is so much information to adjust to, my behaviour hasn’t quite caught up yet with the new reality.

One of my friends is a children and families social worker.

“What about people stuck at home in domestic violence relationships?” she asks.

It’s yet another shocking consideration.

I drive past the train station on my way home. The cab drivers are all lined up outside waiting for the commuters who aren’t going to be getting off the train any more. My heart breaks just a little bit more.

Wednesday

It’s probably my last day in the office for a very long while. It’s been another night of not sleeping. It’s as if my body’s threat system has been activated and I am constantly on high alert.

I try to gather my things together in order to have everything I need to work from home. There are so many plans to cancel. My head knows that these are not important in the grand scheme of things, but it’s still a mental adjustment to let go of so many things at once.

I go to the library on my way back to the car in the hope of collecting some interesting social work books to keep me stimulated for the next few weeks. I’m too late. The library has closed early. I’m unreasonably annoyed with myself.

When I get home, my children are adjusting to the news of the school closures. We talk together about how we are going to have to live very differently, the ways we can look after those around us, and how there will be so much learning from this period. J tells us how his staff are already coming up with lots of creative ways to keep supporting people. It’s good to have a few moments of hope to break up the feelings of anxiety and distress.

“I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday,” J says. He opens the fridge wistfully; we’d given up alcohol for Lent.

“I think the time has come to abandon Lent,” I say. J nods and reaches for the corkscrew.

12 Responses to Social work diary: ‘It’s hard for anyone to know what to do with the situation changing daily’

  1. Jen March 23, 2020 at 11:09 pm #

    Im a foster kinship carer despite asking for a week now we have had no official guidance from the department in our la. Different sws are advising different things. Myself and my friend are sole carers support has been almost non existent until it was asked for apart from one sw. We care for the most vulnerable children 24 /7 with either little or no respite ordinarily. Willbe non existant now and we as usual will be picking up all the pieces. Disheartened to say the least disappointed to say the least but not a bit surprised!

    • jim March 24, 2020 at 3:39 pm #

      I totally agree with your comments.My neighbour is an adoptions and fostering social worker but incredibly is at home on full pay during this crisis when I thought as they are an essential worker they should at least be in work taking emails and calls at work or doing the esential visits using social distancing and hand hygiene. Unless they are working from home which I doubt is full on given I seen them gearing up for a a cycle trip when normally would been at work!

      I am a senior social worker in a diffferent LA but I am expected to go into work, so why the discrepancy betwen LAs? It just seems to me incredible that in this time of national crisis LAs are operating different poliies with some ”allowing” social workers to work from home and not go in at all even for essential work like ensuring vulnerable and isolated people have their essentials etc

      • Nic March 25, 2020 at 5:57 pm #

        As a Fostering team manager I can assure you that in my LA the Fostering SWs are working very hard to continue to support foster carers and kinship carers. They do this despite having their own families and health needs to think of and are completely dedicated to ensuring children and carers are supported and placements remain stable.

  2. Neeta March 23, 2020 at 11:10 pm #

    Thank you for your thoughts and the hard work you doing in these challenging times.

  3. Pearle Johnson March 24, 2020 at 3:55 am #

    Same,

    Sincerely a USA Social Worker

  4. Belinda Schwehr CASCAIDr March 24, 2020 at 6:58 am #

    CASCAIDr will be broadcasting webinars for adults’ services social work staff, from next week. We will offer legally literate advice as to how to make human rights based decisions – within the context of your senior management team’s policies for the exercise of the (powers) Care Act functions.

    Meanwhile, focus on NOT coming over as forcing relatives to step up, regardless. Any policy for meeting needs on a human rights basis will still have to take account of unwillingness and inability to keep going. Ask families what they can do to help, do not tell present it as a demand.

  5. A social worker with a heavy heart March 24, 2020 at 9:28 am #

    At one of the most challenging times of my career as a ‘Children Looked After’ social worker, I’ve never been so frustrated at the lack of guidance and clarity from service managers and above.

    No tools to be able to work from home. Court work continues with the same deadlines as if a pandemic is not happening. But more so I worry for all the children and families that I work with and being in the knowledge that the isolation is going to have significant ramifications for ALL children at risk of abuse and or being abused.

  6. Arthur Scott March 24, 2020 at 1:35 pm #

    We need to find out how the Italian and South Korean social work teams responded. They are further ahead of the curve than us and I am sure they will have got something in place by now.

    Social work has changed beyond recognition in the last week, at present we are not fit for purpose. We have been given no direction from our new governing body, they should be finding out what services look like in Italy etc and see how we can prepare ourselves.

    We have all kinds of skills and resources yet we’re not putting them to work. It’s going to get very ugly and we need to prepare now.

    If we don’t get direction from SWE then we need to think about how we can get alongside our communities like they did in Grenfell. Communities brilliantly took matters into their own hands due to the massive failures of established services and politicians Come on social workers, we need to think out the box here.

  7. Lorna Curran March 24, 2020 at 2:56 pm #

    As a unpaid full time carer my world was already insular. Be thankful that you had things to cancel because I hadn’t been out on my own for near on a year.
    Apart from the world going mad outside my doorstep mine and my adult sons lives are not changing much at all.
    Keep safe x

  8. marion March 24, 2020 at 4:02 pm #

    We are in uncharted waters at present. It is scary for us and terrifying for those who we support and who rely on the patchwork of underfunded services that are in place. When we come out of this, as a society we need to prioritise those who have been on the margins of society for too long and with too little.

  9. Lucy Young March 24, 2020 at 8:36 pm #

    It would be very helpful to see the diary of a front line socail worker or some mention of all of the child protection, CLA social workers, children’s home workers and foster carers etc. We have all been working really hard with partner agencies to keep oir most vulnerale children and families safe. Absolutley no reporting on this and how we continue to carry out our statuatory duties at the moment.

  10. Anitha March 25, 2020 at 4:20 am #

    Working in the teaching Department of an University in Kerala, India, I have been going through almost the same emotional state as mentioned in the Social Work diary above. Our State Government had suspended the classes in the first week of March, when the cases of Corona were getting reported. It was going to be the most important month for us and the students before the University exams came up in April. The senior batch of students were just back from field and the juniors still at the field. And then suddenly everything has to be stopped, the hostels closed, the students sent home. But till last week, the Departments were functional with all teachers traveling down, taking precautions (using masks, sanitisors, etc) and there was instructions to support our students through online platforms. From this week its complete lock down and now we continue to work from home, the assignments, video presentations, dissertation etc.
    But my heart goes out to those working with child, women & elderly health & rehabilitation services. What would be state of affairs of large population in slums of India, the sex workers, whom we had met during our field visits… social workers working with them.