Statement from the IFSW Secretary-General:
Social work is responding extremely well to the Covid 19 crisis despite many countries reporting a lack of protective equipment, support and resources. IFSW sends a message – congratulations to all social workers in your essential life-saving role.
We have passed some challenges, and more are ahead. The social work role in advocating that social services remain open and adapt to the conditions has largely been successful. For example, social services developing targeted plans to support homeless people and other vulnerable groups has in many countries been advanced. The setting up of telephone hotlines that provide family counselling and direct safety when domestic violence is occurring is also advancing in many countries.
There are many ethical challenges that workers are facing. Under conditions of lockdown, dilemmas are commonplace. In many countries, when a family member dies the family does not know where the body is being kept as funeral ceremonies are suspended or delayed. People can’t leave their homes. In the family’s grief, does the social worker say ‘the body is temporarily resting in a church in another town, because there are no other facilities?’ The social worker has a fear that in their grief the family may break the curfew conditions. Another dilemma occurs where resources allow only one of two options, providing accommodation for the homeless or combatting the isolation of the elderly?
These ethical challenges are being met professionally as workers develop frameworks for decision making based on the profession’s Statement of Ethical Principles and the unique circumstances. In countries with weak state-provided health and social service infrastructures social workers are focused on community development approaches, providing education and promoting community responsibility.
Through daily exchange with members globally, we are also learning of the importance of social workers blending in hope and vision within the communities they work within. This represents a crucial aspect of professional social work practice. We know that change happens from the grass-roots upwards.
As a profession, we have witnessed many times how crisis situations present opportunities to rebuild better, more inclusive and more stable societies. Our role as social workers is to bring attention to the long-term social solutions. This crisis is no exception.
As we are witnesses to both mass combined solidarity and stress the role of social work is to also work beyond the pressures of today and to assist communities and societies to translate their concerns into longer-term solutions. For many communities, this may be stronger state-provided social, housing and health services. Others, as they look forward may see the strength in community, grassroots development. Others aspire for equal opportunities for their children to attend school and have access to nutrition. Some societies will want meaningful participatory governance and societal structures that promote inclusion, trust and confidence. For most, it will all of the above and wanting to live in a global world build on rights, equality and sustainability.
In all mass crisis situations, the world will not be the same as before. As a profession comprising millions of highly skilled professionals, the social work voice must support and facilitate a vision beyond this crisis. A vision of better, respectful and sustainable societies. A vision where our social systems can actively eradicate the conditions that have led to diseases that develop and explode in the context of climate change and poverty.
Social workers at every level have the skills and capability to not only address safety for today but to translate fear, grief and loss into empowerment and social transformation.
For more information on the social work role and reports from IFSW members visit www.ifsw.org.
Dr. Rory Truell, IFSW Secretary-General