The first phase of Covid-19 restrictions was introduced in Ireland on 12th March 2020, and since then most social workers in Ireland and staff at the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW) have been working remotely, whilst continuing to provide services in new and innovative ways. From the outset, social workers have been designated by the Irish Government as essential workers. The following gives an outline of what’s happening in some areas of social work here, as well as the response from the Irish Association of Social Workers (IASW).
Child Welfare and Protection
Social Workers working in the area of child protection and welfare have continued to provide essential services in the three critical priority services identified during the COVID-19 pandemic:
- Child Protection
- Children In Care
- Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence.
Social Workers are undertaking risk assessments remotely in the area of child protection on a daily basis and are prioritising their responses in terms of essential (where there is a requirement for a face to face meeting / contact) and non-essential service delivery (where the meeting / contact can take place remotely). Scaling is being used to help them with decisions about children’s current safety, and to help decide what actions are needed to increase safety.
Social Workers are undertaking home visits to children and families where deemed essential following risk assessment in cases of abandoned children, children at immediate risk of harm and in cases where monitoring is required for children assessed to be at risk of ongoing harm. Social workers continue to support children in care and foster carers remotely by telephone, social media and letters. Access visits between children in care and their families of origin are being arranged and supervised by telephone, social media and in-person in some cases.
Social workers in the area of child protection and welfare are uniquely placed to identify vulnerable children and families in the community who have been most impacted by the crisis such as those with mental health issues or experiencing domestic violence and to provide them with ongoing support. In some cases social workers have been coordinating practical support such as food hampers for those impacted materially by the crisis.
Social workers working in mental health services in Ireland have rapidly responded to the huge challenges raised during COVID 19 to ensure people experiencing mental health difficulties continue to receive the support they need during the pandemic. Examples of this include:
- Coordinating with local services and groups to ensure socially isolated service users get basic supplies such as food, medications and other essentials.
- Developing service level responses for particularly marginalised groups/cohort e.g. persons at risk of abuse, lone parents, people at risk of self-harm, people experiencing suicidal ideation, people with severe and enduring mental health difficulties, to ensure active communication and mental health support is offered to people during the pandemic.
- Developing liaison services for families during COVID 19 where loved ones living in mental health residential settings may be separated from loved ones due to public health measures and/or diagnosis of COVID 19.
- Supporting persons who are involuntarily detained in mental health approved centres to prepare for and engage in mental health tribunals to ensure the upholding of human rights during legislative changes in mental health law in Ireland during COVID 19.
- Use of telehealth e.g. video platforms as an alternative way of providing social work services to people with mental health difficulties during COVID 19.
Medical Social Work
A guidance document for the medical social work profession response to covid-19 has been developed by IASW members which aims to support the professional response of Irish Medical Social Work Departments to the Covid19 pandemic. It is informed by the limited literature available on role of social workers in epidemics, broader research on the implications of epidemic/pandemic work on frontline staff and by preliminary consultation with healthcare staff in Italy. This guidance will be modified and updated as professional experience and knowledge expands in the weeks and months ahead.
A guidance document for bereavement support provided by specialist palliative care social workers in Ireland, 2019 was developed by members of the Palliative Care Social Workers Group with the support of Queen’s University, Belfast. This document provides evidence informed guidance to all specialist palliative care social workers who are involved in the delivery of bereavement support to patients and families.
Information and Support for Social Workers
From the outset the IASW has been pro-active in providing supports to social workers across the various sectors quickly compiling a repository of resources that would be in a position to offer advice and support particularly in relation to
- bereavement work
- remote working
- keeping well while working
The IASW has also instigated ‘Talktime’ – a weekly online support to social workers facilitated by IASW personnel. The idea is to hear how social workers are getting on, coping and adapting to the different ways of working and being together at this time. It has worked well as a way of supporting each other and sharing ideas and issues such as around remote working and self-care.
Advocacy for Social Workers
The IASW has been advocating for social workers in relation to having their knowledge and expertise included in national and local responses to COVID 19. This has included:
- Press release on the role of social workers in bereavement support during COVID 19.
- Press release regarding the vulnerability of many of those living in Direct Provision
- Interview on national radio in relation to the role of social work in bereavement support during COVID 19.
- Development of a national guidance for social workers working in family liaison and bereavement support roles in residential settings during COVID 19 (forthcoming).
- Successfully getting representation on the National Psychosocial Response Steering Group
The IASW has been instrumental in bringing issues arising from the pandemic for social workers to the attention of employers and Government. The IASW Chair has written letters to Tusla Child and Family Agency and the Health Service Executive regarding access to PPE for Social Workers on home visits and to An Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) regarding the inclusion of social workers in the acknowledgment of the work of front line workers. The implications of Covid-19 crisis for Social Workers in child protection and welfare including the need for ongoing professional supervision has been highlighted as well as the concerns of social workers in relation to the unmet needs of those dying and bereaved during the crisis.
Learning from social workers across the world
The IASW is interested in finding out about the work that social workers in Ireland are now doing, in very difficult circumstances, to hear their concerns and how social work is responding. This will inform the work of the IASW and will be used to reflect social worker’s views in how IASW represents the social work profession and service users with the aim of shaping practice and policy.
The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) has kindly given the IASW permission to replicate their Social work during Coronavirus (COVID-19) – Ongoing Survey, which is already underway, and to adapt that survey with some additional questions.
International Committee, IASW