Our way of life has altered dramatically in these past weeks as more and more citizens go into ‘lockdown’ and more become ill across Europe. Aside from the widespread risk to health, the social and economic elements of life are being severely damaged already and the fall-out from this will likely last for a considerable period of time. All vulnerable groups are at high risk from this fall-out.
Particular emphasis must be given to those who are most at risk in our societies including children, older people, people with disabilities, those with underlying health and mental health problems, people who are homeless, and now more than ever, women vulnerable to domestic violence and the refugee or migrant.
Therefore, in many European countries social workers started to advocate effectively for decisions and services that keep the balance between the rules of law safeguards and the necessary emergency measures.
IFSW Europe knows that many of social workers are under a lot of pressure in these very challenging times and we’d like to thank you for all you’re doing.
IFSW Europe is in an ongoing process of collecting data from social workers and member associations. This chapter contains data collected until 20 April 2020 and will be constantly updated. Social workers and IFSW Europe member organisations can send your input to the President IFSW Europe, Ana Radulescu, at firstname.lastname@example.org
While new virus SASRS-COV-2 can make anyone sick, some people are more at risk of getting an infection and developing severe complications due to their health, social and economic circumstances. Social workers play an important role in helping these populations from getting or spreading the COVID-19 virus.
Social workers were given the mandate to organise the shelters, or to activate support for people experiencing homelessness. In cooperation with municipality, local administrations, NGOs, medical and care professions, social workers contribute to reducing risk of exposure to the virus for the many people leaving in the street.
In Romania, many social workers were involved in creating admission regulation and design an adequate support for those being accommodated in 24/24 shelters.
People with mental health problems
Group therapy or day care centres has been closed and personal meetings with social workers have been replaced with telephone contact. Many social workers working in the field changed the way of providing support. A number of social workers associations in Europe were involved.
British Association of Social Workers (BASW) with support from the Approved Mental Health Professional Leads Network and the Chief Social Workers office, prepared and published Information and support for Approved Mental Health Professionals, AMHP leads and Principal Social Workers on the role of Approved Mental Health Professionals during the Covid-19 Pandemic.
Children with disabilities in residential homes
All children are vulnerable, here we are talking about children who for various reasons have difficulty. There may be children in child care, with complex disabilities or who, for various reasons, need extra care these days. In many countries in Europe, the national association of social workers were active in providing inputs and support in the field.
Norwegian Union of Social Educators and Social Workers (FO) writes that the concept comprises a very complex group and that it requires several measures to secure children and adolescents who have difficulties. FO has been particularly critical of the educational provision of pupils who for various reasons cannot participate in digital education. FO input applies to priorities and guidelines for nursing homes and home-based services, including care homes. The Norwegian Union of Social Educators and Social Workers (FO) proposed amendments to the Child Welfare Act: Competence, notification to offenders or survivors and regulation of the use of experts in the child welfare service.
The Association of Social Workers in Romania (ASproAS) developed and implemented counselling sessions for the medical staff. This meaningful safety plan is a collaborative process undertaken by the social worker and medical staff together to address immediate safety issues and set goals for the intervention in case they are infected with SASR-CoV-2 and they need hospitalisation.
Aside from underlying medical conditions, age is one of the biggest risk factors when it comes to severity of infection, with the highest coronavirus mortality rates being seen among patients over the age of 80. During COVID-19, the technological advancements did help the improvement of the delivery of support services and ultimately help to improve the quality of life for those who use them. However, it is also important to understand the challenges digitalisation brings and how to overcome them.
The Association of Social Workers in Romania (ASproAS) developed a guide on how the services for elderly people should be reorganised in order to be able to evaluate de needs and provide support to all people.
People who need home care provision
Provision of care and support in people’s home is a high priority service, in that most care and support cannot be deferred to another day without putting individuals at risk of harm. It was therefore vital that these services were prioritised during COVID-19. Many services developed a working procedure which includes the rule that workers use personal protective equipment (PPE) for activities that bring them into close personal contact, such as washing and bathing, personal hygiene and contact with bodily fluids. The decision and the context to use use personal protective equipment (PPE) was different from country to country.
In Romania having PPE was obligatory in any context of home care provision, in other countries, such UK mention that: if neither the care worker nor the individual receiving care and support is symptomatic, then no personal protective equipment is required above and beyond normal good hygiene practices.
Intimate partner violence
Talentia Union of Professional Social Workers in Finland show that restrictive measures have slowed the spread of the corona epidemic, but on the other hand a number of social problems increase. Many of the home alert of the police were related to intimate partner violence. Social workers in Finland, as well as social workers and social workers associations in Romania and France joined other organisation and institutions to encourage victims of domestic violence to call for support and shelters are open to those who need a safe place, despite the coronavirus epidemic. The main message was that they are not left alone.
Children and families
The president of Talentia Union of Professional Social Workers in Finland that families should not be left alone with their problems now. Children’s distress and people’s loneliness are now hidden. The risk group is families who have already had a need for child protection and special help, but even families who have survived on their own may be in the need of social assistance.
Social work and social services became essential services
During COVID-19, many countries in Europe decided to declare the social services as services essential to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning. Base on the information sent to us by our member organisations, all services that has been included in the list has to change their practice and working procedure and has to declare to authorities:
- description of the support provided and included in the “essential social services” of the communities;
- description of how this support is provided in order to ensure the prevention of the infection with SARS-CoV-2;
- description of how the services can operate within the significant restrictions and ensure the necessary equipment to the staff in the frontline;
- description of the capacity and the propose to operate the service;
In some countries, the local administration support essential social services with access to personal protective equipment (PPE) and guidance on using it safely. Nevertheless, this did not happened in all countries and national association of social workers started campaigning for personal protective equipment (PPE).
Associazione Nazionale Assistenti Sociali in Italy (AssNAS), British Association of Social Workers (BASW), The Association of Social Workers in Romania (ASproAS) and Polish Federation of Social Workers and Social Service Employees Unions (PFZPSiPS) organised national campaigns calling for protective equipment for front-line social workers and social services and staff.
Even the entire population has the right to receive support, some people were considered high risk and had priority in receiving the support of social services and social workers
During COVID-19, many countries in Europe decided to identify the services and the people that are priority to receive support. According to the information published by IFSW Europe member organisations, the following categories of essential services have been identified:
- community social services that deliver food and goods;
- social service that provides and supports a place for someone to live (e.g. night shelters, family homes, residential centers for elderly and people with disabilities, residential centers for children)
- Crisis support for people who are unsafe (e.g. shelter for victims of domestic violence)
- Provision of care and support in people’s home;
Based on the social workers request to their organisation, employers and to IFSW Europe, they needed:
Consistent guidance to support professional practice
A number of national associations of social workers in Europe created guidance to support practice in different area of intervention or service provision based on the regulation published by their governments.
British Association of Social Workers (BASW) published practice guidance for Children and Families Social Work during Covid-19 Pandemic.
The Association of Social Workers in Romania (ASproAS) publish in cooperation with CFCECAS practice guidance for social workers working with elderly, victims of domestic violence, children under adoption procedures and people that are isolated home. A Help-Desk has been created for social workers and social services.
Polish Federation of Social Workers and Social Service Employees Unions (PFZPSiPS) launched a special website where they answer the most frequently asked questions from social workers.
French National Association of Social Workers (ANAS) also ensured a Help-Desk for social workers.
Support to professional application of social work values
Social workers practitioners are working in emergency situations and may face choices and decisions that go far beyond the bounds of usual ethics and practices, including rationing of support and resources and more stringent prioritisation. Therefore, they needed Ethical Guidance for Social Workers in order to respond to the very specific circumstances generated by COVID-19 which disrupts health, care, safeguarding and support services.
British Association of Social Workers (BASW) published a Covid-19 Pandemic – Ethical Guidance for Social Workers, pointing that the document will continue to be shaped by listening to members and reflecting the challenges they face as the pandemic unfolds.
The Association of Social Workers in Romania (ASproAS) also published an Ethical Guidance for Social Workers in frontline remind social workers to consider their own health and well-being
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and support to learn how to use the equipment to make sure they are protected
It is recognised that in contexts where SARS-CoV-2 is circulating in the community at high rates, social workers may be subject to repeated risk of contact and droplet transmission during their daily work. It is also understood that in routine work there may be challenges in establishing whether the staff should be trained on donning and doffing PPE. In some countries the regulation has been released by the Government, but in others the national associations had to fill the gaps.
The Association of Social Workers in Romania (ASproAS) published recommendations on how to use protective equipment in case of homes visits.