Lockdown limiting social workers’ capacity to safeguard vulnerable adults and children

Four in five social workers say lockdown restrictions have increased their concerns about the ability to safeguard or protect adults and children, while two thirds say that changes to the way they work make it difficult to ‘switch off’.

A new survey of social workers has found that interventions and early help for vulnerable adults, children and families is still not readily accessible, 11 months into the pandemic.

Four in five (79%) social workers either agreed or strongly agreed that they had encountered more difficulties in accessing essential support services for the people with whom they worked.

Two thirds of social workers (68%) said they had seen an increase in the number of referrals and/or their caseload since the return to schools and colleges for autumn 2020, while 78% either agreed or strongly agreed that their experience of working under lockdown restrictions had increased their concerns about the capacity to safeguard or protect adults and children.

The survey of 1119 social workers from all four nations of the UK was conducted by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) in November-December 2020.

Commenting on the results, Dr Ruth Allen, BASW Chief Executive said: “This survey provides timely recognition of the crucial work social workers do and their continued commitment throughout the pandemic.

“With this week’s ONS data tragically showing one of the highest average death rates among women by occupation were social workers, social work can sometimes feel like the forgotten frontline.”

Dr Allen said that social workers are key to the UK’s pandemic recovery and called for that to be reflected in the ongoing pandemic planning, as well as the Chancellor’s upcoming Spring Budget.

“What we need is the social services workforce to be supported to continue to work effectively alongside the doctors and nurses we hear much more about in mainstream media.”

The survey is the second major poll examining the working situation for social workers in the pandemic. The first survey found that social workers innovated quickly and largely successfully in response to restrictions by bringing services online, including video calls and more digital contact with service users.

However, BASW says the move to digital working is taking a toll on the mental wellbeing of social workers, with 68% of respondents agreeing that working from home during the Covid-19 crisis made it more difficult for them to ‘switch off’ from work.

The report found that dealing with highly emotive issues on a daily basis takes a large toll on social workers and without interaction with colleagues to reflect and share, the likelihood of burnout increases.

Commenting on the results, General Secretary of the Social Workers Union John McGowan said the report highlighted the “immense challenges” faced by social workers, adding: “Although most social workers still have their jobs, for some, interactions and the workplace has changed beyond recognition.”

“These changes demand a great deal of adjustment in the social work role, requiring an extra amount of effort, grit and creativity to make them work.”

View the full report ‘Social work during the Covid-19 pandemic: Initial Findings’: https://www.basw.co.uk/resources/social-work-during-covid-19-pandemic-initial-findings

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