Wales' most innovative and influential think tank

Connect: Twitter Facebook LinkedInTel: 01685 350938

How are social workers coping during the pandemic?

April 8th 2020

Allison Hulmes of BASW Cymru reflects on the implications of the Coronavirus for social workers

These have certainly been challenging times for the citizens of Wales. The impact is being keenly felt by the most vulnerable, who in the main, are those most in need of social work support.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have been surveying our members to understand their experiences as essential workers, on the frontline of care and support. We have been using these responses as the basis for our lobbying of Welsh Government and Social Care Wales, and to respond to the immediate support needs of the profession.

The core challenges social workers are facing

A number of themes have emerged – the most consistent being PPE.  There is a lack of real guidance, availability and consistent access to PPE and testing for the very distinct roles that social workers undertake. There appears to be no public health guidance on infection control and the distinct roles played by social workers. This has left social workers, as essential workers, feeling left behind. They are telling us they are scared that they will spread or catch the virus. They don’t know who in a household may be infected but asymptomatic . When symptoms are evident, they do not have the equipment to properly undertake safeguarding and other statutory functions. Prior to the pandemic we were experiencing a retention and recruitment crisis in social work – a workforce that is overwhelmingly made up of women, with an average age of 46. This fragile workforce and those who it supports have the right to appropriate guidance, equipment and testing, to ensure we have social workers that are able to meet the huge challenges presented by this pandemic.

Social workers are also rightly concerned about how safeguarding can be properly undertaken within the current restrictions. They are telling us that they were worried before the pandemic about the safety of certain children and vulnerable adults within households, but now they report feeling anxious and distressed at the impact of them being ‘locked down’ in unsafe homes where social workers are not able to properly assess risk. The impact of the pandemic will be felt, by the most vulnerable, long after the virus is under control.

Social work is a human rights-based profession with strong ethical foundations and codes of practice. The changes brought about by the Coronavirus Act 2020, and the implications for the duty to assess and meet the needs of adults and adult carers under the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Act, are deeply challenging to the ethical and value base of social work. The same goes for changes to the Mental Health Act. The legislation was implemented in Wales in the absence of any statutory guidance for social workers or any clear explanation from Welsh Government as to why local authority duties have been downgraded – unlike in England.

Action we have taken to support social workers

BASW has responded to these challenges by consistently raising these issues with Welsh and Westminster Governments. We have quickly developed responses (for members and non-members) including:

  • Practice guidance on home visits for social workers and applied mental health professionals;
  • Ethical guidance for social workers during the pandemic;
  • Endorsement of Social Work Union’s health and safety guidance for social workers;
  • Covid-19 webpages specifically for social workers to keep them updated and informed;
  • A suite of webinars/focus groups and digital resources to support social workers with practice, and to have a safe space to connect with other social workers – to share experiences/concerns/best hopes.

As the independent voice for social work in Wales, BASW Cymru, along with Social Work Union, will continue to fight for and represent our members – including the wider social work profession. Together, we will work to make sure they are not ‘left behind’ and can continue to undertake their essential work, standing alongside and supporting the most vulnerable citizens in Wales.

Allison Hulmes is the National Director of BASW Cymru

Leave a Reply

In Print

Exchange Magazine »

Exchange Issue 16, Spring 2020

Wales’ best policy and politics magazine! This issue of Exchange provides more insights into the current and important issues in Welsh public life. This issue includes articles : Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, on the challenges faced by children […] »

Events »