Social work practice during COVID-19

As the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic hits Nova Scotia, the impact on our collective well-being will be felt. The pandemic won’t just impact our physical health, but our mental health as well. In these stressful times professionals from different specialties are called upon to get involved. The goal of social workers in a crisis is to holistically resolve problems through social intervention.

The goals of social work professionals in emergency situations, according to Herrero (2012), are:

  • Provide information about the opportunities that social groups have available to them.
  • Motivate people to have access to those opportunities.
  • Help victims manage their feelings and emotions.
  • Help people learn new ways to face their problems. Show them how to think about their new situation in a different way.
  • Help victims recover their psychological equilibrium.
  • Process the event with those affected so that they can move on with their lives.
  • Establish or facilitate communication between people in crisis.
  • Help individuals or families have a clear understanding of the situation.
  • Restore the individual’s homeostasis with their surroundings. In other words, help them adapt to their new situation.

As individuals, organizations and communities practice social distancing, it remains clear that people will need to access the professional support of their social workers. We must remain compassionate and in solidarity with those that are most vulnerable.

The NSCSW recommends that where social worker workplace responsibilities allow they should engage in telepractice. Through phone calls, emails, and video chats we can continue to keep our human connections strong. 

As social workers we have standards and guidelines that we can follow for the purpose of telepractice. Contemporary social workers can provide services to individual clients by using:

  • online counselling,
  • telephone counselling,
  • videoconferencing,
  • self-guided web-based interventions,
  • electronic social networks,
  • mobile apps,
  • automated tutorials,
  • email,
  • text messages,
  • and a host of other services.

Social workers’ use of technology has created new ways to interact and communicate with clients, raising fundamentally new questions about the meaning of the social worker–client relationship. In addition, social workers use various forms of technology to access, gather, and otherwise manage information about clients. Social workers maintain encrypted electronic records, store sensitive information on their smartphones and in the “cloud,” and have the capacity to search for information about clients using Internet search engines. Social workers use technology in creative ways to address compelling social justice issues, organize communities, administer organizations, and develop social policy. Social workers also explore and develop new technologies for practice and disseminate them with colleagues. For further information and clarification please refer to Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice, published by the National College of Social Workers and Association of Social Work Boards.

Social workers may have clients who are headed out of the province to be with family and friends as they are social distancing. Most jurisdictions have regulatory provisions for licensing mobility for emergency situations, so it is important to check in with the regulatory organization in each region where your clients have headed to confirm what their requirements are. Here are the contacts:

  1. Alberta College of Social Workers — 1-800-661-3089
  2. British Columbia College of Social Workers — 1-877-576-6740
  3. Saskatchewan Association of Social Workers — 1-877-517-7279
  4. Manitoba College of Social Workers — 1-844-885-6279
  5. Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Workers — 1-877-828-9380
  6. l’Ordre des travailleurs sociaux et des thérapeutes conjugaux et familiaux du Québec — 1-888-731-9420
  7. New Brunswick Association of Social Workers — 1-877-495-5595
  8. PEI Social Work Registration Board — 902-368-7337
  9. Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers —  709-753-0200

It also fundamentally important that you take steps to support yourself.

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body. Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate. Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, and avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others (within the limits of social distancing) and talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

If you are a frontline provider, responding to COVID-19 can take an emotional toll on you. There are things you can do to reduce secondary traumatic stress (STS) reactions:

  • Acknowledge that STS can impact anyone helping families after a traumatic event.
  • Learn the symptoms including physical (fatigue, illness) and mental (fear, withdrawal, guilt).
  • Allow time for you and your family to recover from responding to the pandemic.
  • Create a menu of personal self-care activities that you enjoy, such as spending time with friends and family (within the limits of social distancing), exercising, or reading a book.
  • Take a break from media coverage of COVID-19.
  • Ask for help if you feel overwhelmed or concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your family and patients as you did before the outbreak.

Learn more tips for taking care of yourself during emergency response.

Ultimately this is an evolving situation, and things will likely change. To stay up to date with information relevant to social workers, please make use of the resource page being maintained by the Canadian Association of Social Workers: 

» Coronavirus (COVID-19) social work resources

I am proud to be a member of this profession, and confident in what our members can accomplish in partnership with your colleagues and your communities. Take care of yourselves, and one another.

Alec Stratford
NSCSW Executive Director/Registrar

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