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Social workers vital role must be urgently recognised and resourced throughout COVID-19 crisis

BASW’s latest press release

The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) is working with partners for ‘key worker’ and other vital recognition for social workers across the UK.  Social workers need clearer guidance and professional support and resources from governments, regulators and employers to be able to support children, families and the most vulnerable people in society during the coronavirus pandemic

BASW CEO Dr Ruth Allen said ‘Governments across the UK have been focused on healthcare. They now need to show equal commitment to social care and social workers. This is essential if social workers and social care colleagues are to work with health and other colleagues with the intensity needed to meet the challenges of COVID-19.  Social workers must be supported to safeguard people at particular risk of harm, isolation and neglect during this period and to protect rights and ethical practice in this emergency and for the long term’.  

Over 700 social workers have responded to the BASW online COVID-19 survey and numbers are rising each day.  Strong common concerns are being discussed directly with sector leaders and governments on an ongoing basis.  Fuller analysis is underway. Headlines so far are:

  • Fulfilling statutory duties – Many social workers are worried about how to carry out statutory duties in the face of mass isolation. In children and families’ services there is a major concern on how to safeguard families if they can’t meet with social workers. The risks of family abuse, neglect and domestic violence may increase with school closures and adults may be more at risk in isolation. Social workers need to know the implications for registration if they are unable to meet duties, timescales or usual legal compliance during this crisis.
  • Health & Safety – Social workers need greater clarity on protocols and resources for safe work in all contexts, including home visits and community. Social workers with an underlying condition or who care for someone with an underlying condition should be able to work in non-client facing roles or contact via technology only. No social worker should be left feeling they are putting themselves or a service user at unmanaged risk. We are getting reports that some social workers are getting mixed messages and lack of guidance on this.
  • Equipment shortages – Many social workers are reporting they are struggling to access hand sanitiser and personal protective equipment. We understand there is pressure on these supplies nationally but social workers supporting people with underlying conditions must be considered a priority group for these supplies alongside NHS staff. Again this is needed to minimise the risk to the people we support, social workers and our wider communities.
  • Students: Clear guidance from social work regulatory bodies to the HEI sector about approved course expectations and requirements of students, including student placements and pathways.

The survey also identified the following key areas that need to be addressed:

  1. Consistent guidance on keeping workers safe in the office
  2. Hygiene equipment, protective equipment and testing
  3. Equipment for home working
  4. Guidance on safety for home visits
  5. Guidance on essential and non-essential work, and the ethics of decision making
  6. Advice on how to meet essential work flexibly, including community support
  7. Clarity about accountability if we cannot meet needs
  8. Social work advocacy about upholding human rights
  9. Resource for additional service provision
  10. Clarity about how additional social workers can enter the workforce
  11. Clarity about what this means for students’ qualification and jobs
  12. Support for independents, locums and agency staff
  13. Vulnerable young people, families and adults that may not have adequate access to food supplies,
  14. Accessibility to information and who are isolated, placed out of borough or in semi-independent living. 
  15. Asylum seeking children, young people or adults and people who do not speak or read English

BASW’s actions over the coming weeks will be guided by answers to an ongoing ‘survey’ asking social workers to share their concerns and experiences on the frontline of services throughout COVID-19.

BASW is also driving a series of activities to support social workers during the pandemic:

  • Working with other professions to develop guidance on home visiting and seek clarity on essential and non-essential work, and will create guidance on ethics
  • Gathering and sharing good practice on meeting essential work flexibility.
  • Advocating with human rights groups to influence the Coronavirus bill so that the impact on human rights is managed, necessary resources are secured and the protection of social workers on the front-line is upheld.
  • Working with Higher Education Institutions and governments to clarify the situation for students.
  • Collating information about support for those in hardship.
  • A direct call for help is also being made to wider sectors leaders – such as manufacturing - for hand sanitiser and other essential equipment to enable social workers and social care colleagues to work safely.

What is working?

Social workers shared best practice and actions that were useful in supporting social work teams in the crisis


  • The development of clear HR messages and guidance e.g. pregnant staff, staff with underlying health conditions, caring responsibilities
  • Guidance on sick leave, dependents leave (especially as schools are closed), self-isolation
  • Clear statements about high standards of hygiene practice and equipment, safe visiting and social distancing, hand sanitiser (and on belt loop), cleaning desk before and after use (especially if you hot desk) including phone, keyboard, screen and mouse. 
  • If you are doing social distancing, these tips from the Royal College of Occupational Therapists may be useful
  • Request video supervision and video conferencing for assessments
  • Inform your manager if you have underlying health issue, need to self-isolate or are concerned you may have Coronavirus


Prioritising of work

  • Agree guidance about home visits
  • Develop easy read information (hard copies) and on websites
  • Set up a traffic- lights system of immediate needs for those that require continued home visits
  • ​Consider ways of reaching hard to reach including homeless by networking with specialist provider services 
  • Move to meetings by secure video call or phone
  • Develop a checklist of questions to service users prior to visiting to establish if they have any presenting symptoms
  • Some home visits/assessments could potentially be done via secure video conferencing facilities.
  • Discuss daily team briefing meetings (video conferencing/phone) and how to otherwise keep in touch as a team (e.g. via instant messaging services)
  • Seek and contribute to the development of local guidance
  • Ask commissioners to update information to providers and create list of voluntary (Including non-contracted voluntary organisation lists in local area offering support in response to Coronavirus

Keep talking to colleagues and keep in touch with them if you are working remotely

  • Internal weekly briefings
  • Checklists on intranet and e-alerts
  • Keep checking BASW webpages and public health information, and follow this as far as you can

REMEMBER: Join with colleagues to ask your employer for clarity about immediate plans for safety and prioritising work

Previous BASW updates

Further information