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Voices of social workers through BASW Covid-19 survey set agenda for safety and effective practice during pandemic

Overview of the findings and the actions BASW is taking.

BASW opened up a survey for social workers to provide feedback on their experiences of working during the coronavirus pandemic. To date more than 1,200 social workers have provided feedback on their experiences and concerns, as well as best practice.   This provides an overview of the findings and the actions BASW is taking.

Support needs highlighted by social workers to BASW so far include health and safety, including the lack of Personal Protective Equipment, consistency and clarity on working safely and being able to protect people that use services.  There are concerns on how vulnerable children, families and adults can be safeguarded during the pandemic and the need for more support and information for independent members and students.  An overview of survey findings is provided further down.

BASW is leading on action to support social workers:

  • We are raising the issues directly with partners in government, with regulators and employers and work is underway for national guidance and support for social workers to do their jobs effectively and safely during the pandemic.
  • BASW is developing with partners guidance on home visits and working in the community, more on this will follow.
  • BASW will continue to develop guidance and share best practice and innovations from across the sector, including best practice shared by social workers and the 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
  • BASW is running more online webinars and other learning and support options during the pandemic. Check social media (twitter, facebook), ebulletins and BASW website events for details and let us know what would help you too.
  • We have increased our outreach to members online through regular website updates and member bulletins.
  • BASW is engaging members to consult on the impact of the Coronavirus Bill and have written to government ministers to raise issues and feed back
  • We are speaking out on national press to call for the safety of social workers and the communities we serve, and for consistent guidance to enable social workers to do their job.

We will continue to do all we can to support BASW members and the wider social work sector throughout the pandemic.  Priority areas that we continue to focus on are:

  1. Hygiene equipment, protective equipment and testing
  2. Consistent guidance on keeping social workers safe in the office
  3. Equipment for home working,
  4. Essential 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. Support for 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


Survey Key findings

Key findings from the survey to date are:

Many social workers report a lack of personal protective equipment for them to use during the pandemic.

  • Several had been given no hand sanitiser. Some had resorted to buying their own. One said they’d been bringing a flask with hot water and some soap in her car on home visits. Another said their team had been told to buy washing up bowls to fill with water and take on visits.
  • Social workers are concerned for the health and wellbeing of people that use services and that they could be a risk to them without proper equipment.

Social workers are concerned about the fulfilling statutory duties, to safeguard and protect the rights of individuals and provide high quality and effective support and services.

Adults services

  • Several respondents said care homes were refusing new admissions and restricting visits. This made it hard to find placements for people in need of care but also checking on residents in homes to make sure their rights were being protected.
  • Several respondents also raised concerns over home care, with some people refusing care packages due to the fear of contracting the virus and some agencies simply unable to take on new people for support due to staff shortages.
  • Some said they worried about a lack of contingency plans being in place for situations where informal carers fall ill or in high-risk groups so cannot continue in their caring roles.
  • Several worried about how to monitor potential deprivations of people’s liberty and adult safeguarding cases remotely.
  • Several said they worried about the impact of key community services like day centres and support groups having to suspend their operations.

Children’s services

  • Social workers in children and families teams said they were worried self-isolation increased the risks in many situations.
  • Several said they were worried over how to safeguard children, particularly given some families were refusing social worker visits because they were self-isolating and schools were closed so teachers wouldn’t see children day-to-day.
  • They shared concerns domestic abuse victims could end up trapped in abusive situations. They worried the economic fallout of the pandemic could exacerbate pressure within families who were already struggling, with some reporting local foodbanks were closing.
  • Several said they were worried about a lack of emergency placements for children being cared for by carers who are in the high-risk group for the virus and may need to move urgently

Social workers need greater clarity on protocols and resources for safe work in all contexts, including home visits and community.

  • Some respondents said they were being expected to hotdesk in social work offices and worried this was increasing the risk of infection.
  • Some working from home said they had not been given the adequate technology to support their roles.
  • Several social workers in at-risk groups said they were still being told to carry out visits as normal. This included social workers who were pregnant, had auto immune diseases, asthma and respiratory problems.

Mental health and hospital social work

  • Several social workers trained as Approved Mental Health Officers or Mental Health Officers (in Scotland) raised a series of issues. These included worries about doctors being unavailable for assessments due to being redeployed elsewhere, wards being closed for mental health admissions and the impact fears around coronavirus would have on people’s mental health.
  • Hospital social workers who responded to the survey said the crisis was hitting efforts to support people to move out of hospital. Several said care homes were shut for admissions or refusing to take people unless they had been tested for Covid-19 first.

Social work education

  • Social work students have seen placements suspended or cancelled. Many are concerned about the uncertainty this places over them qualifying and a lack of clarity on the financial support on offer if qualification is delayed.
  • Clear guidance from social work regulatory bodies to the HEI sector is needed about approved course expectations and requirements of students, including student placements and pathways.

Independent and agency social workers

  • Many who worked in roles supporting students, doing court work or working on deprivation of liberty cases said they were unable to do their jobs due to the restrictions.
  • Independent social workers are worried about a lack of support from government for self-employed workers.

Impact on people that use services

  • Panic buying and food banks closing is leaving vulnerable individuals without essential supplies, increasing poverty and increasing mental health deterioration and isolation.


Feedback extracts

“Social workers are being asked to buy washing up bowls to keep in their car and wash their hands in between visits.”

“Continuing to work within the office, not being provided protective equipment, continuing to hot desk, continuing to undertake home visits regardless of if families have symptoms.”

“Lack of resources for keeping ourselves and the public safe. All we’ve been given are some tubes of wipes for the room. No hand sanitisers to be seen and the cleaning of door handles/lifts hasn’t been upped. We are looking after ourselves, bringing in cleaning products to clean down desks and phones.”

“We are being told business as usual. Keep visuals to a bare minimum and doing a lot on the phones. However, we have NO Personal protective equipment, no hand sanitiser or aprons or masks available.”

“We have received no direction or guidance so far other than to wash our hands. No decisions have been made, despite growing concerns about how we prevent spread of the virus through our home visits and meetings.”

“People are calling in sick, we have few staff in which can manage the statutory responsibilities. We are panicking due to complete silence from senior managers.”

“No guidance from managers and senior managers. Some people within the council (Children’s rights advocates) are given advice and exempt from home visiting and out of county visits but social workers have to continue. Not provided with any hand sanitiser - and can’t but my own as shops have run out. When out of home visits there is no way to wash hands (as per guidelines)”

“No hand sanitiser no protective clothing no procedure or guidance, we are told it’s business as usual and expected to work in the office when we work from home the systems collapse and are unusable”

“I am high risk and so is a family member. I want to work from home and this has been refused because service needs come first. No protective equipment has been provided- we have purchased our own hand sanitisers.”

“Conflicting and indecisiveness. I fall within in the vulnerable staff group and was told to work from home. Now [my local authority] are telling this group to come into the office once a week and. visit families despite the research  showing that people with covid 19 are presenting without symptoms.”

“I'm pregnant and despite being in one of the most vulnerable groups I am still being told it would be a choice to self-isolate. In other words if I don't turn up I won't be paid."

“Prioritising visits, extreme concern about children in ‘isolation’ when there are concerns about neglect, DV or drug use. Some of our cases are on daily visits usually, due to risk - these visits are now having to be done on the doorstep, when family’s are isolating. These visits aren’t really effective in safeguarding children.”

“How to manage the following dilemma: Parents whose children are on a child protection plan or child in need plan who have decided to keep the children at home to self-isolate when they do not have symptoms despite government saying schools will be open for these children.”

“No direction on what to do with families on child protection plans who state they are self-isolating due to Covid 19 symptoms.  NHS Guidance is stating to wait 7 days before contacting 111. Therefore for families where we worry about significant harm to children cannot evidence they have sought medical advice. There is no clear policy on what we do for child protection visits with government policy currently aimed at health professionals or adult social care.”

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