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How to be a lockdown warrior!

With lockdown 2 in England from today and restrictions in play across the UK, social worker Naomi Coupland shares lessons from lockdown 1

Naomi Coupland with her dog Layla in Ballygally, Northern Ireland

Professional Social Work magazine, 5 November, 2020

Having worked in health and social care for 30 years, I thoroughly enjoy face-to face client-work.

And yet, at the start of lockdown there I was, a newly qualified social worker in a new job as an education welfare officer in Northern Irleand, sitting at a desk in my back room staring at the dog (who, I must add, was ecstatic to have his mummy at home).

The same question kept presenting itself: “What am I supposed to do now?”

I had to work hard to gather my thoughts and think with purpose. When I did focus, the words of Abraham Lincoln came to mind ‘and this, too, shall pass...

Strategies for coping

In times of unease and anxiety, I find it useful to keep a diary.

I also set up a peaceful working environment and organised my schedule. My team shared thoughts and feelings (and many GIFS)  via a WhatsApp group. I had no idea then how important this communication would be in strengthening our relationships. It reminded me I was still very attached to the working day.  

Staying in touch

I work in the education welfare team. Consistent contact through lockdown with our parents and pupils was important. Because we strengthened relationships, it became easier to talk about expectations, goals and expected outcomes. We had balanced discussions about the fear of Covid-19 making school attendance difficult, and poor outcomes for school-refusers.

Time to reflect

Reflection remains a key focus - it encourages us to consider why something is happening, and to learn from experiences. 

I chose to work through Kolb's reflective model and turned to my diary to make sense of what was happening. 

Kolb’s reflection tool provides guidance, ensuring you reflect on concrete experience and write with purpose. The questions you need to ask yourself are: 

What worked? What failed? Why did the situation arise? Why did others and I behave the way we did? 

And for me, what worked was:

  • Keeping in regular contact - this strengthened relationships 

  • digital innovation - there was a newfound ease of access with parents and children 

  • improvements in communication - previously reluctant children and parents were now forthcoming. Young people had a seamless transition to technology

  • power-dynamics - parents appeared more at ease when chatting or texting, maybe because they could shield from the perceived physical judgment of home visits

  • counselling and social work skills - strengthened relationships and set goals

  • empowerment/anti-oppressive practice - despite heightened levels of insecurity and anxiety, when listened to both parents and schools appear more settled

  • exploring strengths, both personal and community 

  • the removal of statutory obligations  - specifically of having to attend school

  • working from home -  fewer obstacles, being able to attend several meetings in a day, and remaining calm and centred 

Community spirit

Parents and children reflected on their own community spiritedness. Families told me about shopping, gardening, and deliveries performed for neighbours and loved ones. One parent knitted several little bonnets for premature babies in the Royal Hospital; another, having noticed her elderly neighbour appearing lonely, started social distance chatting over the fence, creating a lovely friendship; another ensured her son called at elderly neighbours’ doors and collected prescriptions. 

What went wrong

  • Parents and children were fearful and confused at times

  • education was no longer a priority 

  • learning could not be measured

  • family environments could not be observed

  • telephone calls and texts went answered or were answered ambiguously which does not allow you to truly read the situation

  • there was a lack of access to education authority systems and processes, and office files

  • at times, one’s own worries and fears caused a lack of focus

  • there can be distractions when working from home

  • home-working can negatively impact the work/life balance 

How to move forward

Sometimes as professionals we forget we are only human and are not alone in wanting to create a better world.  Self-care is as important for us as it is for our clients. 

The book ‘How to Survive in Social Work’ by Neil Thompson and John McGowan shares ten top tips which I am using, not only to survive social work but to be a Covid-19 warrior!

  • Expect to struggle

  • Do not blame yourself

  • Do not expect a 100 per cent success rate

  • Look after yourself

  • Be assertive

  • Keep learning

  • Do not lose sight of your values

  • Make use of support

  • Support one another

  • Have faith in yourself

It can be useful to take reflections and theories back into your practice and try out new strategies.

I want to end with a quote from BASW’s chief executive Ruth Allen who is unwilling to allow Covid-19 to steal her hope:

“Keep your hearts full of creativity and your minds buzzing with critical energy.”

This article is published by Professional Social work magazine which provides a platform for a range of perspectives across the social work sector. It does not necessarily reflect the views of the British Association of Social Workers