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'The press and public are finally seeing what our everyday crisis looks like'

Out of the tragedy of coronavirus a new-found respect for social workers and caring professionals is emerging, says Kate Barlow

Coronavirus, social work, stories, videos, poems, photographs
Kate Barlow believes COVID-19 is changing perceptions of social workers

Professional Social Work magazine - 15 April, 2020

Growing up we often dream about what we want to be when we are older. I don’t think many people can honestly say that being a social worker is what they dreamed of becoming.

Maybe this is largely due to the fact that social workers have long been thought of as 'do-gooders', busy bodies who like to interfere in people’s family life.

For years the press have printed sensationalised stories highlighting failures, and rarely is this balanced with stories of success. I qualified as a social worker in 2011 after many years of working within a heath and social care setting with adults with learning disabilities.

I currently work on the community learning disability team in my local area and due to the current lockdown the team are all working from home and only visiting people when necessary. This presents us with many challenges as we still believe we need to protect the vulnerable adults that we have spent years protecting.

Luckily our local authority is not yet ready to give up on its obligations under the Care Act, no matter what new coronavirus legislation says. As social care staff we are used to having to fight to help people but doing it from home, with issues with systems access and less peer support for your colleagues was going to make this even more challenging.

We identified over 500 people with a learning disability that live either alone or with families, whose days services and respite services have closed during the pandemic. We are calling each one to risk access each individual situation in order to ensure they are still supported.

Many of these calls have highlighted a need for regular check-ups as people will struggle more and more as time moves on. Dealing with social isolation, being unable to shop for food, having no friends to call on and often little family around them is the norm for many of the people we support and crisis situations are a regular occurrence.

However, something amazing has happened in the past few months with people clapping to celebrate the work we do. Families that would usually be upset by a call from a social worker are now grateful to hear the voice of someone that can help. The public and services are contacting us to ask what they can do to help.

As a result of more positive press coverage, more people are phoning to ask for help without fear of judgment. This has made is easier to protect our vulnerable citizens and has helped me to remember why I wanted to be a social worker in the first place - to help others.

For years we have managed on depleting staff teams, cut budgets, lack of resources and it feels that there may be light at the end of the tunnel. The public finally see what our everyday crisis looks like. People now have empathy after spending time separated from their social lives. The press are finally sharing positive stories of success instead of failure.

My only hope is that after this crisis the government remembers who the 'key workers' were and that some social workers, like myself, may not exactly be in harm’s way from the virus, but without us many more would be.

I hope that now the public have experienced crisis themselves their empathy will continue, the press continues to share positive stories, and most importantly that the government acknowledges how important all health and social care services are and stops cutting our budgets.

I also pray that they realise the important role that both or formal and informal carers play. Without budgets we cannot pay them the money they deserve for playing such an important role.

I remain hopeful for the future and I am happy that my social care colleagues are finally receiving the recognition they deserve. Not because I particularly need to be thanked, but because the recognition will hopefully lead to changes in budgets and resources that makes our jobs easier to do.

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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.