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'Some visits need to happen - we must have PPE for them'

Independent social work consultant Rukhsana Farooqi on practising during the pandemic

Photo of article author Dr Rukhsana Farooqi

Professional Social Work magazine - 10 June, 2020. Share your COVID-19 experiences here.

The realities of this pandemic hit me when I recently fell ill with COVID-19 symptoms. I am now fully recovered, but I was washed out for more than a week.

The experience left me a little scared as I was unable to understand where I picked the virus from. I thought of all the home visits I had undertaken in different parts of England without PPE since December 2019. After my brief illness I decided I would obtain my own PPE to protect myself and the families I assess.

In terms of current practice, initially I was reluctant to undertake assessments on Skype or Zoom/Whatsapp and telephone. I've done these before, particularly in overseas assessments prior to direct assessments, and found they were second best. I was worried once the pandemic was over my assessments may be seen as flawed in some way. But at the same time should I place my own health at risk by going into homes I did not know what I would expect?

I carried out an assessment recently where I could not complete everything that was required because it had been impossible to assess one parent over Skype/Whatapp/Zoom. It was a case which was in pre proceedings where there were some serious issues of domestic violence.

I had some difficult and complex questions to ask of the parents. Alongside this was a risk the child may be removed if proceedings were commenced. So the parents had an agenda to prolong the assessment and also not to cooperate.

I was unable to interview one parent remotely as I knew they would say they were unable to hear or I had heard properly. So I had to recommend the outstanding work is completed after the lockdown in face to face meetings.

This highlighted to me the real concerns for social workers where there are children placed in risky situations and how to monitor and ensure these children/babies are kept safe and at the same time social workers are kept safe.

I am aware the correct PPE is not being supplied to all social workers. I was recently approached by a local authority. They told me gloves, mask, hand sanitiser and an apron were available, but not all social workers chose to use all these items.

I felt it was important to utilise all of these items. But I also felt the message given to me was that not all this PPE was required and it was clear the senior manager was probably working from home and not aware of the real risks to health.

So I have decided my practice is now as follows: I will start assessments remotely and after I have assessed the risk I will undertake home visits with PPE and take the appropriate social distancing in the home.

I cannot see how I can complete assessments without the face to face meetings. I would say it was impossible to complete the assessments without these visits. So in some cases it may take longer to complete the assessments and each case will be decided on its own facts and the level of risks.

Getting COVID-19 symptoms has made me realise how important it is to look after yourself and keep yourselves protected. But alongside this there are children and families that require face to face visits. It is important for this to happen to keep the children and young people safe and to provide support for their parents and family members.

So full PPE must be made available and it is important there are no short cuts to this. There is no line of work which should require you to place your health at risk. It is very important to remember this. Also to remember the risks to black and ethnic minority communities, which appears to be greater. So please take care of yourselves and do not place your health at risk it is not worth it.  

Dr Rukhsana Farooqi Independent Social Work Consultant. London

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