A Social Worker’s Perspective: Why COVID-19 is helping Social Workers turn the corner

Walking into a home visit with a family was once something I could do in my sleep.  Something I felt I did really well. I had a way of making families feel really comfortable in the most uncomfortable situations.  Can you imagine a stranger coming into your home and in your personal space to tell you that the way you are living may not be up to snuff?  I could not, but as a Social Worker, we do this every single day which is why it is so crucial for me to ensure families feel comfortable and safe when I have to have those difficult conversations. 

Well, this week, I began to question this.  I went into a home this week with my shoe coverups, a mask, and gloves.  I felt conflicted.  I wasn’t particularly concerned about my health but only the family’s perception of me coming into their home looking this way. I wondered if the family felt that I thought they were not clean or if I was “too good” to be in their home or if I was judging how they lived.   Now yes, technically, I was there to make an assessment on the lifestyle and safety of the family’s home conditions, but I don’t feel as though I am judging.

For the first time in my 13-year career, I felt uncomfortable and nervous during my home visit simply because I did not feel I could bring this family the customer service that I am so accustomed to bringing.  I could not sit on the floor and play with the kids, I could not touch things maybe in the way that I usually would, and for goodness sake, I looked like I was going into a hazardous biological field and not a home.

Once I returned to my office, I began to reflect on my visit and how I felt.  I began to criticize myself for actually doing what I should have done, and that is to protect my health and wellbeing.  As a Social Worker, we often go into environments and situations that police officers would never go into without a partner.  We allow our guards to drop, we take risks, and we are selfless. This is what we do, but I realized on this day that this may not be the way of Social Work in the future. I realized that I had to start thinking differently and do it quickly. I realized that six feet is my new normal and facial masks are a new way.  

So, I ask my fellow Social Workers, “How do we maneuver in a world where standing six feet away from someone is the new normal.”  Now we are facing the world’s largest pandemic and its forcing social workers to change the way they do business. It is forcing us to “turn the corner.” Turn a corner where the wind is so strong that we will likely fall backward.  A wind that will cause us to stumble and try extra hard to keep our balance.

“So, how do we get balanced and turn this corner with confidence?” We start by resisting the desire to be resistant. Routine naturally fosters complacency.  Social Workers are being forced to try new things and to adjust to ways of delivering services that are new and uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, this is our “new normal.”  This is an opportunity to not resist but to learn.  To learn and implement better ways to serve our clients and meet the same needs as if we were right there with them.  We will naturally pick up the pieces for our clients and help them move forward, but how do we stay motivated for ourselves and keep the passion that we have while we are learning new ways to serve?  

What we do is do our best.  We learn what the best platforms are for clients who are capable and able to receive services virtually.  We call on colleagues to help us learn how to create documents that are virtually appropriate to provide therapy, do adoption placements or check on children and families.  We accept the fact that we will have to walk into a home in full protective gear, but we have the courage to say to our clients, “I am doing this to protect you, but we can still have a productive visit.”   We collaborate with organizations that are already doing well in areas that we are not and refer our clients to those locations for services.  It’s okay if someone is doing the job a lot better than we are at the moment.    We recognize our own fears in this crisis and ensure that we are consulting, going to therapy, and taking time for ourselves.  But most importantly, we must recognize that to move through this scary thing that we are experiencing, we must acknowledge that we are human beings trying to battle something that we do not have a manual for.  We are creating new pages in the social work profession.  We are creating new opportunities.  We are reaching more clients, and we are bridging the gap between generations.  Social Worker’s let’s turn the corner with the rest of our nation, let’s learn the lessons that we need to learn, let’s trust one another and ourselves.  We are Social Workers. We are built for this!

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