Social workers practice in schools, hospitals, psychiatric clinics, juvenile courts, prisons, police departments, and a range of other settings. Current practice demands collaboration between social workers and the professionals who dominate these agencies. But the Covid-19 Pandemic has presented case workers with a variety of new challenges.
Consider the plight of our homeless population. How can they socially distance? Where should they go to shelter? Should they be tested? Where and how? If they test positive how will they quarantine? What if they exhibit symptoms? Who will care for them? Should they just drop into emergency rooms?
What of our old folks in nursing homes? Should they be removed? Who will take them? What happens to them if they test positive? What happens if they test negative? Should they be treated on ventilators? Where?
Should juveniles remain incarcerated? Should they all be released? To whom? Should they be in solitary confinement? Should they all be tested? What happens to those who test positive? Are all these decisions left to a judge? Who advises him/her on the health issues?
Don’t forget first responders. Should they be going home at night? If not, where should they go? Should they be tested daily? Is that even possible? If they choose to stay home, how will they survive?
And, of course, the working poor, the case worker’s primary constituency. Do they have proper PPE? Are safety protocols in force on the job? Can they apply for unemployment if they choose not to go to work in an unsafe environment?
What about the families of the stricken? Can they visit in hospitals? How do they make decisions regarding care? What if their loved one passes? Where are the remains? What about services? How do they manage this sudden, isolated grief?
Heather H. - Case Worker in New York
"All of these issues suddenly fell to case workers to sort through. None of us had immediate answers. We first consulted with one another. We called colleagues and shared experiences and crafted responses. But, of course, this was new to all of us, so we ended up collaborating with experts in other disciplines. We talked to doctors, nurses, judges, policemen, homeless shelter operators, lawyers, psychiatrists, therapists, and everyday family members. And what began as an unmitigated disaster turned into one of the most edifying professional experiences I have ever had.
"Everyone was wonderful. They were usually wise, always caring, mostly generous with their time, and unfailingly polite and supportive. Covid forced me into collaborations I had never even considered. I am a much better case worker and a better person because of all the generous and kind care givers from a wide variety of disciplines who did not hesitate to be there when I, and those in my care, needed them.
"As an elderly female professor we had in college, long before we were even licensed, advised us, 'Don’t focus only on the dysfunctional population. Look for the kind and loving people who populate the world, and you will be of service to the vulnerable for many years to come. Contact with loving people will be the fuel you'll need to keep going in this trying profession. There are a lot of them out there. Be sure to look for them'."