Learning from lockdown: What will the months ahead look like for children’s social work?

1st July 2021
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As we move towards the end of the final lockdown restrictions in England, we hosted a special edition of our Social Work Coffee Breaks. We brought together four professionals, including social workers, from across the country for an exciting panel discussion. They reflected on their experiences over the COVID-19 pandemic, and shared what we can expect as a social work profession in the coming months. 

Panel members

Mary Jackson – Frontline chief executive and panel chair 

Kasey Thompson – Frontline programme participant, Croydon

Petros Careswell – Frontline fellow and social work team manager, South Gloucestershire 

Mayank Joshi – Head of family safeguarding, Hertfordshire 

Andy Elvin – TACT chief executive and Frontline trustee

Here are their top five lockdown learnings:

1. Community and networks matter 

What support networks do the families you work with have? What is the community they live in like and does this offer additional support? Knowing the answer to these two questions is so important. During the pandemic, social restrictions meant that social workers found it more difficult to build networks of support around children and families. This meant that children and families often felt isolated and unable to reach out for help, which in turn meant that other existing problems were exacerbated.

“[I worked with] a grandmother who was worried for her own health and felt she couldn’t go around to the family home. She was a real key figure in that family’s life, so we were seeing those neglect concerns that that grandmother had been alleviating not being dealt with as well.” – Petros Careswell

Many community support networks blossomed during lockdown, supporting next door neighbours, delivering food and calling on lonely people, to name a few. Going forward, local authorities and councils need to nurture these networks and draw on their combined knowledge to develop future services. Ultimately, social workers need to continue to see the power communities hold and to utilise this in their work with children and families.

2. Multi-agency collaboration is vital

Not having access to the support of family members and other community groups has also made it increasingly evident that professionals working together to share understanding and knowledge is vital. Only by working together can they achieve the best, most holistic outcomes for children and families. This includes everyone from school teachers, to police officers, to health care professionals.

“We are working with the most needy and highest risk families. There has been evidence in the last 18 months about how important schools are, for example. Across the sector, with all our multi-agency partners, it’s so important to work hard with them.” – Petros Careswell

3. Use all the tools and approaches at your disposal

Lockdown has opened up many new ways of working, and it’s important that we take this forward as we enter into a new normal post lockdown.

While there have definitely been significant challenges posed by online working, it has also provided unexpected opportunities and has given social workers much more flexibility in the way they work. Trialling new approaches with young people in particular, who are already so familiar with online technology, has in some cases allowed more contact time and helped them feel more comfortable. Taking these learnings forward and adopting more of a hybrid approach – working face to face (which is undoubtedly crucial to best support children and families) and virtually with families – provides social workers with new tools and ways of engaging families that helped strengthen relationships.

“I think lockdown has really opened up practice. It felt very black and white in my first six months of practice. You’re either visiting a family in person or you’re not visiting them at all. Whereas now it’s a lot more creative. How can I see this young person? When can I see this young person? Can I see them somewhere that isn’t school or home? Loads of my young people now love going on walks for example.” – Kasey Thompson  

4. Make time for self-care

The pandemic forced social workers to think about how they were feeling and to open up to their managers about needing support. As a result, social workers felt that their professional anxiety could be managed better. Now more than ever, with the increase in referrals we are seeing across the country, it is important that social workers continue to acknowledge their own personal wellbeing, whilst achieving the best outcomes for children and families.

“I think it’s important to keep prioritising your own wellbeing, because without it we’re not much use to the children and families we’re working with.” – Andy Elvin  

5. We need to continue to be creative and adaptable

“Social workers were extremely innovative in trying to come up with ideas as to how they could continue to fulfil their role and to protect vulnerable children in the society {during lockdown}.” – Mayank Joshi  

As we move towards the end of lockdown in England there are a lot of unknowns. How will the country recover from the past year? What are the long-term impacts of the pandemic for children and families? In particular, social workers will need to continue to be creative and adaptable in their practice, as we figure out how best to support children and families through the trauma of the last year. Trauma experienced through the loss of loved one’s due to COVID-19 and also trauma experienced during lockdown in the family home, with the increase of domestic violence for example during this time.  

Overall, by taking onboard all our shared key learnings from the past year and by pulling together over the coming months, social workers can get through any challenges on the horizon, to continue to achieve the best outcomes for children and families.  

Are you a Frontline fellow? Visit our Fellowship page and find out the support we offer to our fellows.  

Visit our resource page to catch up on all our coffee break sessions.