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Social Service Workers Mitigating the Impact of COVID-19

Nicole Brown's picture

As COVID-19 continues to impact more individuals and communities, social service workers are on the frontlines of promotive, preventative and treatment services to ensure the health and well-being of the people they serve. In countries where many individuals are infected, workers are ensuring they have access to needed services, providing remote counseling and organizing ways to overcome isolation. In other communities, workers are distributing factual information to dispel myths and fears, reaching out to agencies to assist with preparedness, ensuring inclusive planning efforts and advocating to governments for increased support.

“Social workers have a key role in disseminating appropriate information and facilitating contexts where people act in solidarity,” according to the International Federation of Social Work response to COVID-19.

Survey Responses Requested

Please respond by April 3 to a survey that has been developed to help identify practices and innovations that members of the social service workforce are carrying out in the field. It is being circulated by the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance, UNICEF, the International Federation of Social Workers and the Alliance for Child Protection in Humanitarian Action in order to guide the development of a technical note on the social service workforce and the COVID-19 response. It will be an annex to the recently released Technical Note: Protection of Children during the Coronavirus Pandemic. 

While some regions have not experienced a high number of COVID-19 cases, others may be planning for the future. Your responses to this survey will help identify how you can best be supported in your work. We encourage you to describe any innovative approaches you are taking in the “other” boxes below.  

Take the survey now.

Role of the Workforce

Most recently, social service workers played a key role in addressing the widespread social impact of Ebola, and a similar response and outreach services will be needed for Coronavirus. As trained community mobilizers and trusted community members, they helped to build awareness and combat myths about Ebola in an intense environment of fear and stigma. Similar to Ebola, any disease outbreak or pandemic brings with it not only physical suffering for those infected, but also feelings of panic, shock, loss, grief, shame, suspicion, and anger to both victims and survivors. Increased challenges and stressors faced during such an emergency--such as food insecurity, loss of family income, interruptions in schooling and access to health care—make matters worse. 

As more and more countries commit the support of their trained health professionals to treat an increasing number of patients, so too must we recognize the importance of social service workers and the many roles they are playing—from raising community awareness to providing social support to patients and survivors—in the midst of this epidemic.

Oluwagbemiga Oyinola, a senior medical social worker in Nigeria, shared on March 25 how he and his colleagues are involved in the response. "My country Nigeria has recorded 22 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with one confirmed and three pending at my hospital. Medical social workers in Nigeria are frontline workers in the management of this virus and prevention of the spread in Nigeria. We provide critical services in ensuring contact tracing, home visits, health education, prevention of stigma through community gate-keepers, and ensuring every person with the virus is provided with psychological first-aid including protection of identity of persons with the virus." When the Alliance received this update from Oluwagbemiga, he had just finished a 24-hour shift at the hospital and was preparing to conduct contract tracing in the community after a short rest. He said he was safe.


Mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) tools:

Child protection resources developed for COVID-19 and other infectious disease outbreaks:

Alternative care and separated children:

Gender-based violence service delivery during COVID-19:

Service provision to vulnerable populations:

Working with communities to meet needs of children and families:

Communications and key messages:

Staying Safe, Preventing Further Spread of the Virus

We remind social service workers to consider their own health and well-being. With World Social Work Day approaching and many international events planned, workers should consider whether their participation in these events could put themselves or others at risk. It is essential that workers remain safe and virus-free in order to not further spread the virus to vulnerable communities and at-risk populations. Several events have been cancelled as precautionary measures, yet there are still many ways to advocate for the profession, such as emailing key messages to high-level dignitaries, conducting webinars, contributing to advocacy and professional organizations or planning for future events.

The National Association of Social Workers in the US has created a list of reliable resources as well as steps for practitioners to support clients, prepare your practice and preventative measures. Technology in Social Work Practice standards is also another helpful resource for practitioners relying on technology for interaction with patients due to social distancing.

*We will continue to update this posting as new information is available. We invite social service workers to share relevant resources by commenting on this posting.