How did Covid-19 impact Social Work practice in the Pan-Dorset and Wiltshire area?

Tilia Lenz
Professor Lee-Ann Fenge
2nd September 2020

The NCCDSW research team and the Pan-Dorset and Wiltshire Teaching Partnership collected responses from over 140 front-line practitioners between May and September 2020. The online questionnaire was designed to capture the direct impact of Covid-19 on the social work workforce and the implications for services users.

145 front line practitioners responded to the survey, across three Local Authorities. The majority of respondents were a range of practitioners, but the sample also included mangers, senior managers and students. Two thirds of respondents were six years or more post qualification and both Adult Services and Children and Young People/Family Services were represented.

Initial reflections indicated a feeling of disconnection and frustration felt by practitioners, underpinned by a sense of isolation from both colleagues and service users. Practitioners demonstrated concerns relating to the challenges in the demands of face-to-face contact against personal safety and well-being. This illustrated the challenges faced by all front-line practitioners at this time, however, particular groups within the sample reported feeling overlooked in comparison to their health colleagues and felt they were facing additional challenges as a result.

  • Practitioners working with Children and Young People/Family Services highlighted concerns around the mental well-being of the children and families they work with, and the implications in the recognition of safeguarding issues, if not present in education.
  • Practitioners working within Adult Services reported a move towards a health-based model, with an emphasis on discharge. This highlighted barriers due to limited use of technology and concerns that they were not able to achieve the best outcomes for service users due to the lack of available services, particularly care.
  • Work-life balance was a frequently highlighted challenge, with greater clarity required to ensure the workload can be prioritised appropriately. It should also be acknowledged that the increased need for guidance and interpretation of the implications for practice increased practitioners’ workload at this time, as well as the need to adapt to a new remote working approach.

78% of practitioners reported receiving their normal pattern of supervision, with 98% being able to receive supervision remotely. 35% of respondents reported that their supervision had changed as a result of Covid-19, often shorter in length and, as a consequence of being remote, often not as in-depth as comparative supervision sessions. There are strong indicators of a willingness to engage in remote supervision from both the practitioner and manager perspective but greater consideration is required as to how it can be undertaken most effectively in a remote format, rather than replicating face-to-face methods and approaches.

Communication – Effective communication is key to supporting the mental well-being of practitioners; respondents repeatedly emphasised the positive impact of supervision and team interactions, in contract to the negative impacts of isolation and lack of engagement. Where pre-exiting peer networks existed, they were recognised as beneficial to well-being and shown to be providing necessary support.

Remote working – Although many practitioners adapted well to remote working during this period and were confident using new technology, others would have like additional support and guidance in the area, highlighting it as a CPD need moving forward.

Individuals with prior experience of working remotely were better placed to adapt, as they were experienced with the existing systems.

For many practitioners, working from home has been a positive impact from the need for remote working. Although it is important to note that there are also negative impacts reported, specifically relating to mental health and isolation. Remote working has allowed practitioners greater flexibility in their time management, better meeting attendance and reduced travel times.

Meet the author(s)

Tilia Lenz

Senior Lecturer Social Work and CPD Framework Social Sciences. (She/her)
Tilia is a Senior Lecturer for Social Work and the CPD Framework lead for Social Sciences. She is a qualified Social Pedagogue and registered Social Worker and spent 15 years in front line Children’s Services as a practitioner and manager. She undertook her MA studies in Managing and Developing Services in Health and Social Care at BU with the focus on Organisational Cultures and Staff Performance. She is now undertaking research for her PhD on ‘Relationship Performance Management in Child Protection’. She has a particular interest in practitioner wellbeing and resilience.
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Professor Lee-Ann Fenge

Director of the Centre for Seldom Heard Voices
Lee-Ann is Professor of Social Care in the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences. She is a Registered Social Worker and has always been committed to advancing the professional evidence base of social care practitioners.
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