The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many people live and work, including the way social workers help their clients.
“We are all suddenly thrust into this new way of working overnight. It’s a big change for our clients who depend on social workers and social services,” says Lourdes Martin, clinical assistant professor in the School of Social Work and Social Work Supervisor for the Green Family Foundation’s NeighborhoodHELP program.
Through NeighborhoodHELP, more than 200 social work undergrad and graduate level students have been able to complete their internships in the last decade. This semester, 13 students had to quickly transition from household visits to providing virtual support to nearly 400 households.
“Our clients come from disadvantaged neighborhoods and this program doesn’t focus on a specific problem area. Therefore, we have to be ready to intervene on a myriad issues—anything from substance abuse to immigration—and often do not have internet at home,” said Beatrice Farnsworth, clinical instructor in the School of Social Work and Social Work Supervisor for the Green Family Foundation’s NeighborhoodHELP program.
“On top of that, many of the resources that we are used to working with have shifted," Farnsworth adds. "Either they are online, or the programs have had to change to deal with the pandemic. Our students have really had to think outside the box to continue to provide help.”
One aspect that has made the transition particularly delicate is the fact that while providing assistance to their clients, the students have also had to deal with personal anxiety and stress as everyone deals with the pandemic.
“The drastic changes that I had to make in my life, both academically and personally, were challenging. However, I’ve always strived to be a person that has a positive outlook in life. This mentality radiates in the work I do with my clients,” said Ard Maneus, a bachelor's of social work student, who is doing his internship through NeighborhoodHELP.
“Personally, I feel that the positive vibes that I bring to my clients give them a sense of support," Maneus says. "I believe that goes a long way. Also, a self-care plan has been especially key for me during this challenging time. In some cases, the needs of clients have also changed or become more immediate, and it is out of the box thinking that has been giving the social workers new ways to get the job done.”
“Our social work students have done a great job of finding new ways to help – they are a now just a phone call away. Many of the clients are elderly and single. They are dealing with extreme isolation and having someone call them to talk – for 5 minutes or an hour – can be a great benefit. It is more important than ever that social workers offer emotional support right now,” Farnsworth says.
For the students, the call for social distancing and to shelter in place presents an opportunity to learn about the future of telehealth and the changing dynamics of social work.
“This is going to change the way we do our jobs long into the future after this pandemic is over. Many therapists and social workers have already transitioned to a virtual model to serve clients who could not go to an office, and many clients prefer it,” Martin says. “Our students will come out of this prepared to work under any circumstance.”
While the care and assistance may be socially distant, the benefits remain the same. Clients are able to receive the help they need, at home and when they need it.
“I am grateful and honored to continue to help my clients, especially at the time they would need a social worker the most. I entered this field of work because I believe there is more satisfaction in giving than receiving. Taking 18 hours of my week to be a support and assistance for members in the community is a great privilege,” Maneus concludes.