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Priority Actions for Staff Safety and Care

Hugh Salmon, Director of the Global Social Services Workforce Alliance, discusses priority actions for the safety and well-being of the workforce
<v 0>Hi,</v> I’m Katie from the L & D working group at the Alliance and I’m joined today by Hugh Salmon. <v 1>Hugh would you like to introduce yourself? Yes.</v> I’m Hugh Salmon. I’m the director of the Global Social Service Workforce Alliance and I’m based in Kyrgyzstan in central Asia, but I’m originally from the UK.
<v 0>Thanks Hugh,</v> can you tell us a bit about the main risks and challenges faced by the Social Service Workforce during COVID-19?
<v 1>Well, firstly as I’m sure you’ve been covering in this course,</v> we have seen heightened child protection risks, increased levels of domestic and gender-based violence, poverty and social isolation, all of which have had a negative effect on the mental health of individuals and families. This has resulted in increased case loads and demands for social services. At the same time, the workforce itself has often been under-recognized and underfunded for the work it’s doing.
So generally funding and recruitment have not increased to match the higher number of cases and often higher complexity of cases that they’ve had to deal with, often with fewer staff, as a result of sickness absence, or household quarantines, or family caring responsibilities with children at home and school’s closed. So with all of this, the workers have been experiencing considerable stress and burnout as they and their families are impacted by the pandemic just as much as anyone else, if not more so, owing to their greater exposure to infection because of the work that they have to do.
<v 0>What are the main actions that governments and employers have taken to try and</v> guarantee the safety and wellbeing of the social service workers? <v 1>Well,</v> obviously the first important action was to recognize the essential role of the workforce and recognizing that means that they need to be able to continue their work. But if that needs to involve in-person visits or meetings, they need to be protected. <v 3>And that includes through use of provision of personal protective equipment</v> and arrangements for social distancing.
<v 1>They’ve also needed to be provided with the I.T equipment and the airtime or</v> data on their phones to be able to connect remotely with their clients, which has often been one of the main ways that they’ve been able to safely continue their work. We’ve heard many examples of how workers themselves and their employers and also social work associations, UNICEF and other organizations, have effectively advocated for the social service workforce to be recognized as essential service providers. Just as much as health services have been recognized as essential, they’ve also needed to recognize. <v 3>The essential nature of the social service workforce to enable them to continue</v> their work and to be sufficiently protected.
<v 1>In doing that,</v> some governments have not only provided that personal protective equipment at the beginning of the pandemic, but more recently they’ve been prioritizing the social service workforce and care workers by making sure that they’re among the first group of key workers to be vaccinated. <v 0>Great. And you mentioned the workforce themselves,</v> what have the workers and maybe their direct supervisor’s. <v 3>Been doing in addition to those sort of higher level actions?</v> <v 1>Well firstly,</v> many workers and their organizations have developed materials and trainings to raise awareness for themselves and for their own staff well-being. They’ve of course reorganized their working arrangements to minimize the risk of infection through social distancing.
So they’ve had to make changes to the way they meet with each other and meet with their clients or with families. This means having meetings, where
meetings need to happen, that they might take place more often outdoors or in smaller numbers. But as you can imagine, when people are meeting outdoors when previously they met in an interview room or in an office. or they’re meeting more in public places, or even on Zoom, there is a risk of interruption or eavesdropping, so that also makes it harder to preserve client confidentiality. So, workers in all of that have had to be extra sensitive to still protect the identity and personal information of those they work with, whilst they switch to those new ways of working, which are important for their safety and safety of those they work with.
But we’ve heard of many great examples of how supervisors and workers have also devised new ways of working together. <v 3>To check in on each other’s wellbeing,</v> such as using messaging apps to hold daily check-ins that they wouldn’t have done before, just to see that they’re all okay, but also to have video calls to discuss difficult cases in the form of a group supervision or an individual supervision with their supervisor on a regular basis, but using that new technology, and also taking time to check in on colleagues about their personal and family needs to make sure that those are also being recognized and addressed.
So we consulted our members, who are social service workers and their managers all around the world, when we were developing our guidance notes and recommended actions on the safety and well-being of the social service workforce during the pandemic, and many then shared with us a number of ways that they’re staying physically, emotionally and mentally healthy through things like yoga and meditation, or just making sure that they have regular contact or calls with friends
through use of prayer or walks or more time spent with nature. <v 1>Every person has found their own way or has been recommended to try and find</v> ways to also have some chill-out time. <v 3>Some down time, some relaxation,</v> which is so important to be able to continue with this very stressful work. It’s very important also because working from home, while some people think it might be more comfortable, it can often feel relentless and overwhelming because we lose our normal work structure and group support and we also lose those daily routines. So home-based social service workers often forget to take time out of their day to take care of themselves, which is extremely important.
<v 0>Definitely, you mentioned a couple of challenges there, so two questions really:</v> are there more challenges that we’re still going to face and what can we be doing to be better prepared as COVID continues, but maybe as there are other outbreaks in the future? <v 1>Well I think we’re already aware that the challenges from COVID-19 are going to</v> continue for some time. <v 3>Even as the levels of infection gradually decrease in some places,</v> but not all at the moment. But even as the levels of infection, the number of cases decrease, then the social and economic challenges will remain for some time. And we need to be better prepared for future outbreaks clearly.
One of the ways to do that is to learn from past experiences of supporting individuals, families, and communities during pandemics. So like this one, and also we have experience from Ebola, from HIV AIDS and other disease outbreaks and public emergencies. So one thing that the workforce needs to be ready to do, is to help people build resilience to overcome the challenges and long-term effects. So that ranges from increased unemployment to the results of closure of businesses and schools, all of which can contribute to the things I mentioned earlier about higher rates of child marriage, sexual exploitation, child labor, family poverty and also more girls and women experiencing violence in the home and community.
<v 1>So we need to be really building up the capacity and resilience of the workforce</v> to face those continued challenges. <v 3>And we need to plan how to ensure the workforce has the capacity and resources</v> to address those challenges, and if other pandemics or public health emergencies arise in the future. So again, it’s that recognition of their essential role; that needs to be given immediately in a future pandemic along with that personal protective equipment and all those extra resources that I mentioned. Hopefully in future, those things will be provided more quickly and there will be less need for the advocacy to get people to recognize the importance of that kind of support.
Finally, in planning for another major disease outbreak or another major public emergency, I think we need to be even more aware of the need for the integration and coordination of the social service workforce with other services, other workforces. So obviously including community health workforce, but also mental health services, the police and justice services, schools and other education services. The
cooperation between these services and the close coordination, often being located in the same places where people can access services, all these things need to be considered in planning for future events like these, and to make sure that those things are in place from the very outset.
<v 0>Brilliant. Thanks so much Hugh.</v> <v 3>Thank you</v>
Watch the video to hear Hugh Salmon, Director of the Global Social Services Workforce Alliance, as he talks about the risks and challenges faced by the social service workforce during the COVID-19 outbreak and the actions that can be taken to promote their safety and well-being during COVID-19 and moving forward in the context of infectious disease outbreaks.
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