Kingstone, T, Campbell, P, Andras, A, Nixon, K, Mallen, CD, Dikomitis, L, Helliwell, T, Polidano, K, Robinson, M, Shepherd, T and Wenning, B (2021) Exploring the Impact of the First Wave of COVID-19 on Social Work Practice: A Qualitative Study in England, UK. The British Journal of Social Work. ISSN 0045-3102

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The COVID-19 pandemic signalled a radical shift in health and social care services globally. In UK, many of the people with existing social care needs were identified as 'clinically vulnerable' to COVID-19. Those at greatest risk were encouraged to adhere to additional public health measures that inadvertently exacerbated social disadvantages. Social workers were challenged to 'dig deep' to continue to provide services as usual. However, problems implementing new ways of working were reported but not examined in-depth through research. Our study explored experiences and perceptions of social workers responding to the first wave (April-July 2020) of COVID-19, in England, UK. Interviews with thirteen social workers, all working in the West Midlands region, were conducted via telephone or online video. Transcripts were analysed using reflexive thematic analysis. We use 'managing uncertainty' as a central concept underpinning the four themes identified after analysis: (1) providing social care at a physical distance, (2) negotiating home/work boundaries, (3) managing emerging risks and (4) long-term implications for social work. We discuss our findings in the context of resilience and organisational adaptation. Social workers in our study demonstrated resilience in action and rapid adaptation to new practices, but equally expressed concern about short-term efficiencies being prioritised over individual service user needs.

The COVID-19 pandemic signalled a dramatic shift in how health and social care services were delivered to members of the public. Social workers reported challenges implementing new ways of working during the first wave of COVID-19. However, such challenges received little coverage in the media or in research. This article explores the views and experiences of social workers responding to the first COVID-19 wave in England, UK (April-July 2020). Telephone and online interviews were carried out with thirteen social workers active in the West Midlands region. Social workers shared experiences of how they managed uncertainty-a core theme in the study. Interviewees described managing the uncertainty of: (1) providing social care at a physical distance, (2) negotiating home/work boundaries, (3) managing emerging risks and (4) contemplating the future of social work practice. Our study demonstrates how social work professionals adapted rapidly to new practices during the first wave. However, social workers raised concerns about the impact of short-term solutions on long-term needs of service users. Implications for research and practice are discussed with reference to key literature.

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: © The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted reuse, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited
Uncontrolled Keywords: interviews, pandemic, public health, qualitative research, remote working, resilience
Subjects: R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > School of Medicine
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 25 Aug 2021 13:05
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2022 08:55

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