Different Ways of Working in Light of COVID 19 - Policy and Guidance
1. Context of the Necessary Changes to Our "Usual" Ways of Working
The COVID 19 pandemic has forced the Social Work world to drastically re-think the way of working in order to ensure that practitioners and families alike are kept safe and healthy and the most vulnerable in the society receive the support they need whilst an immunisation for COVID 19 is being researched for; online working (meetings, visits, catch-ups) has become hugely important which automatically places limitations on face-to-face contact and observations.
2. Risk Assessments and Prioritising the Needs of Children and Families
(See also: The PCFSW Digital Research & Practice Development: The PCFSW & Social Work England Best Practice Guide for Risk Assessment and Prioritising Children and Families' Needs during Pandemic; March 2020, last updated May 2020).
The impact of COVID 19
Think about the impact of Covid-19 on the child and family. Think critically and analytically about the situation and how the risks associated with Covid-19 (for example, self-isolation) affect the existing risks and their impact for the child and family. Your response to these questions may be informed by your existing knowledge of the child and their family, previous assessments and analysis of the child's lived experiences, environment and networks; in your professional view:
- What would be the impact for the child and family if they are self-isolating?
- What measures are in place and how does the family plan to keep the child safe?
- What help does the family need to manage the situation and keep the child safe?
- What help do they need to be able to do so and to manage the situation?
- Does the family appreciate and acknowledge the risks and their impact for the child?
- How worried is the family about the child? How does the family manage these worries?
- How does the family manage stress and what are their coping strategies?
Identifying protective factors and safeguarding needsConsider any protective factors, support and safeguarding measures that are in place or that need to be in place to ensure the safety and well-being of the child and family. For example:
- What are the existing protective factors for the child or young person and what are the existing safety and well-being plans for the child and family? How are these impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and its associated risks?
- Are there any other professionals who have seen or are seeing the child regularly (either in person or virtually)? Are you able to contact this professional and could contact information be shared by them?
- When was the last time the child or the young person was seen in-person by a social worker or social care practitioner? What was the context and what were the concerns? Was there any further contact with child after that? For example, via phone or virtual/digital visit?
- Is there is an existing safety plan? How will this be affected by self-isolation or reductions in workforce capacity or services?
- Are there any concerns about the child or young person's household or placement with regards to domestic abuse, sexual abuse, violence or coercive control, substance misuse, mental health, vulnerability to online grooming and sexual or criminal exploitation or radicalisation, or history of the young person absconding? How are these factors influenced by the confinement of the young person and/or their family in their current home or placement?
- What activities will take place over the coming 4 weeks to support and safeguard the child and family? Planned activities could vary widely ranging from a physical in-person contact to phone conversation to video communication, virtual/digital home visit, online support groups, digital/virtual home visit, digital virtual review, online activities and support provided by other agencies and organisations (e.g. schools, family centres, etc.).
- Are there any agreed or existing arrangements that need to be reconsidered or rearranged, or is there need for an alternative arrangement? For example, is the child looked after, what are the agreed and usual arrangements for time with family and friends? How are these affected and is there a need for alternative arrangements?
- What are the family support and respite arrangements and how are they affected? Is there a need for alternative arrangements?
- Is the young person autistic or does the young person have any special needs or learning difficulties?
- Are there ongoing or upcoming court proceedings? If yes, what stage are you at and how has this been impacted?
- If the young person is a care leaver, how are the existing arrangements impacted and what arrangements need to be put in place to ensure continuous support, safety, and well-being of the young person?
- Is the young person in a stable alternative care arrangement and are there any reported or escalating concerns? How do consequences of Covid-19 influence these arrangements and concerns?
- What are other practical arrangements for safety and support for the young person and what changes are needed to ensure their continuity? Can the young person contact their social worker or the services independently (e.g. using their own mobile phone)?
- Does the child or young person have an identified network of trusted adults - are school or other support agencies still in contact? If yes, are you able to contact any of the trusted adults or contact and receive the information from other agencies?
- What arrangements are in place and what advice has been given to care experienced young adults and children in alternative homes about contacting services in case they need support with food, medication, electricity or other basic necessities? Or if they need help to manage the current stress and anxieties or their well-being?
Clear agreement about contact with the family
Compatible with the complexity and level of needs and risks, practitioners should agree the time, frequency and preferred mode of contact with children and families. These can vary from a phone call to virtual/digital home visits to door-step visits or physical and in-person home visits.
In agreeing the means and mode of communicating with children and families, you will need to consider any guidance or limitations by your employer and balance the level of required social presence (for example video connection versus voice call or text message). This takes account of the level of risk and safeguarding needs and is clear and purposeful about the difference and what is needed to assess the young person's safety and well-being.
Deciding about alternative approaches to home visitsOne of the most challenging questions for practitioners is whether an in-person home visit is necessary. Many will be considering whether a visit can be carried out online or in alternative ways such as "door-step" visits. It is important to be clear about the difference between each approach, assess what you can and cannot achieve and why. Reflecting on and being explicit about the purpose of the home visit and what you need to achieve will help you identify the advantages as well as the risks and limitations for each type of home visit. In discussion with your manager, this should be considered, balancing the different risks, including the risk of contagion to yourself or children and families. You should agree a pragmatic approach that is child and family-centred and adequately addresses and balances the child(ren) and family's needs, the various risks and their impact. You can access further information here about carrying out a virtual home visits: PSW and Social Work England "Best Practice Guide for Video Call and Virtual Home Visit". We recommend consulting this guidance after RAG rating children and families' needs and risks in line with your employer's guidance and this document.
Systemic risk and need for continuous assessment
The risks and psychosocial impact and consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic add significant complexity to existing risks and their impact on children and families. These risks and the reduced visibility of children and families and vulnerable adults who access services combined with the uncertainties about the unfolding situation can result in rapidly escalating needs and risks that may go undetected, leaving children and families without the help and support they need.
These circumstances represent complex systemic risks that require constant monitoring and support. They also highlight the importance of the role of the family in safeguarding and people's well-being and therefore require a whole-system (systemic) and whole-family approach.
Therefore, it is essential that practitioners are aware and keep in touch with children and families and vulnerable adults and continuously reassess the situation from a child-centred or person-centred and whole-family perspective.
Complex and composite risks and other complicating factors
The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic can reduce opportunities for validation and intensify feelings of loneliness and isolation. The behavioural consequences of such emotions can vary from withdrawal and low mood to acting out and dangerous or threatening behaviour toward self or others. These can have particularly devastating consequences for people who experience mental health difficulties.
Digital and online risksWith limited opportunity for in-person social engagement, children and young people as well as adults spend increasing amount of time online developing and maintaining relationships and seeking friendship and validation. Although positive online engagements are important and can support people's mental health and emotional well-being, online engagement also brings risks and challenges. Research indicates that increased anxiety, loneliness or social isolation can lead to more frequent online activity and greater self-disclosure resulting in increased vulnerability. Therefore, it is essential that practitioners can assess online risks and safeguard children and young people online. The "PSW network Best Practice Guidance for Online Safeguarding" offers an evidence-informed and child-centred approach to assessing online risks and safeguarding children and young people online as well as supporting carers and vulnerable parents in these difficult times.; this is called the "10C Model".
Restorative and reflective supervision
Given the reduced social presence and team interactions, it is essential that supervision takes place regularly and offers a space for reflection and restorative supervision of practitioners' practice challenges and development. Furthermore, practitioners, supervisors and managers should consider and maximise opportunities for informal supervision and de-brief to enhance oversight and better support practitioners' mental health and wellbeing.
Given the impact of lone working and social isolation, particular attention is needed to sensitively consider staff members' feelings, coping strategies, emotional well-being and mental health to ensure they are supported both professionally and emotionally.
Health and well-being
The health and well-being of practitioners and staff and children and families should be everyone's priority. This includes taking appropriate measures such as provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect staff's physical health and safety. It also includes team-building initiatives and online social engagement, online games and online group activities and restorative supervision to support staff members' emotional and mental health.
Furthermore, lone working and remote working can pose particular risks, particularly if the current situation continues over an extended period of time. Therefore, it is good practice to create opportunities for staff to come together on a regular basis and to reflect on work and their experiences in virtual weekly meetings such as "Tea with the Team". This can help team building and mitigate stress and feelings of isolation and loneliness.
3. Top Tips for Direct Work with Children and Young People Online
(Claudia Megele, Chair of the Principal Children and Families Network)
The importance of direct work
- Through direct work we build relationships with children and young people;
- It supports us to have a better understanding of the child's world;
- It supports us to capture the child's voice;
- Children are very insightful into their own situations and direct tools can support them to express themselves;
- Direct work is an outlet for difficult emotions, thoughts and feelings it supports children to process and make sense of their world;
- Therefore, during Covid-19 we need to adapt, adjust and innovate in order to ensure that good quality direct work continues.
Preparing Children and Young People for Direct Work
- It is important to consider that we shouldn't give a child or young person the impression that they can share very personal details on the internet via a video call with someone that you've just met;
- This could leave the child vulnerable to or misunderstanding online boundaries;
- If the child or young person doesn't know you, it is important to consider undertaking a doorstep visit so that you can see the family and child and they can see you. From there you can progress virtual meetings and it is important to always explain to the child why you are there and what you do and why its Ok to speak with you.
- For children drawing and artwork is a natural means of self-expression;
- Most children draw pictures of themselves, people around them, and their experiences;
- Children start at about 15 months to draw self-portraits, as their awareness grows they start to draw things around them (brothers, sisters, family members, experiences);
- Drawing is a child's way of expressing their feelings, understanding of the world and what's important to them;
- Children draw the things that are important to them;
- Social workers often ask children to draw pictures of themselves, their families, their home in order to gain insight into how a child or young person is feeling;
- Children have a good insight into what they are drawing and why they are drawing it.
Examples of Direct Tools
- Using Google White Board or other interactive drawing apps:
- Interactive way to engage and play especially for children who feel more familiar and comfortable with apps;
- Self Portrait;
- 3 Houses;
- 3 Fairies;
- Tree of Worries;
- Facebook profile of the future;
- Bag of worries;
- The future self drawing.
- Sending out postcards: Increasing Mentalising:
- Weekly messages, reminding him he is special, thought about and important;
- Increasing mentalising and holding the child/young person in mind;
- The post cards become a physical reminder of the message that they are conveying;
- Visible reminder that the person, cares and thinks about him. Physical object that can be held onto.
- Meet my pet: projection of feelings and emotions:
- Some practitioners have spoken about how children or young people have seen pets in the background and wanted to know more about them;
- In other instances the pet was heard but not seen and the children asked if they could see the pet;
- Children started looking forward to seeing the dog and the dog became a regular part of virtual home visit;
- Used as a method to evoke curiosity, of what the dog might look like if they hadn't seen him yet;
- In one example, a practitioner had 4 dogs and the children liked to guest the personalities of the dog;
- Later the children started to talk about the relationships the dogs had with each other and with her. They become objects for projection of feelings and emotions.
- Finger Puppets and Dolls:
- Smaller children enjoy finger puppets and dolls especially if the practitioner uses this for storytelling or role play using the dolls or puppets;
- Dolls and puppets are also helpful for creating emotional distance when discuss difficult topics, emotions or people that the child feels are scary.
- Young person chairing her/ his own review:
- Enjoyed creating the agenda and helping with setting up the meeting, it boosted his confidence;
- By chairing the meeting he felt that adults focused more on the things that were important to him;
- He felt more comfortable doing the review virtually then he did when undertaking face to face review. Emotionally it wasn't as intense as being in the room with everyone;
- His brother who he lives with joined him for a while and this made his brother feel more confident that he might like to chair his review sometime in the future;
- Positive role modelling between the brothers.
- Stories and games:
- Use therapeutic stories;
- Use pictures, stories and experiences to create a life timeline or a life history book;
- Use stories to support positive reframing;
- Use stories or video for distancing techniques to speak about difficult topics.
- Using space and the creation of space;
- Older children using physical space and/or creating space, for example a young person who likes to speak with his social worker on the phone when he goes for a ride on this bike. He prefers phone calls and not video calls;
- Using walks with older children as a means of direct work. For example, a difficult to engage young person started to engage by going for walks with her social worker. Initially she didn't share but as the walks continued she started to share fears and worried and seemed to have some insight into what she was doing and why she was doing it. She described her behaviour as feel out of control but with the lockdown she seemed to feel more contained.
4. Top Tips for Effective Online Meetings
- Embrace video calling: being present and seeing each other is an important part of keeping connected; don't hide away or do other work during the meeting;
- Use headset or earphones: This will give better sound quality. Speak directly into the mic and remember to mute it when not speaking to limit background noise;
- Speak clearly and steadily: This will help ensure everyone can understand you. And try to modulate your voice, to keep people interested and engaged;
- Establish etiquette guidelines: Agree a system to give everyone a voice. Arrange 'hands up' signals to agree who speaks next and use chat functions to allow everyone to contribute;
- Repeat the question: The chair or presenter should repeat questions they ask to ensure all participants are aware of the original question. Repeating the question in writing within a chat box could provide additional clarity;
- Use names and give context: When responding to chat comments, repeat the relevant remarks and make clear who you're responding to. Don't just say 'yes, Jane that's right' – others may not have seen Jane's comment and it won't make sense to them;
- Keep slides simple: Your participants may be joining from a mobile device and wordy slides will be tough to read. Anchor your presentation on relevant, image-based slides;
- Keep slides visual: Keep to a single thought per slide to help participants understand and focus on what's being discussed. It's better to have more slides with fewer things on them;
- Engage participants regularly: It's hard to simply listen online for a long time. Invite participants to give comments or ask questions, and use tools like chat or polls;
- Be explicit about actions and summarise: Spell out clearly any actions that need to be taken and by whom. Summarise meeting takeaways and circulate notes promptly.
5. Top Tips for Working Remotely
- Set up a designated workspace: separate space for yourself to work in, somewhere you can focus on tasks without being distracted and set up with everything you need for a normal working day;
- Make sure you have all the tech you need: this includes a reliable internet connection, required hard- and software, access to your organisation's network, any files and importantly, knowledge of how to get IT support;
- Get dressed: changing into working clothes will help you mentally switch onto productive work mode. It will also help you distinguish between "homeworking" and "home life";
- Write a daily to do list: set out a list of realistic, achievable tasks to keep you focused;
- Know when to step away from your desk: be clear about when your working day begins and ends and take breaks to refresh. It is easy to let yourself be "always on" when your home and office are the same place;
- Stay in conversation: contribute regularly to team chats/ group emails so you do not drop off the radar. Ask about what people are working on and share what is on your plate;
- Foster relationships: make time for non-work chats as you would in the workplace and use video calling to maintain face-to-face contact;
- Be clear in your communication: speaking in person gives you visual and audio cues that help you communicate. Conversing remotely removes a lot of that extra information so make your communication extra clear and concise;
- Ask for support when needed: speak out when you need assistance, further training or support. Your manager, colleagues and you are part of a team and should be supporting each other, even remotely;
- Make remote working work for you: change where you sit, put on music, whatever helps you work. And enjoy the perks – no commute or uncomfortable shoes, and all your home comforts!