Sat | Sep 19, 2020

Social workers stand ready in the COVID-19 fight

Published:Wednesday | March 18, 2020 | 12:12 AMDr Khadija Wiliams and Eva Forde/Guest Columnists
We must increase the number of beds at hospitals and strengthen the discharge process so that patients are not remaining at hospitals longer than needed.
We must increase the number of beds at hospitals and strengthen the discharge process so that patients are not remaining at hospitals longer than needed.

Over the past several weeks, as we have all seen the growing pandemic around the coronavirus, we at the Jamaica Association of Social Workers (JASW) have been thinking about how these developments might affect social workers and those for whom we care.

Where there is panic, fear, uncertainty – which we are most familiar with in our daily practice – social workers seek to apply our professional skills such as problem-solving, crisis intervention, and strengths utilisation. In this, we support the nation in keeping peace and supporting solution-focused approaches to address the current situation.

As social workers, our mandate is to add important social value to the context in these times. Notwithstanding, it is also imperative that we ensure that we follow the precautions set by the World Health Organization and the Ministry of Health and Wellness for our individual health and well-being as we support the existing public policy as it relates to the pandemic and help to guide the participation of people in communities towards desired outcomes.

The JASW also urges social workers, at this time more than ever, to practise self-care, which has always been identified as a necessary action for social workers who are themselves the main tool in social interventions.

As the nation depends on social workers to continue to hold the social fabric together while we execute our duties in the various fields of health, education, child and youth development, national security, agriculture, and justice, among others, we remind our constituents of the necessity of self-care practices to support their work.

As we engage in social-distancing and stay focused on our mandate of advocating for social justice, equity, and facilitating the empowerment of people. The JASW takes this opportunity to reflect on ways that the authorities can improve services for the vulnerable in our society in general and encourages individual social workers to reflect and advocate similarly.

WAYS TO IMPROVE SERVICE

Some points for reflection that would contribute to the improvement of the social and healthcare systems and reduce the burdens in times such as these include:

1. Increasing the number of beds at hospitals and strengthening the discharge process so that patients are not remaining at hospitals longer than needed.

2. Increasing the number of specialist doctors, more fully functioning technical equipment, increasing the availability of medication and improving the support for the work of medical and psychiatric social workers who practise in preventative and restorative care.

3. Improving support for schools to gain better Internet connectivity so that online teaching is integrated into regular school activities at all levels and not only in emergencies. Particular attention should be placed on schools in remote and rural communities, which are at a great disadvantage in many ways.

4. Developing more community open spaces with available exercise equipment, where community members can engage in physical activities to maintain healthy lifestyles. This can be a project of the Social Development Commission (SDC).

5. Supporting the development of more agro parks where communities can have food security and be self-sufficient as a way of life – a special project of the Ministry of Industry Commerce Agriculture and Fisheries and Rural Agricultural Development Authority in particular.

6. Providing support for families to adequately meet the needs of their children in 24-hour cycles, taking into account those who have recently been reintegrated into their families following state care and parents who depend on caregivers or schools to keep their children occupied during the day.

This includes more robust community parenting support programmes operated by trained social workers, which could help parents improve their ability to care for their children and make home the best place for children to be – the ideal and not an anomaly. The Roving Caregivers Programme out of The University of the West Indies, Mona Social Work Department, is one model for reflection.

ACTIVE COMMUNITY MOBILISATION

The social-work perspective adds great value to the development plans of Jamaica, and as social workers, our role is to agitate for the changes that are needed to keep people at the centre of development.

This pandemic has reinforced for us what the profession has been advocating for many decades: the importance of community-based practice, localised interventions, and active community mobilisation.

The training and experience of social workers allows us to identify and build on the strengths that lie in every challenging situation – strengths that form the foundation of a more empowered future beyond COVID-19.

Jamaica should know that social workers stand confident and ready to continue to work to mitigate the existing gaps in service delivery and improve our practice to, ultimately, benefit the nation.

Dr Khadija Wiliams and Eva Forde, Jamaica Association of Social Workers. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com