I remember, just before the lockdown, attending the Rural Social Work Conference in Dumfries in March. There were questions and anxieties as to whether or not the event was going to go ahead. Fortunately, it went ahead. I say fortunately, because this was the first Rural Social Work Conference organised in Scotland. Taking part in this event made me realise how rural social workers are connected through similar challenges and how we all have to use our creativity and work solution focussed with the limited resources available. We are used to isolation.
On my return to work the week after the conference things started to change rapidly. I was trying to get my head around changes that had happened during my absence. Some colleagues were self-isolating with suspected COVID 19 symptoms and some were starting to work from home due to their own underlying health conditions.
Initially our small team of 3 full time social workers, a student social worker, a relief part-time social worker and 2 social work assistants were separated and told to work from separate buildings. As critical workers it was crucial that we were protected in order to ensure continuity of service. By the end of the week we were all told to work from home. This was a new experience for the majority of us and it did not come without challenges. Some of us who did not have a private laptop at home were given a laptop from the Local Authority. Workers who had their own laptops were asked to use these, with no prospect of getting a work one. The IT Department have been very efficient in getting everyone set and ready to work. Both IT staff and our Team Leader showed patience and support in terms of helping everyone get used to remotely accessing information. We have all been supportive of each other.
One thing about working from home is that you have to be very disciplined and organised. We had to adjust quickly to this new way of working and living. There have been many tips provided about working from home and these have been useful. The Local Authority has made adjustments to the flexible work policy allowing workers to work their contracted hours over a longer period of time during the day.
In order to keep us connected and informed we have two briefing meetings a week, on a Monday and a Friday. They are led by our Team Leader and everyone is given the opportunity to contribute. Although very busy with meetings, our Team Leader has shown support to staff when required.
As of this week we have introduced a Team meeting every alternative Wednesday.
The Stornoway Social Work Team of which I am part, covers the Isles of Lewis and Harris. Due to the geographical challenges we also have a small Social Work Team on Benebecula, which covers the Southern Isles of Outer Hebrides. Their team consists of 2 social workers and 2 social work assistants. Following structural changes, they are now also team led by our Team Leader. Our colleagues from Benbecula are also video-linking in meetings and being part of the joined day duty rota. It is probably the most we have seen of each other over a number of years!
A number of colleagues have in the past year or so left our team. Two social work positions, a part-time and a full time have been advertised with interviews taking place this week. This is good news.
As a Children and Family Team we continue to work closely with partner agencies including Health, Education, Police and any other relevant agencies.
Children of key workers and vulnerable children have been welcomed to attend organised HUBS. If they require transport, this is being organised for them. For the other children that do not attend the HUBS they are expected to attend Education online and Education staff are working hard to meet the children’s needs the best they can given current context. Children who do not have a laptop have or are being given one from the school.
We have undertaken a limited number of home visits as per COVID 19 guidelines. These are always agreed by the Team Leader after COVID 19 risks being assessed. We have been informed that PPE for the Social Work Team was due to arrive the week before. This is now available locally.
In terms of support offered to families, our team and partner agencies have jointly organised and delivered a significant number of food parcels to vulnerable families. We have increased the frequency and duration of phone calls to our families and continue to undertake assessments and other significant duties. Digital connectivity continues to be a challenge.
In keeping with the social distancing guidelines and in discussion with our Team Leader, we have started undertaking ‘garden visits’. The weather has been good and this helps. The visits are taking place with the families consent and respecting confidentiality. This means that any difficult discussions or any needs are discussed on the phone prior to the visit. There is of course the issue of anonymity, but of course, working and living in such a small community this cannot be avoided.
This is week five, day 7 of lockdown. Officially we still have only 6 confirmed cases of COVID 19. It’s been 15 days without any new confirmed cases. Let’s see what the future weeks hold.
Children and Families Team
Stornoway, Western Isles