Urgent call for adult social workers across Shropshire and West Midlands
It is proving to be a tough time for adult social care services across Shropshire and the West Midlands, with many workers off sick or self-isolating.
Council bosses say staffing problems and increasing demand are making it harder to keep helping those most in need.
And the coronavirus pandemic has meant that staff who are still able to work are facing new challenges.
The #ComeBackToCare campaign is now urging retired and registered former social workers – particularly those involved in mental health – to return to work urgently.
Created by the improvement body West Midlands Employers and the regional branch of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services, it has been endorsed by 14 councils in the West Midlands region.
It has also been backed by frontline social workers in the region, who have spoken of the new challenges they have been facing during the pandemic.
Megan du Toit works for Shropshire Council's adult social care team which supports people who have a range of needs, including those with learning disabilities and mental health issues.
Apart from essential home visits, assessments are being completed over the phone to ensure vulnerable people are not placed at risk, and social workers are using video calls to connect with people.
Megan, 32, of Telford, said: "The main challenge at the moment is the way that we have had to change the way we practice, and this has had to be done quickly in response to the lockdown restrictions that are in place.
"Our profession is underpinned by the importance of building relationships with others. This is an essential part of our work as it helps us to know what matters to a person, and in turn this will lead to ensuring we can support them with positive interventions in their lives.
"The majority of our work is normally done face-to-face. We rely on non-verbal communication to see how a person is feeling or how best we can support to relieve their anxieties.
"This is very difficult over the phone, especially for people we support who have unique communication needs or sensory impairments.
"Additionally we have had a lot of individuals who are not currently able to access the services they would normally attend – such as day centres and respite provisions.
"This is placing more pressure on their carers and other family members who are now stepping up to support.
"We have to make sure that we are reaching out to as many informal carers within the community as we can, as it is such a sudden change to their lives.
"The team have worked hard to ensure that we are contacting individuals and families on a regular basis to ensure we can offer support and advice wherever we can."
She said the profession could benefit from additional social workers coming on board, adding: "We find that on a day to day basis we are now dealing with a higher level of complex cases.
"This includes working with a lot more cases of self-neglect and hoarding following changes to legislation.
"I feel that it would be beneficial if we had more social workers within the profession, as it attracts people with a variety of different life experiences. This is essential for us to work in a emancipatory way within our communities."
Nicholas Aston is a mental health social worker for City of Wolverhampton Council and agrees that additional social workers would be useful for the profession.
The 40-year-old, who lives in south Birmingham, says one of the biggest changes in lockdown is not being able to meet with people face-to-face, but the teams are making phone and video calls.
He said: "We work on a conversational relationship based approach.
"We give people the chance to tell us what they want from us.
"A lot of it is done over the phone, but when we first work with a new person we like to engage face-to-face.
"Some people require more contact than others. We try and give them the skills and contacts they need and connect them back to positive relationships and their physical and social environment. In the current climate, there are barriers.
"Wolverhampton council was proactive, even before the lockdown was announced we had already started working from home practices.
"Working away from face-to-face has been challenging but it sharpens up your conversational observations with people."
As part of the #ComeBackToCare campaign, a website has been created where people with the right experience and qualifications can apply to come back to work as a full employee or as a volunteer.
Through the website the 14 councils will be able to match with a pool of candidates and get people back on the front line within days.
Rebecca Davis, chief executive of West Midlands Employers, said: "In a matter of days our 14 councils working with West Midlands Employers have put together a self-help scheme backed by simple but powerful technology.
"It’s a tribute to how local government is innovating at the speed of light to deal with this crisis.
“There is an army out there of good, experienced and skilled people who we are asking to do their bit and come back to work, to save and protect the lives of their neighbours and friends.”
Visit the website at https://tinyurl.com/y8c2amy6
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