[Bulgaria] How Does Social Work Change During a Pandemic?

08 Apr 2020

Social work is, by its very nature, a resource for dealing with social isolation. What happens when this isolation is imposed by modus operandi?

Following the outbreak of the pandemic from the novel Coronavirus, industry organizations of social work specialists in different countries around the world have begun to urge their members to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and the communities they work with.

In addition to the practical measures related to hygiene precautions, they also point to the need to take steps to prevent mental health problems - stress, chronic stress, depression caused by family conflicts, deprivation of access to resources, or restrictions on freedoms. Organizing work in high-stress mode with new, insecure, often gratuitous working conditions implies high levels of stress and anxiety.

Anonymous survey for professionals from the social work field

The Know-How Center for Alternative Child Care at New Bulgarian University, whose mission is to professionalize services for children and families, has begun conducting an anonymous survey to examine whether the situation in Bulgaria is similar. The survey included experts in the social field: social workers, special educators, speech therapists, psychologists, family therapists, teachers, managers and trainers, consultants and supervisors.

The poll, which is still active, showed the following intermediate results: the prevailing concerns are whether professionals will be able to maintain their own mental health as well as that of others. There is also a fear of lack of sufficient information to prevent children and employees from becoming infected.

'The worries are multifaceted - both in terms of work and family, in the face of extreme isolation measures…. Lack of clarity on when we can be sure of a way out of the global pandemic, especially for the EU, makes me feel insecure and depressed…'(Expert in Methodical Provision of Social Services for Children and Families, Sofia)

'I now work with people with whom I have constructed a relationship of trust and this makes continued work over the phone possible, but I'm afraid it may not be for very long. You can feel it in the attitude of the customers.' (Regional City Consultant)

The state of emergency is being linked to a number of difficulties

Among the difficulties that survey participants share are: lack of supplies; difficulties linked to restriction on free movement; lack of direct contact; distance work for people with epilepsy and intellectual disability; difficulties in the policy of the organization in which they work; the reconciliation of the roles and responsibilities of parent and employee at the same time. The challenge for many is to switch to online counselling.

'We lost the basic method - discussion and support. Communication in a virtual environment deprives us of many important components of communication. At least it seems my generation is not ready for this. It will be difficult for children who need external behavioral regulation and therapy.'  (Supervisor)

'The modest experience that I have had to acquire at the moment is related to the tense, urgent dynamism of finding options for effective work from home.' (Expert working in services for children and families)

Social service workers also say that if before the global pandemic they worked for social integration of the whole family and for public tolerance of children with special needs, then now they are practically working in conditions of social isolation and often apply mainly crisis intervention.

'Isolation has a negative effect on everyone's psyche. We have difficulty in delivering protective equipment and disinfectants. In the case of staff illness in resident services, we have no trained substitutes.' (Service Manager for Children and Families in a Regional City)

'I'm worried about the possible longer duration of the epidemic, as service users need contact with the outside world." (Senior Services Manager)

Good practices

As a good practice, respondents share everything 'related to co-operation, support and mutual assistance among colleagues' and free sharing of any resources between professionals in different fields. Many Family-Type Accommodation centres are operating at full speed, although they do not have the safeguards. Employees do their best because children need constant and more organized activities to reduce anxiety due to isolation and the virus. For teachers, this period is a time of intensive development of distanced work skills:

'The Covid-19 epidemic has made me put into practice what has been learned so far in the various training courses I have undergone. I studied different educational platforms around the clock for several days. Our preparation so far does not give me the opportunity to think that it is time to put knowledge into practice. All these efforts, I think, are not in vain, but the moment of modern technological education has come!' (Teacher from Sofia)

Serious questions regarding the management of the process

Questions asked by the respondents:

  •    To what extent is the risk taken by social workers while supporting those in need assessed?
  •    Is there a sense of ambiguity and confusion about contribution on an individual level?
  •    How are employees protected when they are unable to work from a distance?
  •    How are human rights guaranteed by the state in a crisis?
  •    How will the safety of key social workers and social services managers be ensured while performing their urgent functions?

The KHC survey (in Bulgarian) will be open until the end of April: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/RGDF7JZ

The KHC share the following resource links:

A section of the SACP website for children and adults who need to ask a question or share their emotions and anxieties about the unknown and new situation: https://sacp.government.bg/кризисни-въпроси

Contact list of psychologists from the national team to provide psychological support during crises: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdqQQVeGPaZlp0FL9fLKVN8FW6W6tA-UZgA8d9P_ouQgKIh0g/viewform?fbclid=IwAR0ABOQheQX4EdV-q4EeOt0UHZ3710ErqWoZNlHHAoCZN74Ng_0COJp-XYE

Home University - New Bulgarian University YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCa-YjledUY4p8kA4nky7Sxg/featured

YouTube channel of the KHC at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_b9n05IgQmNXBUf2tQWInQ

Free Resilience Online Course (https://golemanei.com/resilience/?fbclid=IwAR2Tsha1RWM7iIhCe-6ga28r3Oogw8FgKs3dI_kgh4Me-v0cxcx8BT5kXc0

Internet Archive - An NGO providing a library of free books, movies, software, music, webpages, etc.: https: //archive.org

You can contact the KHC by email at info@knowhowcentre.org, or fill out the online form on the KHC website to request counselling and supervision.

This project is funded by: