I am often asked, “What do social workers do?’’ After taking a deep breath—because I’m always concerned that my response might not encompass the depth and breadth of the profession—I say, “Working with individuals, families and communities, social workers help find and implement solutions to problems, challenges and crisis.” I add, “In addition to our extraordinary problem-solving skills, we are experts in identifying “upstream’’ opportunities for growth, development and improvement.’’
The nexus of three pandemics—COVID-19, racism and the resulting economic crisis—has presented an overabundance of problems and challenges in the social work practice arenas of health care, mental health, child welfare, school social work, elder services, and many other aspects of meeting the health, mental health and social care needs of our clients and communities.
Social workers quickly and effectively pivoted to respond to the emerging crises brought on by the pandemics—often with insufficient resources and supports. We found ourselves having to over-rely on our problem-solving capabilities, which unexpectedly made it clear to the broader public the value of social workers’ extraordinary expertise in this area.
Today, social workers’ problem-solving skills are in great demand for integrating social care into health care delivery; addressing social isolation in senior care centers; safely reopening schools and meeting students’ educational, social and emotional needs; meeting the special health, mental health, and social care needs of the nation’s 430,000 children in foster care; meeting long-term mental health needs; operationalizing social distancing in congregate care settings; and responding to the call for racial justice.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, housing, food and economic insecurity plagued the lives of millions of Americans. Social workers know these insecurities hit some communities harder than others. According to economists, African Americans have borne the brunt of COVID-19’s economic impact. For instance, Black workers are disproportionately represented in the 40 million COVID-related unemployment claims.
The impact of COVID on our nation’s mental health is increasing. In March (2020), 32 percent of adults reported the virus had negatively impacted their mental health, and that number increased to 53 percent in July (2020). Not surprisingly, lower income families reported higher levels of mental health negative impacts.
Social workers have leveraged their extraordinary problem-solving expertise to meet the challenges and opportunities of living and working through the stress, struggles and chaos resulting from the pandemics. Social workers’ person-in-environment understanding, social and racial justice perspective, and a relentless passion to solve problems no matter how big or how novel positions the profession for leadership of today’s challenges and opportunities.
Contact Angelo McClain at firstname.lastname@example.org