Methods: Semi-structured face-to-face interviews and telephone interviews were conducted with 20 participants from Yijia Social Work Service Center and Shuangxin Dongli Community, in Tangshan City, China to gather information about the tasks social workers did and perspectives social workers conceived about these tasks. Interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Informed consent was given to each interviewee before participation. Transcripts from interviews were uploaded into NVivo 11 to assist with data organization, coding, and analysis.
Results: Through discussions between interviewers, a list of key themes was developed inductively. During the outbreak of COVID-19 in China, social workers from Yijia Social Work Service Center and Shuangxin Dongli Community participated in various activities to respond to and address this public health emergency, including volunteer services (e.g. volunteer training, knowledge popularization of the outbreak, and donation management), integrated community services (e.g. online service, customized service for community caregivers, community management, and counseling service), targeted community services (e.g. for home isolators, older adults, adolescents, and community residents). Besides, perspectives and suggestions toward these tasks were also explored from interviews. Key themes included the enhancement of community mass mobilization ability, the improvement of expertise and ability in addressing emergencies, and the need for professional support and training.
Implications: This study filled the research void that no prior studies focused on the role social workers played as public health emergency responders amid the public health emergency. Through exploring the tasks social workers did during the COVID-19 outbreak in China, the advantages of social workers in practice, and according practical suggestions for future possible public health emergencies were identified. Besides, deficient areas of the social work practice were also identified. These precious experiences and lessons provide referrals not only for future possible public health emergencies but also even for the development of social work services in the community.