Abstract: Coping with the Corona Virus: The Role of Community Social Work (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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271P Coping with the Corona Virus: The Role of Community Social Work

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Yael Itzhaki- Braun, PhD, Lecturer, Tel-Aviv University, Tel-Aviv, Israel
Background: In February 2020, the corona virus began spreading all over the world, afflicting millions of people. Citizens were ordered to stay home, and to keep away from the elderly. These restrictions had consequences that harmed peoples’ well-being in familial, communal, and economic aspects. Community social work departments took an active part in coping with the corona virus. There is a small body of research regarding the role of community social workers coping with emergency situations such as natural disasters or war. However, since the largest epidemic last appeared 100 years ago, there is no data relating to the role of community social work in coping with it. This paper assists in filling this gap by examining the role of community social workers coping with coronavirus.

Methods: Qualitative design and methods were utilized to investigate the research question. Data came from in-depth, semi-structured interviews with managers of community social work departments in municipalities in Israel, taken in April 2020. The sample included 18 participants. A purposive sampling was used to recruit them. All participants were community social workers, with M.A. degrees and 13-39 years of experience. They were defined by the government as essential workers and continued to work during the coronavirus epidemic. Both Jews and Arabs were represented in the sample. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and a grounded approach was used to capture emergent themes.

Findings: Finding highlights three main roles of community social workers coping with the corona virus. First, the relationships and cooperation that were promoted by the community social workers in their daily work were found to be essential and necessary to the social welfare departments and the municipalities’ ability to assist people. Local social networks built by community social workers in the neighborhoods were the source for locating needy people, and assisting them by delivering food and medicine. Prior cooperation with business and civil society organizations enabled quick access to resources such as computers and games. Second, management abilities, and experience with political issues by community social workers, placed them at the head of teams operating within the municipal framework to deal with the coronavirus. Third, findings reveal that participants were able to differentiate between the first period that was designed by “Maslow needs”, and the second period, due to the recognition of the significance of community social work, affording the opportunity for developing new cooperation, reaching new population groups, and increasing knowledge about professional intervention using virtual tools.

Conclusions and implications: Findings highlight the importance and necessity of community practice coping with emergency situations. Since the epidemic was unexpected, prior preparations for emergency situations were not useful, and the use of the existing social networks was essential. Findings suggest that decision makers should view community social workers as integral partners in coping with the coronavirus during both crisis periods and during recovery time. Furthermore, courses and training of community social workers in emergency situations would increase proficiency in this field.