Community-based participatory research (CBPR) calls for collaboration between researchers and providers, such as social workers, who possess local expertise and long-standing familiarity with communities being researched. Provider perspectives can strengthen programming, offering alternative viewpoints to those of their clients regarding challenges and well-being. Little is known about how local social workers view the communities in which they work and how that view influences their work. The communities where practitioners work often suffer deep social disparities, including high rates of poverty and violence – all exacerbated by COVID-19 – and are often only depicted in the media for their deficits. These local experts not only have unique insight to community challenges but also their great strengths. The purpose of this study was to support social workers living in the community in which they work cope with the challenges of COVID-19 through an examination of community resilience.
This study sought to equitably involve and recognize the contributions of community social workers by engaging them in the CBPR method of Photovoice. Photovoice involves a series of focus group meetings and the use of photographs to visually capture data reflecting the realities and ideas of participants. Four full-time social work practitioners from a community based organization in Chicago collaborated with the researcher to determine the following research question: “How do staff who live in the community in which they work see resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic?” Over the course of four, 60-minute virtual focus groups, we engaged in an inductive approach through discussion and sharing, to identify themes represented in the photographs that display resilience in the community.
Through powerful photographs and discussion, analysis identified two key themes representing resilience within the community: 1) Growth in the Unseen and 2) Hope. Throughout the analysis practitioners emphasized how community members and spaces were being resilient on a day to day basis and often times with little notice – resilience unseen. Moreover, the practitioners recognized displays of resilience that gave them hope that their community would overcome the challenges of COVID-19. Since the practitioners live in the community in which they work, they felt like they were able to see these instances of growth the daily activities of local businesses, street corners and residents. Moreover, practitioners felt heard throughout the Photovoice process and reported that it provided a needed break from seeing community life through a lens of adversity.
Conclusions and Implications:
Results draw out critical insight into the strengths-based approach that social workers who live in the community in which they work bring to the profession. Photovoice provided a therapeutic space where practitioners collectively captured community acts of resilience that often go unseen or celebrated and acts of resilience that give them hope. Future research should continue to understand the perspectives of practitioners who have such a connection with the community. Such efforts will not only provide scholars with a nuanced perspective towards community challenges but also an understanding of how to leverage community strength to improve services and interventions.