Abstract: The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Social Workers at the Frontline: A Survey of Canadian Social Workers (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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SSWR 2023 Poster Gallery: as a registered in-person and virtual attendee, you have access to the virtual Poster Gallery which includes only the posters that elected to present virtually. The rest of the posters are presented in-person in the Poster/Exhibit Hall located in Phoenix A/B, 3rd floor. The access to the Poster Gallery will be available via the virtual conference platform the week of January 9. You will receive an email with instructions how to access the virtual conference platform.

The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Social Workers at the Frontline: A Survey of Canadian Social Workers

Friday, January 13, 2023
Valley of the Sun E, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Rachelle Ashcroft, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Deepy Sur, PhD, Chief Executive Officer, Ontario Association of Social Workers, ON, Canada
Andrea Greenblatt, PhD Student, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON, Canada
Peter Donahue, PhD, Associate Professor, King’s University College, Western University, ON, Canada
Background/Purpose: Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, social workers faced increasingly complex client needs and transformative changes in practice. Ontario is Canada’s most populous province with 14.7 million residents. On March 17, 2020, the Ontario government declared a provincial state of emergency, which required the closure of most indoor facilities and businesses except those providing essential services. The purpose of our study was to understand the impact of COVID-19 on social workers in the province of Ontario, Canada.

Methods: We conducted an exploratory cross-sectional, online survey from June 2020 to September 2020. We used a convenience sampling technique to engage a population of social workers. Potential participants were those who were able to complete an online survey in English, and a member of the Ontario Association of Social Workers (OASW) – the professional association for social workers in Ontario. At the time of survey, 6,245 social workers were members of OASW. The response rate was close to 40 per cent for a total of 2,470 participants. The survey consisted of fifty-one open-ended and closed-ended questions in total and took approximately 15 min to complete. The section of the survey pertaining to the impact of COVID-19 included two close-ended and two open-ended questions. The two close-ended questions were (i) ‘What was your primary mode of service delivery prior to COVID-19?’ and (ii) ‘Since the start of COVID-19, what is your primary mode of service delivery?’ The two open-ended questions were (i) ‘Please share how your social work practice has changed as a result of COVID-19’ and (ii) ‘Please describe any impact that COVID-19 has had on your employment status.’ Descriptive statistical analyses were performed on the close-ended questions, and thematic analysis was conducted on the sub-set of open-ended questions. Research ethics approval was obtained from the University of Toronto (REB Protocol #38945).

Results: Nine themes were identified on the impact to social worker’s employment status: increased work-load; loss of employment; redeployment to new settings; early retirement; concern for personal health and safety; social workers in private practice seeing fewer clients; personal caregiving responsibilities; limiting recent graduates’ employment potential and social workers experiencing new opportunities. There were five themes on the impact on social work practice: clients with increasing complexities; challenges with transition to virtual care; benefits with transition to virtual care; adapting in-person services and personal well-being.

Conclusions/Implications: The demand for social work services increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the many challenges presented by the pandemic as to how to deliver services, social workers continued to provide essential services to individuals, families and communities. Social workers rapidly adopted technologies in practice in an astounding way. Whilst social workers have seen some positive outcomes in innovative approaches for service delivery, social workers have also experienced personal and professional burdens. Stress, fatigue and burnout were some of the costs of caring incurred by social workers. We need to nurture collaborative professional communities, now more than ever, to ensure the well-being of social workers for the duration of the pandemic and beyond.