Methods: Social service providers serving Latino immigrants in the Maryland-Washington DC region (N=100) were surveyed regarding social support, work-related stress and psychological distress (Kessler-6). A sub-sample (n=18) completed open-ended questions across three distinct phases of the COVID-19 pandemic: (1) during stay-at-home orders (April 2020), (2) during re-implementation of restrictions due to rising cases (November 2020), and (3) after vaccines became widely available (June 2021).
Results: Nearly 40% reported that their organization had “some of the time” or “never enough” direct service providers to meet the needs of their limited English proficient clients. About a third reported that their organization was able to meet the needs of their clients to a small extent or not at all during the pandemic, and only 9% reported that the federal administration facilitated access to reliable and language appropriate information about COVID-19. Over half indicated that the Trump administration heightened immigrants’ fear of seeking services, and 10% reported clinical levels of psychological distress.
In regards to the sub-sample, at the start of the pandemic, providers reported feeling stressed by the rapid transition to telehealth from in-person with little to no training or experience. They expressed feeling on 24/7 trying to meet the rising and urgent needs of their clients. As COVID cases surged (November 2020), they transitioned to client preferred apps (Whatsapp) vs telehealth portals. Providers reported feeling overwhelmed trying to meet the rising needs of their clients in the face of increased layoffs of Spanish-speaking staff and associated limited immigrant services. After vaccines became widely available, fewer providers reported feeling overwhelmed by their work, but spoke about feeling burnt out and desiring work-life balance and increased dissatisfaction with their organizations.
Conclusions: This study provides an important descriptive snapshot of immigrant social services in the first phase of the pandemic. Further, it elucidates critical temporal information, for over a year, regarding how providers’ experienced the evolving pandemic and their unfolding work lives. Such insights have the potential to reveal the structural factors and associated mechanisms that shape social change and renewed conditions of social work.