The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 prompted an unprecedented global effort by social workers to re-orientate services – to meet the needs of both existing clients and the millions of people whose lives had suddenly been thrown into turmoil by the virus.
This effort was in circumstances that might, at first glance, have seemed impossible for a profession that prides itself on having personal contact and relationship-building at its core.
However, what happened was a remarkable transformation of social work. The pandemic effectively caused a shift that set a new course for the profession.
The rise of COVID-19 prompted social workers to be creative, to think of new ways of making their services and values effective. It sparked a culture of transformation in social services, which in turn helped transform lives under the most difficult of circumstances. The old structures could no longer function and this gave social workers a form of liberation. They got back to the roots of social work – going out into communities and supporting them to help themselves.
A powerful analogy was made during the IFSW Conference in July 2020, as social workers reflected on what had happened during the past six months. The old structures had increasingly pushed social work into a crisis management role, picking up the pieces at the bottom of the cliff. Where they always should have been, it was pointed out, was at the top of the cliff, heading off disaster before it happened. This was to be achieved by working through and with communities. The pandemic had revived this kind of community- based social work.
This booklet charts the continuing transformation of social work, from the first outbreaks of COVID-19 in China in January 2020 to the new global strategy for the profession agreed at the IFSW conference in July – a set of priorities which made manifest the new sense of purpose developing in social work as a result of COVID-19.
The publication serves partly as a historical archive of what has happened. We hope it will also provide inspiration, helping social workers move forward with the new global strategy in mind. It is a first outline of what the new global social work looks like, providing examples and ideas to develop further with the new goals in mind.
The social work profession will have many challenges in advancing this transformational strategy. If the profession acts together, and in partnership with the communities we serve, it will become a reality.