COVID-19 and Social Workers in Singapore
Singapore reported its first imported case of COVID-19 on 23 January 2020. The Ministry of Health subsequently stepped up the risk assessment from DORSCON Yellow to DORSCON Orange with effect from 7 February 2020. The COVID-19 situation has evolved since and local transmissions in specific clusters have also been identified in our community. Last month has been a flurry of advisories, directives and information from related ministries, the media and our organisations to help manage the change and win the fight against COVID-19 outbreak.
Social workers who are facilitating and assisting the betterment of bio-psycho-social functioning of individuals and families in the community, find themselves in a familiar yet uncharted era. For those of us who have had the experience of doing social work during the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Singapore during February 2003, will be acquainted with the present situation. For others, we can be encouraged that social workers are prepared for times like this.
Mission of Social Work
The mission of Social Work spells out that social workers believe in the value and dignity of all people who are also interlinked with their environment. We care about people and their lives. We are concerned particularly for people and situations that are less favourable and threatened by adversaries, in any forms. We aim to bring about enhancement to people’s fit in their environment by providing a range of services through social planning, action and development.
There are 6 core values of Social Work; Service to Humanity, Social Justice, Dignity and Worth of the Person, Importance of Human Relationships, Integrity and Competence that all social workers uphold. These values act as the critical compass to guide and assure social workers as we respond to the call of duty in perilous and uncertain times, like the current COVID-19 crisis in Singapore.
Service to Humanity
We are trained professionally to rise to challenges and be of service to our community. In this COVID-19 outbreak, social workers take on the role of mediating and resolving issues stemming from social, economic and emotional impact on people; the sole breadwinner in the family managing with reduced income this month for his dependents; the elderly who thrives on participating in the social activities at various communal gatherings, is uncomfortable with the loneliness; the individual serving quarantine order worries for the rest of her family members at home. Social workers step forward to mitigate the challenges and provide personalised services to meet the individual’s specific needs in order to achieve better functionality in their lives. We reach out to individuals and targeted groups who are vulnerable and may need a little more help than the rest to cope.
Social workers reject falsehood, inaccurate and incomplete information about the COVID-19 outbreak. Rumours and unfounded facts, even without the intent to harm, can become fatal in any community dealing with uncertainties. We lead by examples when we provide factual information on the actions taken by the Government and stakeholders, assist in crafting and implementing policies and participating in the process of providing assistance catered specifically to help everyone in Singapore cope with the difficulties associated with COVID-19. We support and salute our peers and other front-line personnel in the medical and related fields with helping Singapore manage this crisis. Social workers stop any form of personal or public discrimination and stigmatisation towards specific population or groups associated with the virus and its outcome. We ensure that everyone will have access to required services, resources, networking, support and information with regards to COVID-19 outbreak and the measures to cope with it.
Dignity and Worth of the Person, Importance of Human Relationships
In this COVID-19 outbreak, terms like segregation, split teams for business continuity and quarantine orders for individuals with specific symptoms are common; implementing exclusions and segregation; individual who is diagnosed with COVID-19 and listed as a new case; a client who is the close contact of an existing case; a colleague who is repeatedly taking medical leave to shake off that disturbing cold and cough. Social workers consider anyone involved; regardless of their cultural, ethnicity or racial diversity with respect, compassion and care. Beyond facts, logic and statistics, there is a human being who has thoughts, feelings and behaviour and shares interactional relationships with all of us. Hence, kindness, courtesy and empathy becomes life-giving. Social workers place importance in human relationships to restore homeostasis, strengthen network support and promote betterment in each person. We recognised that it takes a systemic relational influence in the individual, family, community of stakeholders and society as a whole, and in this COVID-19 situation, internationally too, for all to work towards total containment and elimination of COVID-19.
Integrity and Competence
Social workers always choose to do things right instead of the easy or favoured thing. Despite the uncertain and challenging COVID-19 situation, we uphold the profession’s values and fulfill our ethical responsibilities to our clients and families in the community. With half the team not being in the office, with many clients who are hesitant to connect and with activities put on hold, it is easy to blame the COVID-19 outbreak for the non-productivity and less favourable performance at work. Social workers continue to complete expected operational tasks, deliver services, and upkeep practice standards conscientiously, often with additional initiatives and innovations too. We find new ways to connect with colleagues, stakeholders and families in the community via technology and even through modest means like leaving food rations and documents at doorstep for collection. Social workers aim to stay connected to assist and support, and there are always room to add to our existing competencies. The COVID-19 crisis bears witness to many social workers adopting new roles and acquiring expanded repertoire of competencies. Social workers started working on a document of COVID-19 Preparedness and Response Plan in the organisation of standard operating procedures (SOPs) and measures in order to respond to the evolving COVID-19 situation. Social workers stay cognisant of infection control and management plan, as well as ensuring business continuity in delivering services to families in the organisation. We learn to procure Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) and update the inventory list of masks, gloves, sanitisers and thermometers. We familiarise ourselves with the chemistry behind disinfection and sanitisation to ensure virus is eliminated and all colleagues and visitors are kept safe and healthy. Social workers perform temperature takings and record health declarations and take turns to clean and sanitise the work areas daily. Social workers continue to adapt and innovate, using existing knowledge and skills to gain mastery of new functions when the situation calls for them.
With the evolving COVID-19 outbreak in Singapore, social workers pledge to continue to utilise Compassion as we perform our roles and responsibilities with calm and clarity. The environment will always find us with Operational readiness to serve the needs of our people regardless of their diversity and differences. Social workers will always display Valour in the face of adversaries, like this invisible virus and its threat to humanity. Continuing targeted Interventions to enhance bio-psycho-socio-emotional functioning of individuals and families. Social workers will consistently show Dedication to the social work profession and values until the battle against COVID-19 outbreak is over.
We can always view the situation through a different lens, giving it a different meaning to guide our actions towards betterment. Let’s see the good in COVID-19, and remember that it can also stand for Compassion, Operational readiness, Valour, Interventions and Dedication.
We are social workers. Promoting change and betterment in chaos and uncertainties, together with the society and for all humanity. That is what we will always do.
Choy Puay Wun
03 March 2020