A Victims Services responder in Saskatchewan has noted the challenges of working with clients during COVID-19, missing the face to face contact and experiencing screen fatigue.
“I do not feel as connected to my clients and files as I struggle to balance safety, restrictions, file tasks, rapport-building and client needs,” they reported.
The service provider is also concerned about the impact that COVID-19 is having on children and families in vulnerable situations.
“Violence has been underreported and seems to be escalating which also creates anxiety around what is happening behind closed doors, what will happen to children and how much [case] file loads will increase when kids start getting back into normal routines and have more access to safe adults and spaces.” they continued: “Additionally, [there is] less access to face to face counselling services, masking also makes children feel uneasy as they can’t read facial expressions. The collective anxiety and fear about everything that permeates society at this time also adds a layer of stress.”
COVID-19 has created barriers to service delivery for service providers. Although the pandemic has many negative consequences, this service provider recognizes the silver linings that many parents are cherishing additional time at home with their children, there is increased access to online services for those with access to technology, and that working from home occasionally can be a nice change.
April is recognized as Child Abuse Prevention month in many parts of the world, including in America since 1983. The mayor of Regina has also recognized April as Child Abuse Prevention month. According to self-reported data from the 2014 General Social Survey on Victimization, one-third (33%) of Canadians aged 15 and older experienced some form of maltreatment during childhood. COVID-19 has exacerbated the impacts and occurrences of child abuse, including an increase in neglect and head trauma in infants. There are practical ways to raise awareness and support the prevention of child abuse, including: learning the facts about child abuse and its prevalence; minimizing the opportunity for children to experience isolation; openly discussing what child maltreatment is and what to do about it with children; knowing the signs of child maltreatment and how to recognize them; and reacting calmly and appropriately to disclosures to show the child that they can trust you.
Although ways to raise awareness this year look different due to COVID-19, Holding Hope SK is encouraging people to wear blue for child abuse awareness and prevention. Holding Hope is a new youth-led community organization on a mission to provide awareness about and increase the prevention of child abuse through education. To support this cause, wear blue on April 14 and post on social media using the hashtag “#saskwearsblue”.
A child protection investigator with Child and Family Programs in Saskatchewan has noticed the hardships that the families they support are facing as well as the hardships of effectively supporting them during COVID-19.
“Issues that families were facing are being exacerbated by COVID-19 and the ability to provide help is less. Community organizations are still primarily providing virtual services which isn’t a great fit in the child protection context … The demographic I work with isn’t served well in terms of funding on the best of days, but COVID-19 has made this worse. Waitlists are high, programs are slashed or focusing on immediate needs instead of long-term goals.”
“Children staying home and isolating to stay safe isn’t a great option in a child protection context and there haven’t been any other ideas to come forward to date,” the service provider expressed.
Service providers are putting their best efforts into navigating COVID-19 and adapting their programs to meet the needs of the families they serve, which has not always occurred with ease.
“Learning to use technology platforms to complete day-to-day casework, being the ‘first and last line of defense’ in terms of being in people’s home and assessing safety, a sense of greater responsibility with less ability to provide tangible or effective help, building rapport through technology, wearing PPE to conduct child protection investigations [which] has had negative feedback from children and adults,” the service provider listed as some predominant struggles they are experiencing during COVID-19.
The difficulty of supporting families during this time has not only affected the families themselves, but the service providers tasked with the responsibility of ensuring the safety of those they are supporting as well as their own families at home.
“Thoughts of: am I selfish to take a leave when the people I serve cannot escape their situations? Am I selfish to continue working while my family may bear the consequences? It has also been emotionally taxing to watch family stability deteriorate without access to services. Giving the message of ‘it’s COVID so we are limited in what we can do’ isn’t easy when you’re working in these contexts,” they recounted.
While it has not been easy, the service provider applauds the work done within the community to come together and support people accessing services during these unprecedented times, stating:
“Community organizations have been able to work as a team to identify and fill gaps within service delivery systems … When an agency has to shut down due to a COVID exposure or outbreak, other communities step up and fill the gap. Fluidity in services has also been seen – services are being provided that may not have been prior to COVID-19.”
Schools in Regina, Saskatchewan are experiencing a temporary closure, many to return on April 12, 2021 after the Easter break. This is due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan, many of which are confirmed or suspected Variants of Concern (VoC), which may be up to 70% more transmissible. Given this, the Catholic School System in Regina has also recommended that children and teachers receive two COVID-19 tests before returning to school. This second test should take place near the 10 day mark after the potential exposure to ensure that there is no illness present that may be asymptomatic. Given the increased risk associated with VoC’s, the Saskatchewan Health Authority has advised that all cases within schools be treated as though they are a variant at this point in time.
With the repeated disruption to learning routines, women predominantly leaving the workforce to care for their children during school closures has been a concern as well. These repeated disruptions to education are expected to continue as many teachers themselves are often ill or isolating, depleting the number of educators available for children and youth. One possible solution to this is to prioritize the vaccination of teachers. This step has been taken in New Brunswick, where high school teachers and staff will be prioritized to receive the COVID-19 vaccination as part of their school reopening plan. This offer will be extended to youth 16 and older with complex medical conditions. In the coming weeks, more vaccination clinics will be available for staff in elementary and middle schools and for early childhood service providers, including childcare staff. British Columbia is said to be ahead of their aged-based vaccination plan, and will therefore be offering eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccination to more than 300,000 front-line workers, such as teachers, child-care workers, postal workers, grocery store staff, and first responders, as early as April 2021.
A crisis response service provider working with children and youth mental health states that there has been difficulty in building relationships virtually with the children and youth they serve. It has been especially difficult to connect with people accessing services that do not have consistent access to technology.
“As many big organizations push to work remote/virtual we are missing those valuable, difficult to obtain in person connections with children and youth, especially those already contending with multiple issues such as secure housing, addictions, family dynamics. Trying to provide support and services to a young child virtually is very difficult as often they do not want to be on screen or understand what is happening,” the service provider said.
The service provider noted that as COVID-19 restrictions are constantly changing, it has been exhausting to keep up.
While times are indeed exhausting, the service provider recognizes how COVID-19 has “created a lot of barriers to in person care but has also created unique virtual opportunities and in some instances brought youth and caregivers closer together.”
Sixty-nine people were killed and eighty were wounded by the state of South Africa while peacefully protesting Apartheid on March 21, 1960. The Security Council of the United Nations condemned the Sharpeville Massacre and the South African government for this action. March 21 was declared the “International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination” in 1966 by the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Over 60 years later, racism and exclusion still exist on an international level. Canada faces its own unique challenges with racism, such as the exclusion and bigotry towards people of colour and Indigenous peoples, including the second-class treatment of migrant and immigrant peoples, especially in the workplace.
The theme for International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination 2021 is “Youth standing up against racism”. Youth have been drastically impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including those from minority backgrounds grappling with increased racial discrimination. Youth showed massive support for the 2020, and continuous, Black Lives Matter movement worldwide. Youth came together on the streets and through social media, calling on their peers to speak up and stand up against injustice for the equal treatment of all.
This day calls on each and every one of us to stand up against racial prejudice and intolerant attitudes. The theme this year will engage the public through the hashtag “#FightRacism”, which aims to foster a global culture of tolerance, equality, and anti-discrimination.
March is World Social Work Month. The theme for 2021 is “Social Workers Are Essential”. This month is dedicated to learn about and appreciate the positive contributions made through the social work profession. SASW has released their February 2021 Newsletter, highlighting important social work being done in Saskatchewan. This Newsletter also mentions and features our very own Digital Connections Hub from the Child Trauma Research Centre.
There are many ways to participate in activities and show appreciation for social workers in your community during World Social Work Month in March, Saskatchewan Social Work Week March 15-19, and on World Social Work Day on March 16.