A Day in the Life of a Lockdown Norwood Social Worker – Alison Wellemin

8 July 2020

In 2019, I wrote a piece covering a day in the life of a Norwood social worker. The article remains on Norwood’s website under the section ‘Our Staff’. Re-reading this now, I feel wistful for the opportunities afforded by working face to face with children and families, so central to our relational social work practice at Norwood.

That said, like so many other services during Covid-19, Norwood has risen to the challenge of delivering flexibly what we can to our vulnerable families during these tough times. While working from home, we are still able to connect with parents and as such are offering both emotional and practical support as well as advocacy. Some families have chosen to wait until normal working resumes.

I will try and reflect my typical day working from home during the lockdown period.

8am – As I access my emails from what has become my home office of the front room, I realise I am still hankering after the Kennedy Leigh office environment, surrounded by supportive colleagues. Although I have to say being spared the morning rush hour traffic is a bonus. I highlight the new emails that need a call back today and I am pleased to see an email from our Grants officer advising that we can help a large family with funding for the children’s clothing, shoes and bedding.

8.30am – Eating my bowl of granola at my desk, a rogue rolled oat grain becomes lodged in the recesses of the keyboard and I ponder awhile on the intricacies of its removal….

9.00am – My first planned call of the day, with a mother of two young daughters whom I had referred to JWA (Jewish Women’s Aid). Yesterday morning, distraught, the mother had contacted me saying she could no longer tolerate the ongoing emotional abuse directed towards her by her husband, and to which the children were being exposed. The lockdown had exacerbated his controlling and demeaning behaviour and she wanted help to leave him, taking the children with her. The mother told me today she now had an allocated JWA worker supporting her with a safety plan. We agreed I would liaise with the worker and we would all need to work together.

9.45am – I call a mother who had emailed about her adolescent daughter’s escalating anxieties as a consequence of the pandemic. She is now engaged in persistent handwashing, her hands are raw and bleeding. She is scared to go outside, not even into their garden. The mother has tried unsuccessfully to speak with their CAMHS practitioner involved prior to the lockdown. After talking the issues through with the mother, she is keen I advocate with CAMHS on their behalf. Fortunately, I manage to get hold of the CAMHS worker who agrees to offer an urgent Zoom meeting with the family this afternoon.

10.30am – While spending some time updating my case notes, I am interrupted by a ring on the doorbell, the fish delivery man from Grimsby is tempting me with fresh halibut!

11am – I call the parents of a girl aged 5, at a pre-arranged time. They are in the process of divorcing and I speak with them both together. The lockdown has forced them to remain under the same roof in their compact 2 bedroom flat at a point when they had expected to have been living in separate households. Both were struggling with feelings of being trapped, one described the atmosphere “like a pressure cooker”. Despite this, both parents felt determined to focus on keeping their child’s needs central, however difficult, and requested ongoing support towards this aim.

12.00 – Following this morning’s email, I contact a mother of three concerned over current and future contact arrangements with their father. The case is with the Court as the parents cannot agree on the nature and level of contact between them. I explore with her issues relating to the children’s respective developmental and emotional needs while offering specific parenting support and advice.

12.45pm – A welcome lunch break while longingly recalling the delicious delights and legendary service enjoyed at ‘Sara’s Kitchen’, our deli at Kennedy Leigh. I reflect on the somewhat changed yet critical activity there now during this crisis, with the consistent provision of meals to the Adult service users.

Back at my desk, a thumbs up sign to my attentive neighbour who is delicately trimming some wayward strands from my jasmine bush. I make a mental note to listen to the next addition of ‘Gardener’s Question Time’.

1.30pm – An unexpected revelation comes in the form of a TAC (Team Around the Child) meeting now performed via Zoom. The child at the heart of the meeting is 10 years old and has a complex disability. In pre-lockdown TAC meetings, few professionals had managed to attend. I notice how, with the ease of logging into the meeting from wherever one happens to be, the presence of several professionals is facilitated, including that of the usually elusive G.P. In addition, both parents are ‘there’, the father from his workplace in the City. Via this virtual forum, we establish a comprehensive review of the child’s needs together with a truly multidisciplinary case plan.

3.15pm – As arranged, I contact an isolated mother with her own physical health difficulties. She has two sons and is worried about her eldest, aged 16. He had been refusing to go to school before lockdown, his attendance gradually decreasing over the previous two years. My intervention to address family functioning had been helping to some extent, together with the reduction in pressure the boy was experiencing since school closure. Today’s call was of a practical nature, relating to vocational courses at an alternative provision to his school 6th form (where in any case, I had been told he was not going to be accepted). I confirm a Zoom consultation that I had set up with relevant staff to explore future options with her son, a process about which he was not just open but also excited about.

4pm – Contacted a single father with three children, struggling with his relationship with the youngest, a boy aged 9. There had been much conflict between them in the past so I was gladdened by his report of progress since lockdown. The father had been furloughed and was spending more 1:1 time together with all his children. The 9 year old in particular seemed to be demonstrating the value that this individual attention from his Dad had brought. The father sensed his son’s greater trust in him and in turn felt a strengthening of their bond. It was encouraging to hear how these difficult and unrecognisable times were bringing unexpected positives on which to build.

5pm – Managing a few more email responses before ending the working day. As I depart from what for now is my office, it feels odd to instantaneously enter my own home life by just a turn of the door handle. I wonder whether a brisk walk around the block might serve as ‘a commute’ in order to mark the separation between work and home.

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