Questions of ethics lie at the heart of government responses to Covid-19, professional reactions and citizens’ behaviour. Such questions include: Do we value health or the economy? Who gets the protective equipment, ventilators or food vouchers? Is combatting loneliness worth the risk of spreading or contracting the virus?
During May 2020, a group of academics in partnership with the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) launched a qualitative survey, asking for details of the ethical challenges faced by social workers during Covid-19.
We identified six main themes:
Creating and maintaining trusting, honest and empathic relationships via phone or internet with due regard to privacy and confidentiality, or in person with protective equipment.
Prioritising service user needs and demands, which are greater and different due to the pandemic, when resources are stretched/unavailable and full assessments often impossible.
Balancing service user rights, needs and risks against personal risk to social workers and others, in order to provide services as well as possible.
Deciding whether to follow national and organisational policies, procedures or guidance (existing or new) or to use professional discretion in circumstances where the policies seem inappropriate, confused or lacking.
Acknowledging and handling emotions, fatigue and the need for self-care, when working in unsafe and stressful circumstances.
Using the lessons learned from working during the pandemic to rethink social work in the future.