NASW president urges ongoing education, importance of access to food
(Editor’s note: The following is a letter from National Association of Social Workers (NASW) President Kathryn Conley Wehrmann to her colleagues from earlier this month.)
Dear Social Work Colleagues:
I am writing with a special message of support and encouragement in these challenging times. We are faced with a health care emergency of international proportions as the World Health Organization (WHO) has now applied the term “pandemic’ to the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019. As we help people in our communities, we need to heed the best scientific information. As critical thinkers, we need to search out the best available information as we work to support the people we serve and our communities. There are many reliable resources beginning with our local public health agencies, the Centers for Disease Control, and the WHO.
As social workers who adhere to the NASW Code of Ethics we need to be aware of our obligation to “provide appropriate professional services in public emergencies to the greatest extent possible” (6.04). In doing so, we can advocate for needed resources and policies related to supporting members of our communities and the people we serve who may be at risk due to accessibility of food, medical care, medication and emotional support during this time.
We will also need to be able to do ongoing education based on the best available public health information. To put this all into more specific terms, as social workers we might find ourselves making sure that the most vulnerable are included in planning and response, help organize communities to ensure that resources such as food are available to those who are not able to stockpile. Access to food is especially important in the face of school closures. Schools or businesses could be closed for weeks and many children get one or two meals a day at school. Funds may need to be raised and organizing may need to be done to ensure “neighborhood” drop-off of a two-week supply of food for families on free and reduced lunch programs.
In our practice settings we need to be the ones to step up and ask, “How can we make sure our clients have what they need and are prepared for a pandemic?” Social workers might also organize and/or volunteer for phone banks. There is likely to be a need for phone companionship and reassurance or maybe even video intervention with persons with serious mental illness. Based on where you are geographically and practice setting there are many other needs you may identify and can lend assistance to during this time. We must also be sure to protect our own health and ensure we are doing nothing to endanger those who are considered at high risk.
I would encourage you to look at the NASW Coronavirus (COVID-19) website for information and resources that all of you can use as we band together to do our best during this difficult time. Your professional organization is here to help you. I would like to hear what you are doing in your community to support the efforts to reduce the impact and spread of the virus. Take care and be safe.