DHO Report: Resilience, Flexibility and Community
DHO Insights Report
Resilience, Flexibility and Community: An insight into managing social care support in Wales during the coronavirus national lockdown.
As a response to the initial COVID-19 lockdown, we carried out conversations with 31 senior managers, in the public and third sectors, all of whom are central to leading and managing services that supported people in their communities during lockdown. Leaders involved in providing services for vulnerable people are used to managing difficult scenarios but at this time they knew their response quite literally meant the difference of life and death.
The uncertainty surrounding this period created a wave of emotions as many grappled with emerging priorities and conflicting demands on their time.
Conversations were informal and supportive, giving people the opportunity to open up about the challenges they faced on a personal level as well as an organisational one. The findings give a valuable insight into what it was like keeping services going at the height of the pandemic and how well the sector coped with the intense challenges it faced.
There is no doubt the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on everyone to varying levels; people supporting social care and other related public services found themselves thrust into the centre of the outbreak. They had to step up to provide a response which supports the most vulnerable people in our communities.
In the early days of the national lockdown, well-established bureaucracy was swept away in favour of speedy decision-making. Governance became lighter and some took the opportunity to re-educate corporate partners helping them to understand the importance and value of social services, alongside other departments, in the support of citizens.
In particular there was recognition at the highest level of the contribution that social services could and did make to the well-being of the whole community.
There was an increased emphasis on the role of Statutory Director of Social Services as corporate colleagues realised the consequences of not getting this right and the impact of the personal responsibility for the impact and outcomes of day-to-day operational decision-making. This was an entirely new situation. Initially, the seriousness was not fully recognised or understood by all at a corporate level. Organisational leaders had to deal quickly with issues which resulted in less bureaucracy and a greater appetite for risk to make things happen quickly.
Links with the community improved with communities coming together in self-help. Communication with and between organisations benefited as did relationships with key partners.
The positive response of communities and volunteers to the range of challenges presented by the pandemic was key to service delivery.
Third sector organisations had the local infrastructure in place which made the reaction to COVID-19 more effective. In particular the number of volunteers recruited within a short time and the ability to arrange them into teams quickly was cited as essential in providing a speedy response to meet the needs of vulnerable people.
The term resilience was used by many of the contributors to describe how they managed in the early days of the pandemic. The importance of looking after personal well-being so that leaders could continue to provide the support needed by their workforce. Keeping flexible and adaptable to change was essential as things were changing on an hourly basis as new information became available. Good communication was vital and whilst the use of technology was important, many found the virtual medium couldn’t replace real time interaction. The amount of work was relentless as there wasn’t time in between meetings to catch up.
The impact of the pandemic on the social care workforce should not be underestimated. The fear and anxiety caused by COVID-19 as staff had concerns for their own health, the health of their family, friends and service users.
Many reported higher anxiety levels emerging among their staff, especially as lockdown continued. If there is no immediate return to the office environment, this may impact more widely on staff wellbeing. Remote working is tougher for some than others, especially those living alone with family further away. There was concern that staff are being asked to do difficult jobs without the existing support mechanisms in place to protect their personal wellbeing. The ability to support isolated workers dealing with stressful and difficult situations must be prioritised and new ways of providing support which is meaningful and empathetic must be found, if this is carried out remotely.
There is the risk of continued stress as staff struggle to recover, with many likely to experience a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Practice Solutions is very grateful for the time taken by the respondents during these conversations and the openness and willingness to share their views. We hope sharing this paper helps to stimulate further discussion and more structured action to reflect and learn on the experience.
Nicki Harrison, Associate and Project Lead
5 November 2020