Theresa Martin, a social worker at Axis Primary Care Clinic in Cloverdale, says the pandemic has been a learning experience for her over the past year. (submitted photo)

Theresa Martin, a social worker at Axis Primary Care Clinic in Cloverdale, says the pandemic has been a learning experience for her over the past year. (submitted photo)


‘Social work doesn’t stop’: The job of protecting those made vulnerable by pandemic

Surrey-area social worker reflects on the learning experience of one challenging year

It’s been a busy yet rewarding year for B.C.’s 5,000-plus social workers, who have helped people navigate their way through the many challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Like her colleagues in the business, Theresa Martin never stopped working.

“Social work doesn’t stop, and that was a big thing for us, that while everything else stopped, we didn’t stop, we kept working,” Martin said. “We put on our PPE and away we went, you know, so clients were getting what they needed.”

Last fall, in the middle of the pandemic, Martin took a job at Cloverdale’s Axis Primary Care Clinic, another step in her two decades of social work.

From March 14-20, she and other social workers in the province paused to celebrate work done over the past year during Social Work Week in B.C., as declared by the Minister of Children and Family Development.

This year’s theme is “Social work is essential,” emphasizing how social workers are, according to BC Association of Social Workers (BCASW), “essential to meeting the immediate needs of those carrying the pain of loss, essential to those navigating overwhelming uncertainty imposed on peoples’ lives, essential to addressing the profound systemic racism thrust into the spotlight by the pandemic, and essential to advocating to reconcile the economic, health and social inequalities glaringly exposed by not only COVID-19, but efforts to flatten curve as well.”

The BCASW is a voluntary, not-for-profit membership association that supports and promotes the profession of social work and advocates for social justice.

“The world shifted dramatically one year ago with the arrival of a global pandemic and introduced challenges and uncertainty for us all,” BCASW president Michael Crawford said in a news release. “Social workers kept working, changing the way we practice, and often putting ourselves at risk to protect those made vulnerable by the pandemic.”

Martin, a Langley resident, said the pandemic has been a learning experience for her.

“I’ve learned a lot,” she said. “For me, the learning was how to reach out even more, in a more team-based way, connecting more with my colleagues, with our association, in a way that I don’t think we did previously. Building that essential connection with our colleagues was certainly something that really spoke to me.”

For Martin and others in social work, the job is to connect clients to resources and help them navigate systems in order for them to receive the help they need.

The pandemic challenged such clients to access resources like never before.

“Even more, we helped people navigate through systems,” Martin said, “to figure out how we’re going to help people get food, how we can help them get lab work done, how will they get banking done when the banks are closed and they don’t have a computer to do that. So we navigated through those systems to look at ways to work in new ways, to not only keep ourselves safe but keep our clients safe as well.”

Social work must be done with compassionate empathy, Martin underlined.

“We’ve been doing that in a disaster – and that’s what this (pandemic) was, or is, it’s a disaster,” she added. “It’s really about giving hope. I think at the beginning, that was a big question for many of us: Is hope ever going to come through all of this? And here we are, still trying to get through this and it’s going to be OK, we’re in this together, let’s be kind, let’s be calm – and yes, we’re really using what Bonnie Henry says,” she said with a laugh.

“In that way, it’s been about finding ground for clients who just felt like their life was, like, nothing – people losing their jobs, people having anxiety and depression. They just needed some comfort and compassion to say, how are we going to get through, how to apply for EI, CERB and the different supports that helped them. A lot of them just didn’t know what to do, and that’s how we have helped.”

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