COVID-19 lockdown impact on children's social work practice and risks associated with technological versus in person contact: A mixed methods study from the U.K. during 2020-2022

Activity: Talk or presentationOral presentation


Background and purpose: Social workers were heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this study, we examined the wellbeing, burnout and work conditions of UK children’s social workers at five time points of the COVID-19 pandemic. During lockdowns and school closures, social workers had limited direct access to children and technology and ‘door step’ calls had to replace direct observations and in-home assessments.
Methods: This was a cross-sectional mixed methods study analysing data from 1,621 social workers who worked in children’s services in the UK in 2020-2022. Data were collected using anonymous online surveys which included both quantitative and qualitative questions. The study was designed to measure wellbeing and burnout during these pandemic phases using standardised measures (Short Warwick Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale and the Copenhagen Burnout Inventory) and in depth qualitative questions for uncover deeper meaning to contextualise the quantitative results.
Findings: The mental wellbeing of participants decreased as the pandemic progressed and work-related burnout increased. In the later stages of the pandemic, children’s social workers in Northern Ireland fared better than their Great Britain counterparts in relation to their wellbeing and levels of burnout. Thematic analysis of qualitative data revealed four major themes: Changes in service demand and referrals, Adapted ways of working, Staff shortages, and Emotional impact. Social workers described the escalation of risk to children following lockdowns and the increased statutory interventions needed. The levels of burnout and emotional distress is described in the paper as unsustainable.
Conclusions and implications: The findings highlight the challenges that the children’s social workers encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic and have implications for policy, practice and research. Learning from this period highlights weaknesses in use of technology and loss of in person work as a risk factor for child protection social work.

Period18 Apr 2024
Event titleESWRA 13th Conference Vilnius: European Social Work Research Association
Event typeConference
Conference number13
LocationVilnius, LithuaniaShow on map
Degree of RecognitionInternational