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Sociaal werk in tijden van corona

By Eva Nobbe, Master of Social Work, University of Antwerp

Most social workers benefit from physical contact with the vulnerable group they work with. How do social assistance and services deal with this new reality in which social distance is the general policy? Due to the Corona pandemic, social workers are forced to come up with creative solutions during this uncertain period.

Concerns about vulnerable groups

The social distance has an impact on vulnerable groups. Social workers are concerned about the target groups that are less self-reliant. Think for example of homeless people wandering the streets. Social distance makes it difficult to accommodate groups of people in night shelters. Lonely citizens are also likely to become lonelier by staying at home. Children in an unsafe home situation, for who school is normally a way out, are now forced to sit at home. These are just a few examples that are not always visible but cause the necessary points of attention.

It is a challenge to invent new ways of working at short notice. Nevertheless, many organizations are able to come up with alternative solutions. In times of extreme events like this pandemic, social work shows that it is a vital profession.

Alternative ways: some Belgian examples

Many organizations are now trying to reach people online. Cinemaximiliaanis a film platform for and by asylum seekers in Brussels. Normally they organize film screenings in which meeting occupies center stage. Now they organize online Dutch conversation tables, among other things. In doing so, participants can get in touch with others and practice the Dutch language together. For these informal social players, sharing stories is important, which continues online in this way.

Another example is the organization Daklozenhulp Antwerpen (Dakant).They provide food parcels for people living on or below the poverty line. Dakant has now changed its operation in such a way that the parcels are brought to people’s homes. Because of these protective measures, people don’t need to come together in large numbers.

Children are not forgotten. Boslabs, a creative studio where non-Dutch speaking children come together every Wednesday afternoon, give online tips on how to get started with creative activities at home. Kras, a youth work organization, brings weekly game packages to children’s homes. These include crafting ideas and the necessary materials. In this way, children can still have fun with crafts and games while staying at home.

Influence on social structure

The social scientist Charles Fritz (1921–2000) states that an extreme incident refers to an event that is concentrated in time and space. A disaster affects society, because such an event negatively influences the social structure. Fritz rightly states that essential functions of a society can no longer be realized. During this Corona outbreak we see that schools, shops and all kinds of organizations are closing. Almost all social work practices are closed, while usually their doors are wide open.

The sociologist Ulrich Beck (1944–2015) indicates the notion of a risk society. Modern society is confronted with unpredictable risks, but our society is so complex that we are not aware that we are causing these extreme events ourselves. According to Beck, we must look at human causes of such outbreaks, and he asks the question whether humankind is colonizing nature too much.

Wicked problem

A pandemic can be considered a wicked problem. These problems are complex and involve a great deal of uncertainty. Little is known about the extent and seriousness of the problem. Social work organizations want to guarantee accessibility when people can no longer move physically. This needs to be thought through in an inventive way. These creative solutions are based on the expertise and knowledge of the social professionals. Many social workers know exactly for who these measures are problematic, what the needs are, so they try to reach people directly in different ways.


Dit artikel werd geschreven voor, een online platform gecreëerd in coronatijden in opdracht van Universiteit Antwerpen.

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