Corona lockdown can heighten the psychosocial problems many people are facing, for example in their family or partnership. Where this is the case, municipal psychosocial services need to respond flexibly. In Munich, for example, counselling for clients with smaller children was spontaneously relocated to playgrounds.
The City of Munich has 12 Sozialbürgerhäuser (SBHs – Social Community Centres) that offer an extensive range of socio-educational and economic assistance. One of their tasks is to provide a local touchpoint for people in social distress situations. Protecting children, youth and adults from threats such as domestic violence is an integral SBH psychosocial support service.
Corona lockdown has restricted public access to the SBHs. To protect staff while at the same time ensuring they can be reached in an emergency, the SBHs rolled out a shift system to facilitate the switch between their home office and SBH office.
The City of Munich's Social Services Department aims to ensure that everyone who needs psychosocial and economic support from an SBH team during the COVID-19 pandemic, and during lockdown especially, can get it. At the same time, however, it is important to keep a close eye on the conditions under which SBH employees are working.
Right from the start of the pandemic, all social workers that provide psychosocial services have remained in regular contact with each and every one of the adults and families they normally counsel, not just those cases in need of acute support. Through their actions, they are letting their clients know they can always be reached and are always there for them. They deliver their services in the home, in the office, on a walk or at the playground. In this way, the teams want to make sure their clients are keeping well and not experiencing any acute anxieties. They also want to ensure that stressful family situations are not escalating further.
Some clients have got through the crisis incredibly well. By re-directing their focus to their own resources, they have discovered just how well they can actually handle their daily lives without such a high level of external input. In their case, for example, they were under less stress, because parents were furloughed or there were hardly any school lessons. This gave them more time for an active family life. For others, it was very important to be able to rely on the help of social workers under the more difficult conditions.
The new working conditions gave the social workers more creative space. They were allowed to contact families using messenger services and to implement innovative and pragmatic solutions more autonomously than before. One drawback, however, is the fall-off in interaction with their colleagues and therefore the lack of vital ‘informal’ exchanges of information.
Surprisingly, the teams at Munich's SBHs did not receive more requests for assistance in the first strict lockdown phase in spring 2020 than pre-corona. However, enquiries and tip-offs did increase once the families again became visible at school and in kindergartens or when they themselves had an opportunity to seek help.
The strategy of staying in regular contact with each and every client proved right, as the psychosocial impacts of the pandemic are difficult to foresee. The social workers had to adapt quickly to their new working conditions, so having more creative leeway did prove expedient.
Social community centres (Sozialbürgerhäuser( in Munich (in German):
Social Support (in German):
Deputy Director, Sozialbürgerhäuser (SBHs – Social Community Centres), Department of Social Services
Munich, Capital City of the German Federal State of Bavaria, Germany