I’ve seen the impact that COVID-19 has had on the families I work with. It has been devastating. Losing that genuine human connection has been very difficult for them.
Kids who have developmental disabilities or other special needs often require a lot of one-on-one support. At times, their behaviours can be difficult to manage, especially if you’re a single parent or have numerous kids. I work with families who were receiving in-home supports and suddenly, that wasn’t an option anymore. People are trying to figure out how they can work in a world that is now trying to emphasize virtual care, but families who depend on that in-person support have gone into crisis.
They just really need that human connection right now and don’t know who to turn to.
I also work with refugee claimants who are separated from their families. During the pandemic, they have experienced their family members they’ve been separated from passing away. The families here are totally distraught, unable to know what’s going on, how to help or be with their loved ones. They just really need that human connection right now and don’t know who to turn to.
One family in particular has stood out to me. Immigration hearings were on hold for months and after years of waiting they still haven’t had any clarity regarding their refugee claimant application. That has led to feelings of despair because they’re unable to be reunited with their family abroad, which has escalated into crisis. COVID-19 has put everything in limbo. I do check-ins with them regularly and figure out what I can do to support them. Sometimes it’s a simple request, like helping them fill an online form because their English is limited. Calling the interpreter for them or their legal team only takes 20 minutes out of my day, but for them it’s a huge deal, because we can tell them what the plan is to be reunited with their family living abroad. We’re lucky to have accessible interpretation services at Unity Health.
The foundation of social work is human connection and enhancing well-being – I’m lucky that’s something I get to do every day.
It makes me feel humbled that I’ve been able to support these families at a time when that in-person connection is missing. I have my family here, and I have the means to communicate with them. There are people who don’t have the same resources and making sure they are connected with family is a reminder not to take those things for granted. The foundation of social work is human connection and enhancing well-being – I’m lucky that’s something I get to do every day.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I would get home after a seemingly straightforward work day, but there would be tears running down my face. We were all experiencing the emotional burden of our day. You hold it together to get the job done, but everything you’ve seen, everyone you’ve spoken to, the people who tell you they’re struggling – that goes home with you. Sometimes, there’s absolutely nothing you can do about the situation they’re in because it’s beyond all of us at the hospital. I don’t know if I’ve just gotten better at coping or adjusting to our new normal, but I don’t cry anymore.
Shay Johnson is an Outpatient Social Worker in the pediatric clinic at St. Michael’s Hospital.
As told to Maria Sarrouh. Photos by Yuri Markarov. This interview has been edited and condensed.