With health professionals finally getting the recognition they deserve as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, the umbrella term frontline workers might initially bring to mind nurses, doctors, first responders, care aides, and so on.
Likely far less often do people think of social workers.
Yet these individuals are very much at the heart of the pandemic, supporting youth in foster care, sex workers, people dealing with addiction, those with developmental disabilities or mental-health issues, and still others who are vulnerable or in crisis.
Kim Galloway can attest to the complex challenges social workers are facing throughout the province—and to the rewards the role brings.
“Social work is hard work, but it is what gives me purpose,” says Galloway, chief operations officer of ASK Wellness Society. “Right now, we are dealing with the COVID pandemic as well as the opioid-overdose health emergency, so we have a lot going on. I am a believer that supporting folks who experience homelessness, trauma, and mental health [issues] and substance use find housing and connect to community resources is good financial practice and is simply the right way of doing things.
“Just get to know one of our client’s stories and peel away the layers, and you will find a mom, a dad, a child, an auntie,” she tells the Straight. “These people have stories, and they are resilient. When I see our staff help people to work with caring community supports to stay out of hospital or criminal-justice services, I feel we are providing great community service.”
Based in Kamloops, ASK has nearly 240 staff members and more than 600 units of affordable and supportive housing throughout the province’s Interior, helping people when it comes to things like homes, health, employment, and food security.
To stay safe amid the COVID-19 pandemic, social workers have thorough protocols in place regarding on-site client engagement and the use of appropriate personal protective equipment. Even with best practices, however, there’s no denying the toll that the current circumstances can take on these frontline workers.
“I am reminded once again of the fatigue that social workers can experience,” Galloway says. “It is so important right now to accept that we all have different ways of dealing with personal fears or emotions around this pandemic. We are finding new ways of communicating and checking in. Video conferencing is great.
“I need to genuinely express my gratitude for the workers at ASK,” she adds. “I am amazed by their commitment to the people we serve.”
When challenging situations arise, Galloway says, social workers strive to stay rooted in the belief that everyone has value and potential. She sees herself as an agent of social justice, ensuring that everyone has access to resources to live their best life. She’s impassioned about educating people about homelessness, and she feels that a healthy community is one that works together to take care of its most vulnerable and marginalized members.
“I feel that sometimes I can give hope to folks that don’t have hope for themselves,” Galloway says. “I believe that as a social worker, if I can give hope and choice, then change can happen. God, I love this job.”