Social service providers under COVID-19 duress: adaptation, burnout, and resilience

Judith L.M. McCoyd, Laura Curran, Elsa Candelario, Patricia A. Findley, Kerry Hennessey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Summary : This article examines the response of social services organizations and their workers to the COVID-19 pandemic in a northeastern U.S. state. Using an exploratory, cross-sectional survey design with a convenience sample (N = 1472), we ask: (1) how did agencies and social service workers manage service disruptions associated with COVID-19; (2) how did social service workers perceive shifts in clients’ needs; (3) how did social service workers experience the transition to remote interactions with clients; and (4) how did social service workers cope with COVID-related transitions and demands. Findings : Our findings tell a story of unprecedented crises alongside powerful attempts at adaptation, innovation, and resilience. Faced with extraordinary need among their clients, fears for their own health, and a breakdown of organizational and community functioning and guidance, social workers were able to learn and implement new technologies, adapt to increasing demands, manage new work-life boundaries, and find ways to address gaps in service while experiencing symptoms of burnout. Application : The impact of supervisory and administrative fragmentation and communication breakdowns in the face of crisis put social workers in an untenable position despite surprising abilities to adapt, innovate, and manage their professional lives while under duress. Assuring better supervisory/administrative infrastructure to support workers as they deliver services during crises will help in future crises.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-102
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Social Work
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


  • COVID-19
  • Social work
  • adaptation
  • burnout
  • disaster/crisis
  • social services
  • telehealth


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