Social Work Practice in the Time of Quarantine

A Photo Elicitation Study of Experiences of Remote Work during COVID-19


  • Terra Rosten University of Denver
  • Georgianna Gaitan University of Denver
  • Pari Shah University of Denver
  • N. Eugene Walls University of Denver



COVID-19, pandemic, telehealth, remote service delivery, photo elicitation, Social work


Using quantitative, qualitative, and photographic data that were collected early in the COVID-19 pandemic, this study examined the reflections of ten U.S. social workers on their experiences migrating to remote service delivery. Participants were asked to share strategies, opportunities, coping mechanisms, self-identified professional values, and predictions for the future of social work. Three primary themes - professional flexibility and creativity, connection, and recentering general-ist social work skills – emerged with numerous additional subthemes. The study’s findings underscore the critical importance of contextualizing service delivery mov-ing forward – neither adopting a one-size fits all approach for the sake of financial efficiencies nor failing to incorporate the lessons learned during the pandemic. As such, service delivery systems should adapt in such a way as to incorporate in-creased flexibility in meeting client needs.

Author Biography

N. Eugene Walls, University of Denver

Graduate School of Social Work Assistant Professor


Abrams, L. S., & Dettlaff, A. J. (2020). Voices from the frontlines: Social workers confront the COVID-19 pandemic. Social Work, 65(3), 302-305.

Banks, S., Cai, T., De Jonge, E., Shears, J., Shum, M., Sobočan, A. M., Strom, K., Truell, R., Jesús Úriz, M., & Weinberg, M. (2020). Practising ethically during COVID-19: Social work challenges and responses. International Social Work, 63(5), 569-583.

Bigante, E. (2010). The use of photo-elicitation in field research. EchoGéo, 11, 1-20.

Boggs, G. L., Kurashige, S., & Glover, D. (2012). The next American revolution: Sustainable activism for the Twenty-First Century. University of California Press.

Cook, A., Bragg, J., & Reay, R. E. (2021). Pivot to telehealth: Narrative reflections on circle of security parenting groups during COVID-19. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, 42(1), 106-114.

Crawford, C. A. (2021). Studying social workers’ roles in natural disasters during a global pandemic: What can we learn? Qualitative Social Work: Research and Practice, 20(1-2), 456-462.

Cristofalo, M. A. (2021). Telehealth, friend and foe for health care social work. Qualitative Social Work: Research and Practice, 20(1-2), 399-403.

Duff, J. H., Elliott, V. L., & Sarata, A. K. (2020, July 7). Changes to behavioral health treatment during the COVID-19 pandemic. Congressional Research Ser-vice.

Fraher, E. P., Pittman, P., Frogner, B. K., Spetz, J., Moore, J., Beck, A. J., Arm-stonrg, D., & Buerhaus, P. I. (2020). Ensuring and sustaining a pandemic work-force. New England Journal of Medicine, 382(23), 2181-2183.

FrameWorks Institute. (2020). Is culture changing in this time of social upheaval? Preliminary findings from the Project Culture Change.

Funk, K. (2021). The last mile: COVID-19, telehealth, and broadband disparities in rural Indiana. Advances in Social Work, 21(1), 45-58.

Geller, S. (2020). Cultivating online therapeutic presence: Strengthening therapeutic relationships in teletherapy sessions. Counseling Psychology Quarterly.

Gewirtz, R. (2020, March 30). As I see it: Social workers essential personnel, so why aren't we talking about them? Telegram & Gazette.

Gibson, A., Bardach, S. H., & Pope, N. D. (2020). COVID-19 and the digital divide: Will social workers help bridge the gap? Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 63(6-7), 671-673.

Glaw, X., Inder, K., Kable, A., & Hazelton, M. (2017). Visual methodologies in qualitative research: Autophotography and photo elicitation applied to mental health research. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 16, 1-8.

Harper, D. (2002). Talking about pictures: A case for photo elicitation. Visual Stud-ies, 17(1), 13-26.

Hedrick, H. R., Glover, N. T., Guerriero, J. T., Connelly, K. J., & Moyer, D. N. (2022). A new virtual reality: Benefits and barriers to providing pediatric gen-der-affirming health care through telehealth. Transgender Health, 7(2), 144-149.

Hoffnung, G., Feigenbaum, E., Schechter, A., Guttman, D., Zemon, V., & Schecht-er, I. (2021). Children and telehealth in mental healthcare: What we have learned from COVID‐19 and 40,000+ sessions. Psychiatric Research and Clini-cal Practice, 3(3), 105-113.

Jhaveri, K., Cohen, J. A., Barulich, M., Levin, A. O., Goyal, N., Loveday, T., Chesney, M. A., & Shumay, D. M. (2020). “Soup cans, brooms, and Zoom:” Rapid conversion of a cancer survivorship program to telehealth during COVID-19. Psycho-Oncology, 29(9), 1424-1426.

Kamnitzer, D., Chow, E., & Costley, J. D. (2020). Staying true to our core social work values during the COVID-19 pandemic. In C. Tosone (Ed.), Shared trau-ma, shared resilience during a pandemic: Social work in the time of COVID-19 (pp. 53-59). Springer.

Knight, C. (2015). Trauma-informed social work practice: Practice considerations and challenges. Clinical Social Work Journal, 43, 25-37.

Leedahl, S. N., Brasher, M. S., Estus, E., Breck, B. M., Dennis, C. B., & Clark, S. C. (2018). Implementing an interdisciplinary intergenerational program using the Cyber Seniors® reverse mentoring model within higher education. Gerontology & Geriatrics Education, 40(1), 1-89.

Levenson, J. (2014). Trauma-informed social work practice. Social Work 62(2), 105-113.

Lew, S. Q., Wallace, E. L., Srivatana, V., Warady, B. A., Watnick, S., Hood, J., White, D. L., Aggarwal, V., Wilkie, C., Naljayan, M. V., Gellens, M., Perl, J., & Schreiber, M. J. (2021). Telehealth for home dialysis in COVID-19 and beyond: A perspective from the American Society of Nephrology COVID-19 home dial-ysis subcommittee. American Journal of Kidney Diseases, 77(1), 142-148.

Mannay, D. (2013). Who put that on there...why why why? Power games and par-ticipatory techniques of visual data production. Visual Studies, 28, 136-146.

Martin, M. E. (2012). Philosophical and religious influences on social welfare policy in the United States: The ongoing effect of Reformed theology and social Dar-winism on attitudes toward the poor and social welfare policy and practice. Journal of Social Work, 12(1), 51-64.

Nagata, J. M. (2021). Rapid scale-up of telehealth during the COVID-19 pandemic and implications for subspecialty care in rural areas. Journal of Rural Health, 37(1), 145.

National Association of Social Workers. (n.d.). Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Noland, C. M. (2006). Auto-photography as research practice: Identity and self-esteem research. Journal of Research Practice, 2(1), 1-19.

Onwuegbuzie, A. J., Leech, N. L., & Collins, K. M. T. (2012). Qualitative analysis techniques for the review of the literature. Qualitative Report, 17(Art. 56), 1-28.

Orgera, K., Garfield, R., & Rudowitz, R. (2021, June 9). Implications of COVID-19 for social determinants of health. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Panchal, N., Kamal, R., Orgera, K., Cox, C., Garfield, R., Hamel, L., & Chidam-baram, P. (2021). The implications of COVID-19 for mental health and sub-stance use. Kaiser Family Foundation.

Redondo-Sama, G., Matulic, V., Munté-Pascual, A., & de Vicente, I. (2020). Social work during the COVID-19 crisis: Responding to urgent social needs. Sustaina-bility, 12, 1-16.

Sansom‐Daly, U. M., & Bradford, N. (2020). Grappling with the “human” problem hiding behind the technology: Telehealth during and beyond COVID-19. Psy-cho-Oncology, 29(9), 1404-1408.

Sharma, N., & Vaish, H. (2020). Impact of COVID – 19 on mental health and phys-ical load on women professionals: An online cross-sectional survey. Health Care for Women International, 41(11-12), 1255-1272.

Sorinmade, O. A., Kossoff, L., & Peisah, C. (2020). COVID-19 and telehealth in older adult psychiatry-opportunities for now and the future. International Jour-nal of Geriatric Psychiatry, 35(12), 1427-1430.

Spelten, E. R., Hardman, R. N., Pike, K. E., Yuen, E. Y. N., & Wilson, C. (2021). Best practice in implementation of telehealth-based supportive cancer care: Us-ing research evidence and discipline-based guidance. Patient Education and Counseling, 104(11), 2682-2699.

Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview. Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

Thomas, M. E. (2009). Auto-photography. In R. Kitchen & N. Thrift (Eds.), Interna-tional encyclopedia of human geography (pp. 244-251). Elsevier.

Tsai, H.-H., Tsai, Y.-F., Wang, H.-H., Chang, Y.-C., & Chu, H. H. (2010). Vide-oconference program enhances social support, loneliness, and depressive status of elderly nursing home residents. Aging & Mental Health, 14(8), 947-954.

Tulane University. (2020, November 8). Understanding the effects of social isola-tion on mental health.

Twenge, J. M., & Joiner, T. E. (2020). Mental distress among U.S. adults during the COVID‐19 pandemic. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 76(12), 2170-2182.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). HHS Pandemic Influenza Plan.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Telehealth: Delivering care safely during COVID-19.

Walter-McCabe, H. A. (2020). Coronavirus pandemic calls for an immediate social work response. Social Work in Public Health, 35(3), 69-72.