The crisis sociology research group of the University of Tartu Institute of Social Studies and European researchers studied how the care organisations of nine European countries coped during the coronavirus crisis, showing their resilience in providing support to people who had fallen into economic difficulties during the crisis or were already in a vulnerable situation.
The organisations reviewed largely had the same adaptation patterns in all countries. The impact of the pandemic was the most drastic for day centres, which had to suspend their services to homeless people, those in economic difficulties or with special needs. Soup kitchens and night shelters were able to continue their work but had to reorganise it a lot. Rehabilitation or resocialisation facilities were the least affected by the pandemic.
Mentally vulnerable clients and, in most European countries, migrants, as well as clients needing social assistance for the first time were the most affected by the pandemic. This caused a surge in the demand for food assistance, accommodation and counselling. Assistance, however, often remained unavailable because the volunteer staff was overburdened in most countries, organisations lacked crisis strategies and national information was scarce.
The study also showed that care organisations coped better in countries where their relationship with the national social welfare system was stronger. Estonia was one of these countries.
Researchers highlighted three recommendations to improve the organisations’ coping with crisis. First, care organisations should have crisis support funds, extra rooms for providing shelter and, psychological counselling for staff to cope with the increased need for assistance during the crisis.
Secondly, care organisations should be involved in the process of the planning of crisis strategies and mitigation measures so these would better meet their clients’ needs.
Thirdly, the employees of care organisations deserve recognition for acting as key intermediaries of official risk and crisis information and creators of an environment promoting safe behaviour, and as organisers of the vaccination of clients.
The study is based on 32 qualitative interviews and three workshops with the managers and staff of the organisations.
BuildERS (Building European Communities’ Resilience and Social Capital) is an international research and development project. Its partners in Estonia are the University of Tartu, Estonian Rescue Board and OÜ Positium. The project focuses on vulnerable groups as well as communities and their capacity to help their members. Its main goal is to increase citizens’ social capital and thereby their resilience. The project is funded by the EU programme Horizon 2020.