Digital technology has had a major impact on the vast majority of industries in recent years. This is easy to see in education, for example, where teachers now use a variety of tech innovations in the classroom to better engage students. Tech is also something that sits at the heart of industries such as manufacturing, the automotive sector, banking and engineering. This is certainly the case for social work, as even the briefest look at how the field operates today shows the central role that technology now plays.
Although the practice of social work can still often involve meeting clients in person, there is no doubt that professionals in this sector now use various technological resources in their roles. While technology helps them with recordkeeping and staying organized, it also includes examples that can offer a different way to connect with clients.
But what are the most common types of technology used in social work, how are they most widely used, and what improvements have they delivered to the industry overall?
As befits any sector in the 21st century, social work now includes a variety of technologies that professionals in the field use regularly. The most widely seen are:
- Video conferencing apps
- Mobile technologies (phone and text)
- Social media platforms
- Online platforms/databases
However, first let’s take a look at what a social worker does.
Social workers work to improve the lives of their clients. These clients may be referred to social services by teachers, medical staff or sometimes even the police. Their clients may face any kind of issue – for example, domestic violence or housing issues – and it is the role of the social worker to take their case and champion their legal rights. These professionals must ensure due diligence to the law, including safeguarding and child protection.
Social workers are instrumental in monitoring their clients and keeping records of any updates in their cases. They work collaboratively with other agencies to ensure that the client and the community are best served. They may, for example, be required to give evidence in court or organize placing a child into social care. This role requires conscientious, ethical and highly motivated individuals who feel strongly about justice.
Social workers require rigorous training, which through conventional routes can take many years. Social work training requires studying components of the law, ethics, regional legislation, procedure and data protection.
In recent years, one of the key changes that technology has made to social work is access routes to the profession. Online social work programs are now incredibly popular and enable people to gain the knowledge required to move into this field via the Internet from home. Being able to access education online has enabled people who are currently working to study, as well as allowing people to access quality education from wherever they are in the world.
Online education for budding social workers is something that is seen across the whole country now and is offered by some of the best universities. The Accredited Online MSW program in Georgia at FSU is a case in point and is ideal if you want to pursue a social work career in this state. It has a clinically focused curriculum and makes it possible to study on a part-time basis. In this program, students will study human and social behavior, and will learn how to recognize the maltreatment of a child and implement better care for a child’s welfare.
Conducting sessions with clients
Recent years have seen an increase in demand for online therapy sessions. This refers to conducting sessions over the internet via video conferencing platforms such as Skype or FaceTime. As a result of this uptake from the public, online therapy sessions are something that most social workers use in their daily roles now.
Taking and storing client notes
While note-taking in client sessions might have been done by hand in the past, modern social work has moved on somewhat. This now sees social work professionals using mobile note-taking apps to digitally record notes during sessions. Most social workers now use the latest software and tech to store these notes. This can range from sophisticated electronic data management platforms to web-based platforms, such as Google Docs.
Dissemination of information
The dissemination of information is a key part of any social work role and is another area where tech is used extensively in the industry now. Social workers may email clients to arrange a session or to send out key information they need to know.
They may also use apps such as Slack to stay organized in terms of their workload or facilitate better collaboration with colleagues. Platforms such as Google Sheets are also widely used in modern social work to promote better collaboration between social work professionals.
Research and professional development
Technology in social work is something that is commonly used for research purposes. Social workers can search the internet now for the exact subject they wish to know more about. Keeping an eye on social media accounts from respected organizations in the sector (such as the NASW) can also be a good way to stay up to date with all that is happening.
The use of tech by social workers is also something that we see in terms of continuing professional development. While staying up to date with the latest research and industry news helps here, continuing formal education via online courses is also commonly seen in the latest online education news.
Technology has been a very positive influence in social work and has driven some key improvements over time – but what might they be?
Improvements to communication
One of the major improvements that tech has brought to social work has been much better and much easier communication.
How does this look in practice? The best place to start is the improvements that technology has driven in client communications. Examples such as text and email make it much easier to contact clients – and it is much simpler to send key information to them in a safe, convenient manner.
As many clients prefer to be contacted in tech-friendly ways, it also means that social work professionals are giving the best service to them and their communications are more likely to be seen. Examples such as email also enable social workers to communicate with clients in a clear, concise way and have a written record of what has been said.
It is not just client communication in social work that has been improved by tech though. Communication between social work professionals and organizations has also seen a similarly positive outcome. This is because technology in the sector enables colleagues to communicate more easily and in a concise, clear way. Tech-based platforms that enable better collaboration also enable social workers and organizations to work in a more effective manner and ensure the best outcomes for clients.
Improvements to accessibility
Another improvement that technology has delivered for social work is greater accessibility. This is most obviously seen around online therapy sessions, which allow clients to gain the help they need digitally from home.
Due to this, people who may not have a social work facility close by or cannot travel to see a social worker can still access the assistance required. Online sessions via platforms such as Skype can also be less expensive than in-person ones, and this removes another barrier for some people in terms of accessibility. Online meetings can also be more accessible for people with physical disabilities or social conditions that make attending an in-person session impossible.
As these examples show, the use of technology in social work around digital client meetings is helping to remove barriers around accessibility for the industry. This is helping it to become a lot more inclusive overall.
Improvements to efficiency
Tech in social work has also led to improvements in terms of efficiency. This is because tech software, platforms and resources enable professionals in the industry to get more done in a more efficient, productive way. These improvements in efficiency can then lead to social work professionals having more time to see clients, extra time to continue their professional development, or more chances to stay on top of key administrative tasks.
Improvements to efficiency that technology has brought to the industry can also be a bonus in terms of client sessions and data storage. An electronic data management system, for example, makes it much easier and quicker to find notes on a client compared to trying to find a paper file in a cabinet. This means that social workers always have access to the latest client notes before a session and do not keep the client waiting when trying to locate missing paper notes.
Improvements in anonymity
There is no doubt that great strides have been made in terms of the stigma that seeking help from social work professionals used to carry in society. This is in much the same way that people now feel a lot more comfortable seeking help from a mental health counselor when required.
Despite these advances, some people may worry about being seen attending in-person sessions with a social worker and not seek out the help they need as a result. They may also worry about receiving any correspondence in the regular mail from social work organizations or getting phone calls from them to their landline, which other family members might pick up.
All of this means that more people feel comfortable using the latest technology to seek out the help they need from the social work industry.
While the above looks at the improvements that technology has delivered to social work as an industry, it is also important to note the benefits it has for the practice of social work. Although technology in general can have a positive influence here, it is perhaps the rise of online therapy sessions that have had the most noticeable impact on how people in the industry operate.
Being able to conduct client sessions online has been a major innovation within social work and is not just something that benefits the people who need help. Being able to use digital platforms to offer much-needed support is also something that has positively impacted how social workers go about their job. But how is this usually seen?
When it comes to social work practice, there is no doubt that one positive impact of online sessions has been more convenience for professionals in the industry. Online therapy sessions enable social workers to help clients in a much more flexible way and without being tied to the office.
Mobile tech for online meetings, in particular, is valuable and enables social workers to use their tablets or smartphones to see clients wherever they are. Online tech in social work practice can also be more convenient, as professionals in the sector are not tied into seeing clients during set office hours and can offer support when it best fits their own schedule.
Online sessions are also a lot less hassle for practicing social workers, as they do not have to travel to the office to see clients or travel to the client’s home for sessions. This makes online meetings a lot more convenient and has made the practice of social work easier for professionals.
Although social work is an industry that focuses on helping people first, the financial benefits that online sessions offer cannot be ignored. These kinds of meetings can help social workers save money, as they do not need to hire physical premises to see clients in person and do not need to hire staff to run them.
This is also the case for social work organizations, who can reduce the amount of physical space required through a shift toward online sessions. Being able to see clients remotely via online platforms can also bring cost savings to the practice of social work in other ways. This is because social workers do not incur the expense of having to travel to see people at their home or the cost involved with clients coming to see them in person (such as heating a physical meeting space).
Online therapy sessions have also enabled social workers to operate in a much safer way than before. Online meetings do not require the social worker and client to be in the same room physically. As a result, there is no physical threat to the safety of the social worker if the client becomes abusive, upset or physically violent. It is also much easier for a social worker to end an online session and step away from an abusive client if necessary.
Online sessions also mean that practicing social workers do not pick up any illnesses, viruses or bugs that a client may have. This is not always the case when social workers offer in-person sessions to their clients.
We have already looked at how tech has enabled social work in general to be more accessible for clients – but this is also true for social workers themselves. Running online client meetings enables social workers with social anxiety or physical impairments to carve out a successful career in the industry.
Being able to work from home is a lot more accessible than coming into a physical workspace that may not be accessible or comfortable. Online sessions therefore open up the social work sector to all and help to make the practice of social work much more inclusive.
One positive impact that online therapy sessions have had on social work practice is the way that they enable professionals in the industry to develop their IT skills. As we have already noted, tech in general is not only crucial in modern life but also across the industry overall.
By building up their IT skills through running online client meetings, social workers are able to become more familiar with technology in their role and more able to use it in other settings. For online sessions, this might mean that social workers become more confident using video conferencing platforms and are able to hold virtual meetings with colleagues on them.
There is no doubt how important technology is for social work as a sector overall. It is inconceivable to think of this industry being able to operate without email or the internet now. By the same token, it is also easy to see the essential role that online therapy sessions play in the practice of social work and the positive impact they have made in this area.