How Technology is Changing Social Work

//How Technology is Changing Social Work
  • How Technology is Changing Social Work

In recent years, many fields have been drastically altered by the advent of new technology, as well as society’s dependence on it. Social work is no exception starting with emergence of online MSW programs. Today, social workers use different tools, face different challenges, and must meet different standards than they did only 10 or 15 years ago in order to keep up with a rapidly changing world.

New Tools Of Social Work

In the past decade, social work has been transformed by countless technological inventions. Today, social workers typically create their case planning, assessments, and treatment plans on a computer. They also handle most of their administrative tasks—including the scheduling of appointments—electronically. However, perhaps one of the most revolutionary advances is social workers’ new-found ability to communicate with clients through text messages and social media. This technology has allowed social workers to reach a larger population than ever before.

“Existing social services are limited by geography, office hours, provider training and characteristics, and cost,” states a report by the American Academy of Social Work & Social Welfare. “Social work has the opportunity to significantly reduce those barriers by integrating [information and communication technology] into practice.”

New Challenges

With the advent of so many new tools, social workers are facing a unique set of challenges brought on by evolving technology—and again, social media is an excellent example. While social media breaks down many barriers for social workers, it also opens the door to an array of new dilemmas. For instance, modern social workers must consider when, if ever, it’s ethical to check a client’s social media accounts to gauge their well-being. They also need to think about what to do if a client wants to connect with them on social media. Plus, at the same time, they must contemplate the role social media plays in issues like bullying, anxiety, and depression.

“Fifteen years ago, we didn’t have Facebook,” Jo Ann Regan, vice president of education at the Council on Social Work Education, told Social Work Today. “Instant messaging was nowhere near as widespread as it is today. As new platforms with increased capabilities are developed, there’s a need to determine how to use these tools in a practical sense, as well as where and how they fit into the bigger picture.”

Modern social workers also face the challenge of cyber security. Because so much of their client data is stored electronically, they need to keep up with best practices on keeping this information secure. This can involve ensuring their devices are not lost or stolen, backing up important files, and using software that prevents hacking.

New Standards

As technology advances with rapid speed, social workers across the country have asked for more guidance on how they can use it professionally and securely. In response, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Association of Social Work Boards recently updated its comprehensive Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice guide. In this guide, social workers will find information on using social media, storing digital information securely, and contacting clients electronically.

“There’s been an overwhelming request from social workers for guidance,” Laura W. Groshong, director of policy and practice at the Clinical Social Work Association, told Social Work Today. “In developing the standards, we wanted to cover all the possible areas that technology intersects with social work practice.”

How Current Social Workers Can Adapt

To adapt to a changing professional climate, many social workers are heading back to the classroom to earn a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. In MSW programs, students can learn how to use the latest technology in policy analysis, community planning, administrative supervision, and clinical services to ensure they are giving their clients the best support possible. Today, more than ever, staying on top of these skills is crucial for social workers.


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