This week the Chief Executive of the British Association of Social Workers boldly stated that social workers need to be more competent in embracing the use of technology, or they could be left on the shelf.
Dr Ruth Allen stated that “digital knowledge and skills are essential to current and future social work. They are not an optional add-on but are a core part of responding to people’s lives and are relevant across our sector. However, at present, there is a big gap in understanding the capabilities that social workers have and need, and also their opportunity to develop capability and confidence in the digital world as it is emerging.”
I am delighted that the conversation about social care practitioner digital skills has begun; however, the support for this narrative is not universal. There are encouraging moments and glimpses where an ‘app’ is used to enable service users to share their views with a key worker. My thoughts and research indicate that it is not just the social workers that need to be included in the conversation, but support workers, housing staff, voluntary sector charities, and care staff. The health sector lead the way in telecare and the health tech market that has become an industry in itself.
Technology is ubiquitous, however, social workers have little access outside the office. Key findings from an online survey found:
The vast majority (98%) mentioned at least one difficulty in relation to information sharing. The most common issue being attitudes of other agencies (69%) and lack of consistency in a) recording information and b) levels of security and encryption across organisations (60% on both cases). Around half mentioned issues related to systems not being user friendly, unreliable, time lags in information provision and lack of data linkage. Social Workers were asked how easy it was for them to share information with a range of organisations. Almost three quarters (72%) thought it was easy to share information with the Local Authority. Fewer than half said the same for other organisations.
(Accessed 10.06.19 https://urlzs.com/VjyUD).
We need to think beyond the traditional database, email, text message, webinars. The wonders of technology have the ability to be creative and innovate in the this sector, but to do so primarily comes with ‘thinking outside the box’, adequate resources, joining of multi-agency technological pathways and a basic recognition to commit to driving technological change. We must recognise the children of today will be the social workers of tomorrow, all of whom have grown up in a digital world.
My thoughts on what is holding back adoption in the sector are:
System adoption or integration of new technologies where they become part of a connected network will allow for service users to become part of their social care journey. We can start by addressing our use of language, driving new concepts of risk and allowing the public 24 hours access to social workers.
It is time to change by redefining boundaries and giving greater access to the artefacts that are needed to carry out social work in today’s world. My research has shown that co-production and cooperative communication using technology for safeguarding purposes is possible (Carlick, 2018, p. 235).
My research can found at https://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/id/eprint/126574/4/2018carlickphd.pdf and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bFsfYARADg
Dr Sarah Carlick is an International digital safeguarding expert, who works tirelessly to bring the benefits of digital technology into safeguarding.
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