Technology has become a key component in the people-centered field of social work, but what role does it play? Capella University’s Faculty Chair of Social Work Brian Christenson, PhD, shares his thoughts.
Q. How is technology being used in social work?
A. “Many different ways,” says Christenson. “There are databases and apps within agency settings. Case planning, assessments, treatment plans—these are all done electronically.”
Technology is also being used directly in client treatment. “It’s called ‘tele-health,’” Christenson says. “We can use video cameras for everything from follow-up visits with clients to finalizing adoptions by video in court. We can also use text and email for service updates and to schedule appointments, and we can use social media for updates. It’s possible to use a closed Facebook group as well.”
But it’s not just a matter of using the technology directly in practice. Understanding what technology clients are using—and how—is important in understanding how it may affect them. For example, teens may use various forms of technology to bully others, or adults may find themselves coping with emotional reactions to things they find online. Social workers need to stay current in order to understand how technology affects their clientele. The National Association of Social Workers has professional practice standards for the integration and use of technology that is critical for advanced generalist social workers to integrate in to practice.
Q. How is technology changing social work?
A. “It removes barriers,” Christenson says. “It used to be that we couldn’t provide services if the client was off-site.” He points to the value of being able to offer treatment via technology to rural clients who might not otherwise have access to a provider. There’s also the ability to stay current in the field through online webinars and training programs, and aggregators that can search for specific articles and discussions on topics relevant to the social worker.
But it also creates a new area of ethical caution. Just as face-to-face appointments and careful management of paperwork require ethical boundaries, so does the use of technology. “We still need to follow HIPAA guidelines and approach this work from an ethical level,” he says. Considerations include Internet, data, and mobile phone security.
Q. How is Capella responding to these technology advancements in its coursework?
A. “We’re integrating technology standards for social work practice from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) into our curriculum ” says Christenson. “We teach how to use the different types of technology in practice. Tech competencies have been written into the curriculum with learning and application in every course.” NASW has a technology standards publication that Capella uses, and there is coverage of the ethics involved as well. “We address the use of email, phone, text, and video, from both a practical and an ethical viewpoint,” he says.