Social work practice and the needs of people who use services should drive the development and use of digital technology

14 October 2019

A new report, published today, by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) and the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), reveals that social workers want to engage with digital technology; however, they want it to enable relationship-based practice and improve the experiences of people who use services.

One of the main conclusions of the report is that social workers and ‘experts by experience’ (i.e. people who use services and carers) should drive the development and use of digital technology. In order to do that, employers, tech developers, policy makers and educators need to enable them to be genuinely and effectively involved.

Speaking about the launch of the report, chief executive of BASW, Ruth Allen said:

Social workers and the people they support need to be at the centre of digital developments – including advising tech developers and procurement leads on requirements, inputting to national policy, and codesigning programmes with universities. This requires a joint effort. Employers, policy makers and tech companies need to enable social workers to have the time, confidence and authority to be genuinely involved. SCIE and BASW hope that today’s report sets out the case for greater involvement, together with practical, sector-informed advice and insights.

Digital capabilities for social workers: stakeholders’ report is based on a literature review, survey, workshops and interviews, and is commissioned by HEE’s Building a Digital Ready Workforce programme.

The report takes a broad definition of digital technology including data, assistive technology, social media and networks, and online learning. It sets out key messages for specific stakeholders.

For example, it identifies the need for educators, trainers and supervisors to build the development of digital capabilities into core programmes – potentially using the Health and Care Digital Capabilities Framework.

The report also finds that critical reflection, understanding of ethics, and good decision-making skills are required across social work and need to be adapted to digital challenges. Social workers will encounter ethical dilemmas – for instance balancing the right of people using services to online privacy and confidentiality balanced against disclosing information in safeguarding.

The report includes:

  • Key messages and implications for stakeholders including social workers, educators, senior managers, supervisors, technology developers, experts by experience (people who use services and carers)
  • Findings from the project’s information gathering activities
  • Examples of how organisations are currently using digital technology to enhance social work practice, and how universities are improving social workers’ digital capabilities.

Notes to editors

The Digital capabilities for social workers project forms part of the wider Building a Digitally Ready Workforce programme, led by Health Education England. It is supported by a cross-sector Advisory Group.

The Stakeholders Report is the first in a series of resources to be produced by SCIE and BASW as part of the project. Future resources will include: a set of digital capabilities for social workers; ethical guidance; online learning resources; and a pilot study on the use of digital social work champions.

The report includes range of practice examples of how local authorities, voluntary sector organisations and universities are using digital technology in social work practice and/or are develop social workers skills and capabilities. Interviews can be arranged with most of these organisations.

Action for Children – The use of app technology to enable children and young people to share experiences with the Fostering Team.

Lincolnshire County Council – The use of digital technology has enabled Lincolnshire County Council to bring about major improvements in adult social care.

East Sussex County Council – The Children’s Services have developed a range of approaches to improve social workers’ confidence, skills and usage of digital technology.

London Metropolitan University – Starting your social work journey app. London Metropolitan University has created a mobile app to help people considering social work as a career to understand more about the profession. The app was co-created with student social workers and is currently a prototype.

Nottingham Trent University – NTU digital framework. Nottingham Trent University has introduced a framework to develop the digital capabilities of their BA and MA social work students.

Sheffield City Council – Personal listening device to improve communication during Best Interest Assessments. Social workers at Sheffield City Council use personal listening devices to improve communication during Best Interest Assessments with people who have significant hearing difficulties.

University of Birmingham – Facebook and child protection, and Social work, Social Media. The University of Birmingham has produced resources to develop social workers and students understanding of social media in social work practice, and the related ethical issues.

Social Work Book Group – Virtual reading and learning network. Through Social Work Book Group students, practitioners, researchers and educators from around the globe connect to think about theory, law, policy and practice.

Media contact

Steve Palmer, Communications Manager, the Social Care Institute for Excellence. 020 7766 7419

Press Contact

Phone: 020 3840 4063