Developing social workers’ digital capabilities

Featured article - 15 October 2019
By Denise Turner, Senior Lecturer in the Social Work department at London Metropolitan University

young person on computer

As Chair of the Digital Capabilities for Social Workers Advisory Group, I have been privileged to listen to informed debate from key stakeholders across the sector. The new report from SCIE and BASW based on the initial stages of the project distils much of this, as well as summarising digital requirements, opportunities and barriers to adoption. Crucially, the report emphasises the pivotal role of social workers, and those that use social work services in driving forward the development and use of digital technologies.

Why are we so far ahead and yet so far behind?

The Advisory Group has been fortunate to hear from those who use social work services including, Jordan Wosik from Doncaster Children’s Services Trust who posed the question - ‘Why are we so far ahead and yet so far behind?’ Jordan told the story of walking in the rain to make an appointment with his social worker only to find when he arrived soaked through, that the appointment had been cancelled. As he stated, he could manage all his life on his phone, from ordering food, to meeting his mates, but he could not easily contact his social worker. This story is further illustration of the need for social work to embed digital technologies at the heart of practice.

Social work education and training

As a former practitioner and now a social work educator, I am particularly interested in the need for improved digital training and education identified in the key messages. The report is clear that social workers want to use digital technologies but in order to ensure to do so, they need to acquire the skills. Social work education plays a vital part in teaching digital competencies to the next generation of practitioners. Just as co-design between developers, policy makers and practitioners should be an essential component within practice, students should also be collaborators within educational developments, thereby creating a digitally literate workforce who can meet the needs of those who use services

Practice examples

The report contains several examples drawn from local authorities, voluntary organisations and higher education institutions. I would encourage those involved within social work education and practice to submit further examples as the call is still open. Examples do not have to be a fully developed . The practice examples demonstrate the level of creativity and engagement that already exists across the social work sector and can also be used as models to further the digital engagement highlighted by the report.

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