Stakeholders’ report: Practice examples
These are examples of practice from organisations that are currently using digital technology in social work practice or education, and/or are supporting the development of digital capabilities. These examples are included to encourage reflection and innovation. Inclusion does not mean formal approval by SCIE or BASW.
Action for Children - Mind Of My Own apps Open
Action for Children is rolling out the use of Mind Of My Own apps across their fostering services in the UK, following a successful pilot in Bolton Children’s Rights Services.
The Mind Of My Own apps use child-focused language, design, emojis and text to encourage children and young people to share their thoughts from a tablet or phone screen, with their social worker or lead worker. The apps enable children to share information based on structured scenarios such as ‘Prepare for a meeting’ or ‘About my wellbeing’, confidentially, 24 hours a day. Statements are sent to a central administrator who ensures that the allocated social worker reads and follows up on the statement received.
Action for Children has found that the apps enable children and young people to share information when and where they feel ready, including disclosing difficult issues that struggle to share face-to-face, as well as celebrating successes.
Use of the apps has strengthened the voices of children and young people - for example by helping them to prepare for formal meetings and visits or ensuring that their own words and statements are added to their records.
Social workers have found the technology simple to use and it has improved communication, enabled them to respond more rapidly to emerging issues, and helped them to evidence children and young people’s views in decision making.
At an organisational level, Action for Children plans to use anonymised data from the apps to track emerging themes and issues across services, which in turn can support improvements.
Use of Mind of My Own apps forms part of Action for Children’s overall strategy to expand the use of digital technology.
Contact: Debbie Tomlinson, Head of Fostering, Action for Children
East Sussex County Council, Children’s Services - Digital social work practice and development Open
East Sussex Council’s Children’s Services has developed a range of approaches to improve social workers’ confidence, skills and usage of digital technology.
Led by the Principal Social Worker in close collaboration with IT colleagues, the council has developed a digital resource toolkit providing access to advice, guidance and resources for social workers to use. This includes how to guides such as how to set up controls or remove your digital footprint; updates on key digital developments; plus apps and websites for social workers to use in their work with children and young people.
East Sussex has also developed its own digital resources. For example, they have developed an e-booklet called ‘How to do a digital assessment (based on work by the South West Grid for Learning Trust) enabling social workers to assess children and families’ digital lives and potential risks. One of East Sussex’s digital leads used the assessment triangle and mapped out digital needs using the three dimensions of the triangle: child development; family and environment and parenting capacity. East Sussex have called this the digital triangle and it is a key tool in the e-booklet. Social workers now routinely check for online safety concerns as part of their assessment.
Close working with the council’s IT Department has proved essential. For example, the teams are working to enable social workers to use more apps on their council-issued smart phones. They are conducting small scale pilots using Facebook messenger and WhatsApp to support communication with young care leavers, including the development of guidance for staff.
The programme is supported by a communications plan including: a single website for sharing tools, resources and research; a single monthly newsletter signposting to the latest research and practice developments; blogs and interviews with social workers about their experience of using digital technology.
Contact: Nicola McGeown, Principal Social Workers, Children’s Services, East Sussex County Council
Lincolnshire County Council – Digital transformation of adult social care Open
The use of digital technology has enabled Lincolnshire County Council to bring about major improvements in adult social care.
Following a Peer Review by ADASS, and a Digital Maturity Assessment (based on Local Government Association model), the Council identified priorities for digital development. It then worked with customers, families and carers to test out their perceptions and attitudes to digital working, and also with staff, community groups and cross-party members to develop a Digital Roadmap which is their guide for allocating resources and prioritising investment in technology.
The Roadmap sets out a vision for: digital citizens – with a focus on self-care; the digital workforce with easy access to advice and records; and the digital community where information is safely shared with health and care partners.
Some of the digital developments they introduced, and the initial benefits are outlined below.
Connect to Support Lincolnshire consists of an online directory of services and information, and live chat support for those not confident online. It guides people to access the most appropriate care and support for their needs. This self-service system helped the council to manage demand. Last year 47 per cent (16,400) of all requests for support to the council were met by the provision of information and advice.
Online financial assessment tool is currently being implemented which will allow people to get an upfront indication of the cost of care. The tool indicates that once fully implemented the Council can: reduce average wait for assessment from 50 to 15 days; reduce failed care packages from 19 per cent to 5 per cent; increase unclaimed benefits take-up to an estimated £20,000 per month.
Pre-payment cards which enable people to manage their care budget more easily, eliminating the need for them to provide paper statements and receipts. The cards are now used in over half of new cases.
New technology for staff including 4G laptops and a mobile version of case management system MOSAIC which enables social workers and occupational therapists to assess needs and source care more quickly – sometimes within a single visit. The Council has also enabled a number of their partners to appropriately access the case management system. For example, District Councils use the system to manage referrals for adaptations – speeding up the process and eliminating paperwork and backlogs.
Flexible working is supported by a new online procedures hub with workers accessing this on average 700 times per month. There is also an online self-service helpdesk portal which now takes 88 per cent of all service requests, reducing staffing resource by over 50 per cent. Early signs show use of the equipment and online resources saves staff at least 30 minutes for every assessment and review. The more efficient use of staff time across the county has led to a 35 per cent rise in the number of people having their needs reviewed.
- Management information dashboards to enable managers to access real-time data on caseloads and activity.
Contact: Emma Scarth, Head of Business Intelligence and Performance, Lincolnshire County Council
- Connect to Support Lincolnshire consists of an online directory of services and information, and live chat support for those not confident online. It guides people to access the most appropriate care and support for their needs. This self-service system helped the council to manage demand. Last year 47 per cent (16,400) of all requests for support to the council were met by the provision of information and advice.
London Metropolitan University – Starting your social work journey app Open
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. When developed further, it will be made available on app stores.
Starting your social work journey is aimed at the first ‘point of entry’ Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF). It uses audio, video, text, and personal checklists to increase understanding of what it is like to be a social worker. It then assists with understanding the interview process and the first year of study and provides aims and checklists which are personal to the user and can be saved to their device.
The PCF section of the app contains 'quick guides' to each PCF domain, as well as the option to read the full PCF. It is supported by video clips of students talking about their experiences on placement and during training.
The app is deliberately simple for those unfamiliar with using mobile digital tools. As well as providing comprehensive information for point of entry, use of the app also embeds digital capabilities from this point and applicants and students are being trained in digital competence as a by-product of using the resource.
Contact: Dr Denise Turner, Senior Lecturer, London Metropolitan University
Nottingham Trent University – NTU digital framework Open
Nottingham Trent University has developed a framework to develop the digital capabilities of their BA and MA social work students.
The framework includes a self-assessment of first year students’ digital skills, who are asked to retain and reflect on their current level of competency.
The University has deliberately included a range of learning experiences across the programme that develop IT skills. They re-assess in the final year when looking at digital identity and again reflect on the growth and range of skills that have been developed. By focusing on growth, the framework aims to demonstrate impact.
The course covers basic office tasks (such as spreadsheets, word processing, email, polling, and presentations), as well as making and editing video, statistical processing, information searching, virtual reality, and using handheld electronic devices to create novel material, such as personalised assessments.
The framework is mapped to several elements of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’ Subject Benchmark Statement for Social Work.
The University found that this approach helps both student and tutor, as it opens up discussions. It also allows for both organic and targeted development. They also discovered that age did not necessarily relate to IT skill. Many of the younger students knew how to use apps, but not how to use more professional skills. Equally, many of older students are very IT savvy.
Links: Nottingham Trent University
Contact: Paul Blakeman, Acting Principal Lecturer in Social Work, Nottingham Trent University
Sheffield City Council – Personal listening device to improve communication during Best Interest Assessments Open
Social workers at Sheffield City Council use personal listening devices to improve communication during Best Interest Assessments with people who have significant hearing difficulties.
The personal listening device is a portable device which has a microphone attachment and volume control and is used with headphones or earphones. It supports one-to-one conversations with people with hearing difficulties as it amplifies the sound and reduces background noise.
Social workers who act as Best Interests Assessors for Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) are required to carry out formal mental capacity assessments and establish the wishes and feelings of the person.
One of the underlying principles of the Mental Capacity Act is to support the individual to participate in the decision-making process and to maximise their ability to make decisions for themselves wherever possible. Effective two-way communication is therefore key and often challenging when people have hearing difficulties.
The personal listening device can support effective communication and engage and focus the persons attention. It is also supporting confidentiality, as it reduces the need for the practitioner to raise their voice in order to be heard.
The equipment can enable workers to have a meaningful, two-way conversation. One social worker reported that if she had not used the device during an assessment with a lady who found hearing aids problematic to use, her hearing difficulties would probably have made the assessment a challenging and frustrating process, and the practitioner may have captured a very different impression of her capacity and understanding. As a result, the lady was deemed to have capacity to make decisions – and the Sensory Impairment Team provided her with her own personal listening device to support day-to-day communication.
Contact: Caroline Diamond, Best Interest Assessor, Sheffield City Council
University of Birmingham – Facebook and child protection, and Social work, Social Media Open
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.
Facebook: an unethical practice or effective tool in child protection is a freely available YouTube video based on an ethnographic study of child protection social work practice in England.
Social workers have been using social media as a way to ‘collapse borders’ between social workers and service users to gain another view of service-users lives through monitoring their Facebook pages. This video reports how social workers provided researchers with a rationale for their use of Facebook and analyses the ethics of such practice. The aim of the video is to trigger discussions about the ethical uses of social media in social work practice.
The University also produced an app to explore ethical issues of using social media in social work.
‘Social work, social media’ features a fictional team manager called Adrian who is facing ethical dilemmas around social media use. The app user tries to help Adrian make the right decisions to ensure his team’s practices are consistent with social work ethics and values. They are encouraged to reflect on those decisions and consider the potential impact these may have on day-to-day practice.
The app explores themes such as:
- Is social media skills development important for social workers?
- What are the ethical implications of exploring open social media profiles?
- Does social media present new personal/professional boundary issues?
- Can skills, knowledge and confidence in social media use lead to greater service user, community, inter-professional engagement?
- Facebook: an unethical practice or effective tool in child protection – YouTube video
- Social Work, Social Media on the Apple App Store
- Social Work, Social Media on the Google Play Store
- Article on how the app was developed
Contact: Dr Tarsem Singh Cooner, Senior Lecturer in Social Work, University of Birmingham
Social Work Book Group – Virtual reading and learning network Open
The Social Work Book Group was initially designed to encourage social work students at the University of Lancashire to read more broadly – including fiction which often reflects the real-life issues faced by people who use social work services.
The impact of shared discussion, cross-fertilisation of knowledge and subsequent reflection led to its development as a teaching method; one that uses fiction to facilitate discussion within an informal learning space between students, academics, and practitioners.
The Book Group is now open to the wider social work community via its Twitter feed @SWBookGroup which has over 6,000 followers, and it is linked with a number of schools of social work from across the UK and beyond. The use of technologies has resulted in a developing national and international community of learning.
Through Social Work Book Group students, practitioners, researchers and educators from around the globe connect to think about theory, law, policy and practice. Whilst doing so they have engaged in the development of the professional requirements linked to digital capabilities.
The introduction of visiting professors and authors to virtual book group events has provided students and practitioners with an opportunity to engage pro-actively with current research and applying findings to fictional characters, and their circumstances has proved to be incredibly valuable. This element of the process has broadened the overall learning potential and supported the development of research-minded practitioners.
Some local authorities have adopted the method within practice settings and the Chief Social Workers for Adults and Children in England have hosted a book group event and endorsed Social Work Book Group as a means to developing the profession’s learning community.
Contact: Dr Amanda M L Taylor, Social Work Academic, Queen’s University Belfast (formerly with University of Central Lancashire)