Ethical risks in online social work: e-Professionalism and the implications for social work education.

Paper presented at #husITa14 in Melbourne, Australia, July, 2014.


husITa14 Session

Donna McAuliffe (Griffith University, Australia).


Social workers have been swept up in the tides of technological change alongside other professions, and while many have embraced the digital world with enthusiasm, others maintain a cautious distance. There are many examples of social workers developing online counselling and therapy services to reach particular client groups; using social media and social networking to promote themselves and their agencies; and engaging with many different opportunities now available online to highlight important social justice causes.

Despite increasing use of technology for education and training, as well as in practice, social work curriculum development has lagged well behind in educating future graduates about how to construct online professional identities and personas; how to protect themselves, their families and their reputations; and how to uphold ethical standards in the online environment.

This paper explores the emerging concept of ‘e-Professionalism’ as it relates to social work, exposing many of the ethical risks and dilemmas currently being experienced in online interactions, and providing case examples of both appropriate and inappropriate online conduct. Recommendations are provided for ways that social work education can promote skill development to ensure graduates can appropriately manage issues of confidentiality and privacy, boundaries and relationships, records and documentation, and accountability of service provision. Failure to include specific curriculum content on ‘e-Professionalism’ will, it is argued; pose significant problems for the social work profession in the future.



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