Staying in touch in the digital era: New social work practice

Paper presented at #husITa16 in Seoul, Korea, 29 June 2016.


Jennifer Simpson (The Open University, United Kingdom).


In the United Kingdom the emergence of policy guidelines in relation to social media by social work employers and national professional bodies such as the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) highlights the way in which social media is fast becoming an inherent feature of social work practice.

A recent mixed methods small scale study in England concerned with the creation of a continuous development model for local authority social work practitioners and non-registered social care staff revealed the growing expectation by service users for the need to use multiple modes of communication (email, texting, social networking apps) when seeking to maintain contact with their social work practitioners. The results for the empirical research highlighted that service users were often frustrated by the traditional communication approaches which entailed either a face-to-face visit or telephone call. They wanted to make use of other modes of technology to communicate with their social workers.

The paper will discuss the findings of the empirical research and the implications in terms of developing social work practice in Britain, these will be informed by key theoretical explanations of technology and society. Additionally, the concept of ‘social presence’ (Rettie, 2005 and 2009) will be explored as a way of highlighting the legitimacy of mediated forms of communication in social work practice. An argument will be put forward that social work practitioners need to adopt communication approaches that are personalised and promote the dignity and worth of their individual service users. The paper will conclude by urging practitioners to move beyond the traditional approach of face-to-face communication and telephone calls and embrace the various modes of communication which promote and enhance support to individual service users.



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