Join the Convo – NASW needs feedback on Draft Technology Standards in SW

figure_with_megaphone_wearing_sign_18127I am so pleased that the draft Technology Standards for Social Work Practice have been released for public review.  NASW, CSWE, CSWA, and ASWB developed a task force to collaboratively draft these technology standards, which you can access the draft standards here.

I am working with several groups to provide comments to the task force and, I also plan to submit my own comments.  Once adopted, these standards will be considered a model for best practice in social work. Given the important legal and ethical role that practice standards have in the professional lives of social workers, I believe it is essential to offer constructive and timely feedback on this document.  I want to encourage everyone in the social work community to review and submit their feedback.  You do not need to be a member of any group to offer feedback. The timeline is short for submitting comments – the one-month comment period closes July 20th.

Here are some highlights about the document. The draft standards and their interpretations are 82 pages.  If you do not want to read 82 pages, you may want to know that these standards cover the following:

  • Section 1: Provision of Information to the Public
  • Section 2: Designing and Delivering Services – Part A: Individuals, Families, and Groups and Part B: Communities, Organizations, Administration, and Policy
  • Section 3: Gathering, Managing, and Storing Information
  • Section 4: Communication with and about Clients
  • Section 5: Social Work Education (especially distance education)

Overall, I applaud the effort to revise standards that are over a decade old and  no longer relevant to many forms of technology commonly used by social workers in their professional lives.  It is a challenging task to write effective and informative standards that will help social workers navigate the use of technology in practice with the fast pace of change in digital and social technologies. A definite strength of the committee’s work is that the standards strongly reflect the NASW Code of Ethics, with multiple references to the Code throughout the standards.

However, these standards are also very specific, providing detailed directions on how social workers should use technology in an ethical and professional manner.  For example, under Standard 5.10: Educator-Student Boundaries, the interpretation of the standard recommend that “to maintain appropriate boundaries with students, social work educators should avoid the use of personal technological devices and accounts for professional (educational) purposes.” As a social work educator, I agree that all educators should maintain appropriate ethical and professional boundaries with students and colleagues, but I should have the choice and autonomy in how I establish and maintain those boundaries. I’d like to see the evidence that using my personal smart phone to answer calls or texts from students violates an ethical boundary. In fact, I believe it makes me more accessible to my students. I started using text messaging with students many years ago, after working for a semester with a student who had a hearing disability. Texting was easier for the student to ask me questions, and allowed us to communicate outside of class without an interpreter.  As a result of this experience, I developed guidelines for texting with students which I still follow today.

Further, many of the standards address the use of technology in practice settings without recognizing the parallel situations such as the “in-person” equivalent or the use of more commonplace technology.  Considering Standard 5.10 as described above, this would suggest that social work educators should never give out their home phone to students or call students from their home phones.  Further, this interpretation would suggest that educators not answer emails or access their institution’s learning management system from a home or personal computer or tablet. All of these options are impractical to me, and would result in an undue burden for the educator, especially adjunct educators who often use personal technology to communicate with students.

I would like to see these standards modified to offer practical, clear, and realistic guidelines that can be adopted and operationalized by both social workers and social service agencies across all practice settings. One of the groups I am working with to write group feedback has drafted this statement, which I believe provides an ideal general recommendation for how the draft standards can be re-framed:

push_the_bullseye_400_clr_18524The guidance provided by these technology standards should support aspirational goals related to technology use in our profession (including access, innovation, and consumer protection and voice), and encourage thoughtful and professional judgment related to technology use, while not directly specifying how one should carry out their use of technology in social work practice. To do so, limits innovation and will cause those who already practice outside the scope of these standards (or will in the near future as these standards become dated) to seek identity alignment outside of social work.

While you may agree or disagree with my interpretation of the draft standards, I urge you to read through the standards and give your feedback.  This is your opportunity to join the conversation and give back to your professional community.

If you are interested in working with a group to provide feedback, here are two options:

  • Participate in the #MacroSW Twitter Chat on July 14th at 8:00 PM CST/ 9 PM EST when we will discuss the draft standards from a macro social work perspective. We will share the transcript with NASW.

Here are the details about how and when to submit your individual feedback:

TECHNOLOGY STANDARDS IN SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE – Draft released on 6/20/16

Description from NASW: The draft Technology Standards in Social Work Practice were developed jointly by the National Association of Social Workers, Association of Social Work Boards, Council on Social Work Education, and the Clinical Social Work Association to create a uniform set of practice guidelines for professional social workers who incorporate technology into their services. The draft standards were developed by a task force comprised of representatives from each of these social work organizations.

Request from NASW:

Your comments and feedback are requested to help make the technology standards a model best practice document for social workers. Please consider the following questions as you review the standards:

  1. Are the standards easy to comprehend?
  2. Are there any concepts that require clarification?
  3. Are the standards applicable across social work practice levels and settings?
  4. How relevant are the standards to current social work practice?

Submit your comments no later than July 20, 2016. Comments regarding the content of the draft standards are preferred rather than edits.

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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