What Social Workers are saying about the NASW Draft Tech Standards?

Tweet from NASW on June 20, 2016 about Draft Technology StandardsOn June 20, 2016, the National Association of Social Workers along with Association of Social Work Boards, Council on Social Work Education and the Clinical Social Work Association released a draft copy of proposed new practice standards for technology in social work, and invited the public to comment and provide feedback.  If you want to know what I did on my summer vacation this year, this was it!  I worked with four different groups to draft comments, submitted my own comments, and advocated for all social workers to read and respond to NASW’s call for comments.

Feedback was due on July 20th, and now we wait for NASW and the other groups to respond, revise and/or release the final standards.  Until then, I think there is value in sharing the comments and responses that were submitted to NASW.  I have asked permission from a variety of individuals and groups to post their comments in this blog post.   This is not a comprehensive list, but reflects the opinions of people and groups that I work with or know.   Also, there is no particular order to the list; one set of comments is not more important than another set.  Click on the links in the list to access a particular individual or groups’ comments.  If you would like to add your feedback to this list, please contact me.

List of Comments to NASW’s Draft Tech Standards

– Technology Track for the Annual Program Meeting of Council on Social Work Education and Technology Committee of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors – These two committees combined their efforts and wrote one set of comments. I am a member of both committees.

– Dr. Robert Vernon is a Professor at Indiana University’s School of Social Work and is a pioneer in the use of technology in social work. His comments are available here.

–  Grand Challenge for Social Work working group on Practice Innovation through Technology – This working group focuses on the role of technology in social work practice and include eight members.  This group’s comments are here.

– Dr. Nancy J. Smyth is Dean at the University at Buffalo SUNY, is also a member of several of the tech & social work groups and writes a blog called Virtual Connections about technology in social work practice. Her comments are here.

– #MacroSW.com – This is an online community of social work practitioners, educators and students interested in macro social work practice. This group hosted a live chat on 7/14/16 and a copy of the chat transcript is here. Additionally, the partners of #MacroSW.com drafted a response to the proposed standards.  In full disclosure, I am a partner of #MacroSW.com.

– First Impressions, Revisions, and Additions to the Technology in Social Work Practice Standards from Social Work Tech Blog by Ignacio Pacheco, MSW, LCSW.

– Social Work & Technology Community – This online community that resides on Google+, and includes over 1000 members who identify as social workers or are interested in the relationship between technology and social work. The community’s description is “for anyone who believes that technology can and should be used by social workers to make the world a better place.” The group’s comments were drafted by eleven members of the community and endorsed by another four members.  In full disclosure, I am a member of this group and led the effort to draft these comments.

– Dr. Marilyn Flynn is the Dean of the University of Southern California’s School of Social Work and her comments are available here.

Finally, here are my comments to the Tech Standards Committee:

My thanks to all the committee members for taking on the task of revising the tech standards.  The current standards 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 (COE), with multiple references to the Code throughout the standards

1. Are the standards easy to comprehend?

The standards are not that easy to comprehend.  Some of the terminology is outdated such as the word “electronic” as a preface for technology. The website Techopedia has an extensive dictionary that would offer more current and appropriate terms for the standards.

The 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.

 2. Are there any concepts that require clarification?

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.

 3. Are the standards applicable across social work practice levels and settings?

I find these standards to be overly focused on micro-level practice.  Section 2.A appears to be the longest section in the standards.  I am glad that CASW was involved in the development of the standards, but I think it is an oversight not to involve the Association of Community Organization and Social Administration (ACOSA) and The Network for Social Work Management, as experts on macro-level practice, in the development of these standards.  For Section 5 Social Work Education, these standards are very directive, more so than CSWE’s EPAS and standard practices for most institutions of higher education.  I am concerned because there are not equivalent standards for in-person courses, setting up an unfair burden for online delivery in education.  Could social work educators who teach in-person also meet these standards?  While I agree that social work education should be addressed in the standards, they should be more aspirational and not provide more direction than CSWE’s EPAS.

I would also like to see more language in the standards related to social justice and technology such as digital rights, advocacy, and accessibility.  As social workers, we should be the profession promoting more access to, awareness of, and education about technology for people from all backgrounds, especially those who are oppressed and vulnerable. We should be encouraging social workers to work with coders, computer scientists and other experts in technology to design, implement and evaluate all types of software and hardware for use in practice and by all people to improve their health and well-being.

 4. How relevant are the standards to current social work practice?

I would like to see these draft 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:

 The 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.

Laurel Iverson Hitchcock, PhD, MPH, LCSW, PIP
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Author: Laurel Hitchcock

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