The Brave New World: Social Work And The New Tech Landscape.
As social workers find themselves adapting to the ‘new normal’ they may come up against ethical dilemmas in their daily work. The practical challenges of working with service users and social distancing means we are taking difficult decisions every day.
One major change we have seen is the expectation to use communications technology when our work has traditionally been in-person. This poses many challenges, especially for those unused to this type of technology.
Our assessments of welfare within families, for example, may not be so complete over a mobile phone. In a person’s house we are much more likely to pick up on subtle telltale signs of neglect, for example. Our instinct is stifled when working remotely.
Another issue is confidentiality. While some applications have strong protections to ensure client confidentiality, such as encryption and firewalls, others such as Skype and Facetime do not. However, if these are the only applications available to a service user then we must adapt to the circumstances.
If we are expected to use our personal computing equipment at home, we should use risk-prevention methods. This could include using only work emails and approved videoconferencing apps. If using your own telephone you could consider a second work simcard, or downloading an app to obtain a secondary phone number.
The Pandemic has seen a sharp rise in domestic abuse cases as noted in our earlier article. The stress and uncertainty of confinement has pushed some people to their limits. Issues which may have been simmering slowly are being brought to a head. However, no-one should have to endure physical abuse and the law remains the same during the pandemic. Stress to service users that this could be their opportunity to make a positive change in their life.
Service users must also adapt, which brings its own challenges. Some may have more difficulty, such as the elderly and those with learning difficulties. We must bear this in mind when conducting assessments. For example, a mental capacity assessment of an individual diagnosed with Alzheimer’s may be influenced by the challenge of communicating through a screen.
The social worker’s ability to build trust may also be compromised. All this must be carefully considered and recorded and if necessary further assessments should be scheduled.
Finally, with the use of digital technology there lies the risk of service users communicating with social workers outside of normal working hours, in the evenings or at weekends. We may find work invading our private spaces. Here it is important to set boundaries with service users.
In these exceptional times, the overriding priority is to limit the spread of Covid-19 through social distancing. Having said that, contact with social workers could make a crucial difference for many. While more challenging, our work has never been so important.
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