Using the latest technology in children and families social work

Advances in technology are opening up new ways to communicate with and help children and young people. Molly Garboden looks at some examples

How technology is changing social care: a special report


Disabled children’s charity Contact a Family is using the popular video-sharing site to post videos covering everything from rare disorders, information about carer’s allowance to a guide to Twitter for families.

There are also short films featuring parents talking about their experiences as carers. Stephen Keene, Contact a Family’s social media officer, says: “We’ve found our YouTube channel a useful way of reaching out to dads, who tend to use the internet for support rather than traditional forums such as face-to-face meetings at support groups.”

The Children’s Society has a strong YouTube presence, posting videos about its campaigns and first-hand accounts from children and young people. The charity also uses it to update and speak to donors, supporters and staff members.


Young offenders in Cedar House, outside Belfast, and their family and friends can electronically message each other by creating an account on Family and friends buy credits to send their messages at 25p each but offenders can reply free. Messages are printed out and delivered to the young offender or they can access a secure kiosk to reply. Messages can be reviewed and, if necessary, censored by prison authorities.

Fostering Solutions launched a national ­advertising drive to recruit foster carers via text last summer. The emotive campaign asked people to text the word CARE to a number at Fostering Solutions. Texters were called back by a member of the team. In the first three months, Fostering Solutions received more than 120 messages from people expressing interest.

ONLINE FORUMS connects carers of children with learning disabilities through an online forum where people can ask for and offer advice and support.

Carers enter their details – including location and the age and condition of the child they care for – in order to access a directory of parents in similar situations. Users can download a selection of free, regularly updated information packs on subjects such as financial help and challenging behaviour.

Netbuddy director Deborah Gundle, whose teenage son has learning disabilities, said: “When my son was small I spent so much time and energy solving day-to-day problems, which I felt sure other people had overcome before me. Then, one day it came to me – I should start writing down my ideas for other people to use, and encourage them to share their own.”

NSPCC’s web version of ChildLine,, offers 24-hour online counselling for children and young people. Although they may have to wait for a counsellor, the site has games and online activities to keep the child occupied while a clock counts down in the corner of the screen. There is a message board where thoughts, concerns and advice can be exchanged.

DEDICATED WEBSITES , hosted by The Children’s Society, features content for disabled children and young people who have difficulty reading.

The site features news and details of events, clubs and activities in their local area in a pictorial format. It uses the symbol language Widgit, which consists of more than 10,000 simply drawn representations of concepts. A standard text version of the story accompanies the pictures.

It also has a forum for young people to share their experiences, again entirely in symbol-form.

One Askability user said: “I’m profoundly deaf and use an electric wheelchair because I have cerebral palsy. My first language is British Sign Language, not English. Askability has opened up a new world for me and my friends.”

The Children’s Society plans to roll out a social networking function on the site over the next year.


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