Social workers split on benefits of using technology during home visits

NHS Digital survey finds 42% of practitioners felt using mobiles or tablets improved the quality of interaction with service users

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Social workers are split on whether using smart phones or tablets during face-to-face visits with service users is helpful or not, according to research out today.

The NHS Digital survey of 584 social workers found 42% felt using mobile technology during meetings with service users improved the quality of the interaction. But 29% felt technology had a negative impact and 18% felt it had no impact.

Social workers said they most commonly used the technology to look up information or to take notes or record a conversation. Practitioners who worked with children and families were the most likely to have used mobile devices in meetings with clients (48%), compared to a third of adults’ social workers.

Follow-up focus groups with 35 social workers revealed different uses of technology in their day-to-day social work practice. As well as to help flexible working, some used tablets when working with children who have communication difficulties and some had Skype meetings with service users, although not for initial contact and assessment.

Several social workers interviewed for the research raised concerns that some IT systems they were expected to use were not fit for purpose and the number of forms they were expected to fill in had “grown out of proportion”. One social worker said their eight hour day involved four hours inputting data into a computer.

Lyn Romeo, the chief social worker for adults, said the findings highlighted the need for social workers to be “given the right kit” and recording requirements to do their jobs well.

“I’ve seen examples where they’ve really radically looked at what’s important to capture from a practice perspective, and how that can be captured more effectively. Leeds have done a lot of work on this, and it’s freed up practitioners to spend some good quality time with the people they’re working with,” she said.

“So this research should be an opportunity for us to really get alongside practitioners and get the right way to capture what’s important, rather than what might have been an organisationally-driven approach. We need to involve practitioners and service users and carers in determining what we need to capture and the best way of doing it.”

The survey also revealed a split on whether social workers felt social media helped in their day-to-day job, with 44% saying it had a positive impact. The research found some organisations used social media as evidence in care proceedings but others banned social media completely.

Romeo said social workers could benefit from clearer policies on social media use. She said the role of technology and social media could potentially be incorporated into the Professional Capabilities Framework review currently under way, adding: “I think people need a bit of a clearer steer on it.”

The survey also found more than two-thirds of social workers (69%) felt attitudes of other agencies made information sharing difficult. Half said unreliable IT systems didn’t help. Councils were considered the easiest organisation to share information with (72%) and the criminal justice system the most difficult (36%).

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