In recent years social work practice has adapted to include new forms of recording and monitoring – including the use of information and communication technologies (ICT’s) such as the Common Assessment Framework (CAF) for case assessment recording.
There is a lot of policy, guidance and information about performance management and data management available, but there is little about types of skills social workers need to use ICTs, the effects technology has on social work practice or the issues about disclosure and data sharing with systems such as the Common Assessment Framework (CAF).
Research is emerging to suggest that even though technology is enabling social workers to communicate and interact in new ways with people, the same technology does sometimes not allow for a personalised view from the social worker. Issues including the training needs of social workers also emerge as key areas in relation to technologically assisted reporting.
What we learned
• Social work is inevitably caught up in the “information age”. Sociologists describe how identities are fragmented and information picked up and discarded as it flows through information and communication technologies (ICTs).
• Yet the recent GSCC consultation on the role and tasks of social work sees such developments as an administrative nuisance, merely requiring “skilled administrators, better IT, and more efficient support and information systems”.
• We argue that ICTs and associated performance management have become so central to the way that social work is practiced that it is fanciful to assume that they can be separated out as if they are ancillary tasks.
How we learned it
We are working on two related research projects which address issues of information exchange using ICTs and performance management in child welfare. “E-Assessment in Child Welfare” is directed by Christopher Hall at Huddersfield University. It is part of the ESRC e-Society Programme and has studied the implementation of the children’s database (now ContactPoint) and the Common Assessment Framework (CAF). The second project is concerned with performance management in children’s social care, based at Lancaster University and directed by Sue White and part of the ESRC Public Services Programme. Both studies concentrate on how ICTs constrain everyday practice.
Why it’s important
The use of ICTs is central to social work which is concerned with exchanging information and sharing assessments with other professionals. However, time spent in front of the computer has become excessive. In our research, social workers, particularly those in duty and assessment teams, reported spending 80% of their time at the computer. The ICS system, the Common Assessment Framework and children’s database take up a large amount of professional time, and the range of accountabilities linked to data input requires the social worker to maintain responsibility. We have heard of social workers on sick leave asking colleagues to input data for them in order to keep to deadlines.
How it influences practice
• ICTs do not appear to save time. Assessments have become more formalized and increase the information demanded.
• ICTs also compromise partnership working. Rather than completing a form with a service user and then typing it up, information is inputted either without the service user seeing it or a series of versions are produced, printed and checked before inputting on the system.
• Confidentiality is clearly worrying, but in the age of Facebook and MySpace, it is hard to assess the benefits and dangers of new forms of personal disclosure.
• There are, however, signs of resistance as practitioners find ways around the system.
Searching for more information online
Policy makers, managers and practitioners who would like more information about social work and the use of technology can search for policy, resources, standards and guidance using online databases such as Social Care Online.
The Department of Health website includes good information about performance management and indicators and the Information Centre for Health and Social Care is a good place to find statistics. Skills for Care also provide information about social work education and the use of IT.
Useful search terms to use:
• Information and communications technology
• Information management
• Information services
• Social work assessments
• Performance management
To search for more information visit www.scie-socialcareonline.org.uk
• Foundation for Information Policy Research (2006) Children’s databases: Safety and Privacy: A Report for the Information Commissioner
• Lash, S. (2002) Critique of Information, London: Sage
• Parton, N. (forthcoming) ‘Changes in the Form of Knowledge in Social Work: From the ‘Social’ to the ‘Informational’? British Journal of Social Work.
• Peckover, S., White, S. and Hall, C. (forthcoming) ‘Making and Managing Electronic Children: e-Assessment in Child Welfare’ Information, Communication and Society
• Rafferty, J. and Steyaert, J. (2007) ‘Social Work in a Digital Society’ in Lymberg, M. and Postle, K. (eds.) Social Work: A companion for learning, London: Sage
• Van Theil,S.and Leeuw, F.(2002) ‘The Performance Paradox in Public Service’ Public Performance and Management Review 25(3) pp.267-281
Relevant Scie Publications
• Resource Guide 8: Assessment in social work: a guide for learning and teaching
• SCIE Report 15: Using digital media to access information and good practice for paid carers of older people: A feasibility study
• E-Readiness in the Social Care Sector: Building the capacity for e-learning
• Dr Christopher Hall, reader and Dr Sue Peckover, senior research fellow at the Centre for Applied Childhood Studies, University of Huddersfield. Sue White, professor of social work, University of Lancaster
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