Technology’s Impact on Social Work

In years gone by, social workers and others in the helping fields were protected by the fact that clients only had access to them in the office. While technology has certainly opened new and beneficial doors, it has also created quite a conundrum in the social work field. When clients have access to us through emails, texts, social networking, and other means, how are we to protect their confidentiality and still keep ourselves properly separate from them and their issues? It’s time to look at technology’s impact on social work.

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Technology’s Impact on Social Work

Technology and Social Work Ethics

While at first glance, text messages don’t seem problematic, the truth is, when a suicidal client texts at 3 am, decisions must be made. Will you blow off confidentiality and contact law enforcement? Will you risk unsupervised conversations? And will you willingly, donate your time, as you probably won’t get paid for that investment? These are important questions and their answers might change your stance on the use of technology with your clients.

Consider the ethical questions that can arise when an employer asks the social workers on his/her team to use their cell phones for work purposes. Consider these questions in case your boss wants you to start using your phone to handle issues with your clients:

  1. Are bosses allowed to ask you to use your personal cell phone?
  2. Will state law require them to pay you for that usage?
  3. Can they make you answer calls/texts outside of work hours?
  4. What about when you are on vacation?
  5. If you do respond outside of normal hours, will the boss be responsible for your conduct?
  6. Will they have to protect you legally and ethically in any malpractice issues that might arise? Read this.
  7. If you don’t respond to clients outside of working hours, are you responsible for what may occur?
  8. How will you ensure that confidentiality is kept while on the call or through texts?

The Answers

As much as we would like to offer you some very specific, black and white answers to those questions, we simply can’t. Every situation is different and the ethics behind the responses are case sensitive. However, we do know that if an agency expects various forms of technology to be utilized by you and your clients, that technology should be provided by them. It should never be your personal equipment.

And, you need to ensure that your professional boundaries are adhered to in all situations and circumstances. Do not deviate from the NASW Code of Ethics for any purpose. Using your personal phone will violate those boundaries. Clients in crisis, will need to reach out to the appropriate authorities in the middle of the night rather than calling on you, so long as those boundaries remain intact.

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