Standards for online service delivery – some useful starting points

In Canada and the United States, most human service workers work in unregulated professions, such as immigrant settlement work and employment support professionals. You can turn to the Social Work field for useful standards, guidelines and protocols for online service delivery.

From my research the most comprehensive thinking and publishing of standards has come from the U.S. National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Below you’ll find their original and just-updated standards for technology use in Social Work practice.

They are standards all human service workers should aspire to.

I’m also including additional Canadian resources from past years. In many cases they refer to the NASW work, but also include useful information related to Canadian-specific Social Work standards, ethics and guidelines.

Even with these standards within a regulatory framework, my sense is that Social Workers, and those who educate them, are still struggling to become oriented, literate and expert in the use of safe, secure, and encrypted technology in client work. They are much further ahead than many unregulated human service sectors and there is much to learn from them, but it might make you feel better knowing that they haven’t completely figured it out yet either! 🙂

Why standards of practice? The 2017 – NASW, ASWB, CSWE ,& CSWA Standards for Technology in Social Work Practice introduction lays it out nicely:

“Social workers’ use of technology is proliferating. Technology has transformed the nature of social work practice and greatly expanded social workers’ ability to assist people in need. Contemporary social workers can provide services to individual clients by using online counseling, telephone counseling, videoconferencing, self-guided Web-based interventions, electronic social networks, mobile apps, automated tutorials, e-mail, text messages, and a host of other services. Social workers’ use of technology has created new ways to interact and communicate with clients, raising fundamentally new questions about the meaning of the social worker–client relationship.

In addition, social workers use various forms of technology to access, gather, and otherwise manage information about clients. Social workers maintain encrypted electronic records, store sensitive information on their smartphones and in the “cloud,” and have the capacity to search for information about clients using Internet search engines. Social workers use technology in creative ways to address compelling social justice issues, organize communities, administer organizations, and develop social policy. Social workers also explore and develop new technologies for practice and disseminate them with colleagues.

These dramatic developments require practice standards in technology. The following standards are divided into four main sections and address social workers’ use of electronic technology to (1) provide information to the public; (2) design and deliver services; (3) gather, manage, store, and access information about clients; and (4) educate and supervise social workers. These standards are designed to guide social workers’ use of technology; enhance social workers’ awareness of their ethical responsibilities when using technology; and inform social workers, employers, and the public about practice standards pertaining to social workers’ use of technology.

Social workers should consider these standards in conjunction with the NASW Code of ethics, other

social work standards and relevant statutes, and regulations. As new forms of technology continue to emerge, the standards provided here should be adapted as needed.

Each practice standard provides social workers with general guidance on how to use technology in an ethical manner; the “interpretation” sections offer suggestions for implementing these standards in a wide range of circumstances and social work settings. The interpretations provide examples of factors that social workers may consider when making decisions about the appropriate use of technology. The standards and their interpretations are intended to set a minimum core of excellence for professional practice when social workers use technology and to provide a framework to address possible benefits, challenges, and risks that arise when using technology. These guidelines are not intended to suggest that the use of technology is inherently riskier or more problematic than other forms of social work.”

If you or your organization , these documents should be your starting point (all docs are in PDF format):

National Association of Social Workers – NASW – Technology Standards (2005)

Updated for 2017 – NASW, ASWB, CSWE ,& CSWA Standards for Technology in Social Work Practice

Canadian Association of Social Workers – Social Media Use and Social Work Practice (2015)

Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers – Communication Technology & Ethical Practice: Evolving Issues in a Changing Landscape (2012)

Ontario College of Social Workers and Social Service Workers – Social Media and Practice: Protecting Privacy and Professionalism in a Virtual World (2011)

Association of Social Work Boards – Model Regulatory Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice (2015)

B.C. College of Social Workers: Technology Standards of Practice (2016)

Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Social Workers Standards For Technology Use In Social Work Practice (2012)

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