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Currents - November 2011 - Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice
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Standards For Technology and Social Work Practice

Important Things You May Not Know


We live in a world in which all aspects of life are profoundly affected by the proliferation of technology, and social work practice is no exception. As online avenues of communication increase (Skype, Facebook, Twitter, etc.), more questions arise as to the appropriate use of these mediums for professional practice. A September 23 article in the New York Times, "When Your Therapist is Only a Click Away", demonstrates how widespread online therapy and counseling are, and how common they have become, even while many practitioners and clients are not aware of standards to guide this new form of practice.

A 1999 document issued from the State Education Department (SED) Board of Regents identifies and addresses many issues related to telepractice of social work. Most noteworthy is the fact that an individual must be licensed and registered in New York State in order to provide services to an individual in New York; violation of this provision could result in a felony charge for illegal practice. Additional guidelines for engaging in telepractice can be found in Section Nine of the Practice Guidelines for Social Work issued by the SED Office of the Professions.

More recently in 2005, NASW and ASWB (Association of Social Work Boards) partnered to publish Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice. Like other “Standards” documents published by NASW, following an introduction, it lists a number of standards and provides an interpretation for each one.

The following is an excerpt of the NASW/ASWB Standards; the full document can be accessed here at:




The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and Association of Social Work Boards
(ASWB) have developed Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice to create a uniform document for the profession. Technology has changed social work practice offering new ways to perform services and obtain information. The challenges that it brings require a special set of skills and knowledge to provide the best practice available.

The standards apply to the use of technology as an adjunct to practice, as well as practice that is exclusively conducted with technology. The NASW Code of Ethics and the ASWB Model Social Work Practice Act served as foundation documents in developing these standards, along with a variety of other sources. The standards use a humanistic values framework to ensure that ethical social work practice can be enhanced by the appropriate use of technology.

The specific goals of the standards are:
• to maintain and improve the quality of technology-related services provided by social workers
• to serve as a guide to social workers incorporating technology into their services
• to help social workers monitor and evaluate the ways technology is used in their services
• to inform clients, government regulatory bodies, insurance carriers, and others about the professional standards for the use of technology in the provision of social work services.

Special Note: The order in which the standards appear does NOT reflect their order of importance.


Technology and social work practice, when used in these standards, is defined as any electronically mediated activity used in the conduct of competent and ethical delivery of social work services.

The past two decades have witnessed an immense expansion of the use of information technology in social work practice. This expansion has affected nearly every area of the profession: At the individual practitioner level, e-mail and the Web make Internet-mediated direct practice possible on a global scale; social workers and clients can uncover vast Web-based sources for information that can enhance the likelihood of effective interventions; support groups for people at risk can be easily created and moderated. At the agency level, case management programs can generate reports, track personnel, automate billing, forecast budgets, and greatly assist service planning and delivery; global-level consultation and conference abilities are at hand; emerging geographic information systems can pinpoint community assets and needs. The future promises even more changes: automated interventions that do not require the direct involvement of the worker are emerging, and wireless technologies are facilitating social work in the field. These current and near-future technologies are changing the nature of professional social work practice in countless ways.

As a result, the roles for social workers are changing and they may need to adjust to the new demands for practice in the information age. Social workers should acquire adequate skills that use technology appropriately, and adapt traditional practice protocols to ensure competent and ethical practice.

Several critical issues need to be addressed: many technologies are powerful but fragile; crucial information can be lost or intercepted; not all Web sites providing information are reliable; service providers can easily misrepresent themselves and their credentials online; confidentiality in an electronic medium can quickly evaporate; jurisdiction, liability and malpractice issues blur when state lines and national boundaries are crossed electronically; numerous digital divides can thwart access and success; and clients and social workers alike may have unrealistic expectations for what a technology can actually provide.

Standard 1. Ethics and Values
Social workers providing services via the telephone or other electronic means shall act ethically, ensure professional competence, protect clients, and uphold the values of the profession.

Standard 2. Access
Social workers shall have access to technology and appropriate support systems to ensure competent practice, and shall take action to ensure client access to technology.

Standard 3. Cultural Competence and Vulnerable Populations
Social workers shall select and develop appropriate online methods, skills, and techniques that are attuned to their clients’ cultural, bicultural, or marginalized experiences in their environments. In striving for cultural competence, social workers shall have the skills to work with a wide range of people who are culturally different or who may be considered a member of a vulnerable population, such as people with disabilities and racial, ethnic, and sexual minority status, and
those whose primary language may not be English.

Standard 4. Technical Competencies
Social workers shall be responsible for becoming proficient in the technological skills and tools required for competent and ethical practice and for seeking appropriate training and consultation to stay current with emerging technologies.

Standard 5. Regulatory Competencies
Social workers who use telephonic or other electronic means to provide services shall abide by all regulation of their professional practice with the understanding that their practice may be subject to regulation in both the jurisdiction in which the client receives services as well as the jurisdiction in which the social worker provides services.

Standard 6. Identification and Verification
Social workers who use electronic means to provide services shall represent themselves to the public with accuracy and make efforts to verify client identity and contact information.

Standard 7. Privacy, Confidentiality, Documentation, and Security
Social workers shall protect client privacy when using technology in their practice and document all services, taking special safeguards to protect client information in the electronic record.

Standard 8. Risk Management
Social workers providing services through the use of the telephone or other electronic means shall ensure high-quality practices and procedures that are legally sound and ethical to protect clients and safeguard against litigation.

Standard 9. Practice Competencies
9-1. Advocacy and Social Action
Social workers shall use technology to inform and mobilize communities about policies that will benefit individuals and groups and seek to provide tools, opportunities, and information so that clients are able to advocate directly for their own interests.

9-2. Community Practice
Social workers shall advocate for the adoption and use of relevant technologies that will enhance the well-being of communities.

9-3.Administrative Practice
Social workers shall keep themselves informed about technology that will advance quality program operations and service delivery, invest in and maintain such systems, and establish policies to ensure access, appropriate security, and privacy in agency information systems.

9-4. Clinical Competencies
Social workers shall strive to become and remain knowledgeable about the dynamics of online relationships, the advantages and drawbacks of non-face-to-face interactions, and the ways in which technology-based social work practice can be safely and appropriately conducted.

9-5. Research
Social workers conducting, evaluating, disseminating, or implementing research using technological approaches shall do so in a manner that ensures ethical credibility and ensures the informed consent of the participant.

9-6. Supervision
When using or providing supervision and consultation by technological means, social work supervisors and supervisees shall follow the standards that would be applied to a face-to-face supervisory relationship and shall be competent in the technologies used.

Standard 10. Continuing Education
Social workers shall adhere to the NASW Standards for Continuing Professional Education and follow applicable licensing laws regarding continuing education delivered via electronic means.


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