Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Connectivity and Discontinuity in Social Work Practice: Challenges and Opportunities of the Implementation of an E-Social Work System in Romania

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology

Connectivity and Discontinuity in Social Work Practice: Challenges and Opportunities of the Implementation of an E-Social Work System in Romania

Article excerpt

Background

In September 1972, the US journal Social Work published an article by Paul Abels who debated whether or not computers can do social work. While outlining the advantages to it, such as being more objective and less biased or addressing the needs of more clients at the same time, whilst giving each of them the needed time and attention (Abels, 1972, p. 9), the author also considered potential obstacles, such as beneficiaries' reluctance to receiving social work services from a computer or challenges in ensuring the confidentiality of the personal data provided by beneficiaries. Envisioning the future, social workers are encouraged to consider how computers might improve social work practice. Almost half a century later, taking into consideration the vast technological progress, the answer to the question "Can computers do social work?" may most probably be answered affirmatively, given the technological development of both hardware and software. Scholars and social work practitioners around the world continue to debate questions such as (a) how ethical would it be, (b) to what degree would confidentiality actually be ensured or (c) how will the quality of social services be monitored and evaluated (Chan & Holosko, 2016; Dombo, Kays, & Weller, 2014; Reamer, 2013, 2015). In this paper, we focus on analysing the challenges posed by the digitalisation of social work in Romania, considering the possibilities (a) for developing an integrated electronic platform to be accessed by social workers employed within the public system, at different levels (local, county, regional or national) and (b) for determining potential beneficiaries of (non)monetary benefits to independently access the provided hardware and software infrastructure for submitting their requests to public institutions.

Within the framework of the current paper, digital division is understood as the gap between different groups in accessing new technologies and their benefits. It is expected to identify these differences based on socio-economic status, area of residence or even age. These differences are not only observable in in-country settings, but comparative analysis may also be conducted between countries (Tufa, 2010). As access to computers enhances, the discussion concerning digital divide moves towards digital literacy and skills needed in order to avoid social exclusion (Cohron, 2015; Eynon and Geniets, 2016).

Social work, although a human oriented profession, cannot overlook the challenges as well as the opportunities of information and communication technologies (ICTs) usage both for professionals and their beneficiaries. In this context, the breadth and impact of digital exclusion need to be analysed and assessed in order to best address the potential risks of increasing inequalities and to enhance social inclusion, as features to what is nowadays referred to as revolution in the digital society (Schwab, 2016). Steyaert and Gould (2009, p. 751) argue that "digital exclusion cannot be separated from more general social exclusion patterns, as both reinforce each other" and thus the role of social workers is to offer equal chances to all individuals in order to benefit of the opportunities brought about by the internet. Social workers may address this issue by mediating between support for enhancing the digital skills of (long-time) unemployed persons and their access to the labour market. In order to stimulate the usage of computers at home, the aforementioned authors propose a couple of solutions: to provide computers to lowincome households, though programmes directly addressing school-aged children, and to increase the use of recycled and refurbished computers, which could be implemented by setting-up vocational training for those willing to engage in continuous learning programmes.

Recognizing the implications of technology to social work practice, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) have developed in 2005 the Standards for Technology and Social Work Practice in order to guide professionals' activity addressing ethical conduct and protection of the beneficiaries when using technology. …

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