Section 2: Designing and Delivering Services
Part A: Individuals, Families, and Groups
Technology may be used to facilitate various forms of services, including counseling, case management, support, and other social work functions. Technology may also be used to facilitate communication with clients, obtain information from clients, provide information to clients, and facilitate various interventions.
The ability to provide services electronically has many benefits as well as risks that social workers should consider. Social workers who use technology to provide services should assess whether clients will benefit from receiving services through electronic means and, when appropriate, offer alternative methods of service delivery.
Standard 2.01: Ethical Use of Technology to Deliver Social Work Services
When providing services to individuals, families, or groups using technology, social workers shall follow the NASW Code of Ethics just as they would when providing services to clients in person.
When using technology to provide services, practitioner competence and the well-being of the client remain primary. Social workers who use technology to provide services should evaluate their ability to:
- assess the relative benefits and risks of providing social work services using technology (for example, in-person services may be necessary when clients pose a significant risk of self-harm or injurious behavior, are cognitively impaired, require
sustained support by a social worker with whom they have an ongoing professional relationship, or are in crisis)
- reasonably ensure that electronic social work services can be kept confidential. For example, the information provided by the client should only be accessible by those who require access and that the host of the server used for electronic communication agrees to abide by the privacy policies of the social worker
- reasonably ensure that they maintain clear professional boundaries (for example, social workers should be mindful of boundary confusion that may result if they disclose personal information about themselves or others in an online setting to which clients have access)
- confirm the identity of the client to whom services are provided electronically at the onset of each contact with the client (examples include confirming a client’s online consent with a telephone call; providing the client with a password, passcode, or image that is specifically for the client’s use when providing consent electronically)
- assess individuals’ familiarity and comfort with technology, access to the Internet, language translation software, and the use of technology to meet the needs of diverse populations, such as people with differing physical abilities
Standard 2.02: Services Requiring Licensure or
Other Forms of Accreditation
Social workers who provide electronic social work services shall comply with the laws and regulations that govern electronic social work services within both the jurisdiction in which the social worker is located and in which the client is located.
Social workers should be aware of all laws, regulations, and other rules that govern their work using technology, particularly licensure
laws. Most jurisdictions have adopted the position that electronic social work practice takes place in both the jurisdiction where the client is receiving such services (irrespective of the location of the practitioner) and in the jurisdiction where the social worker is licensed and located at the time of providing such
electronic services (irrespective of the location of the client). If the client and social worker are in different jurisdictions, the social worker should be aware of and comply with the laws in both
the jurisdiction where the social worker is located and where the client is located.
Here are some examples:
- The social worker and client are initially located in one jurisdiction and the client moves to another jurisdiction to attend college. It is the social worker’s responsibility to contact the other jurisdiction’s regulatory board to determine what requirements are necessary to provide services legally in that jurisdiction. The other jurisdiction may allow for temporary practice for a duly licensed social worker who they determine meets “substantial equivalency.”
- The social worker is traveling for an extended time outside of the jurisdiction where she is licensed. A client asks the social worker to provide electronic services during the social worker’s absence. It is the social worker’s responsibility to contact the local jurisdiction’s regulatory board to determine what is
required for the social worker to provide services legally in that jurisdiction.
- The social worker is employed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs or the U.S. military and provides electronic services under the auspices of those organizations. The laws and rules of these national
organizations apply and are recognized by the jurisdiction(s) in which the social worker and client are located.
Standard 2.03: Laws That Govern Provision of
Social Work Services
Social workers who provide social work services using technology shall understand, comply, and stay current with any and all laws that govern the provision of social work services and inform clients of the social worker’s legal obligations, just as they would when providing services in person.
In addition to professional regulation and licensure laws, there are many other jurisdictional laws that social workers need to understand, comply with, and inform clients of. It is the
social worker’s responsibility to comply with existing laws and keep apprised of new legislation. Specific obligations may include mandatory reporting of suspected abuse or neglect of a child, older adult, or person with a disability; a practitioner’s verbal or electronic sexual communication with a client; a practitioner’s impairment in the ability to practice by reason
of illness, use of alcohol or drugs, or as a result
of mental or physical conditions; or a practitioner’s improper or fraudulent billing practices. Social workers should also be familiar with other laws governing social work practice, such as those related to mental health, addictions, duty to protect clients and third parties, and social worker–client privilege.
Standard 2.04: Informed Consent: Discussing the Benefits and Risks of Providing Electronic Social Work Services
When providing social work services using technology, social workers shall inform the client of relevant benefits and risks.
Possible benefits of providing social work services through electronic means include:
- enhancing access to social work services that are unavailable in person because of geographical distance, clients’ disabilities, or illnesses
- real-time monitoring of clients’ status, when appropriate
- being able to respond to clients rapidly
- enhancing access to services because of clients’ scheduling challenges
- providing more cost-effective delivery of social work services
- ease of communication
- reducing the frequency of clients’ travel to obtain social work services
Possible risks of providing social work services through electronic means include
- potential for technology failure and interruption of services
- potential for confidentiality breaches
- prevention of unauthorized use or unethical purposes
- higher cost of technology
Standard 2.05: Assessing Clients’ Relationships with Technology
When conducting psychosocial assessments with clients, social workers shall consider clients’ views about technology and the ways in which they use technology, including strengths, needs, risks, and challenges.
Historically, social workers have been taught to assess the psychosocial well-being of clients in the context of their environment, including relationships with family members, peers, neighbors, and coworkers. With the increasing use of technology in society, it is important for social workers to also consider clients’ relationships and comfort with technology. Such assessments could include client strengths, such as access to particular forms of technology and the ability to use technology for family, work, school, social, recreational, and other purposes. In addition, social workers should consider relevant needs, risks, and challenges, such as clients’ reluctance to use technology; difficulty affording technology; limited computer knowledge or fluency with
technology; and the risk of cyberbullying, electronic identity theft, and compulsive behaviors regarding the use of technology.
Standard 2.06: Competence: Knowledge and Skills Required When Using Technology to Provide Services
Social workers who use technology to provide services shall obtain and maintain the knowledge and skills required to do so in a safe, competent, and ethical manner.
Social workers who provide electronic services should be competent in the use of technology and maintain competency through relevant continuing education, consultation, supervision, and training. Social workers should continuously learn about changes in technology used to provide these services. Competence depends on the type of technology and how it is used, and may include knowing how to
- communicate effectively while using the technology to provide social work services
- handle emergency situations from a remote location
- apply the laws of both the social worker’s and client’s location
- be sensitive to the client’s culture, including the client’s cultural community and linguistic, social, and economic environment
- attend to clients’ unique needs and challenges
- ensure that the technology is in working order to provide effective services and avoid disruption
- keep abreast of the changing landscape of technology and adapt accordingly
Standard 2.07: Confidentiality and the Use of
When using technology to deliver services, social workers shall establish and maintain confidentiality policies and procedures consistent with relevant statutes, regulations, rules, and ethical standards.
Social workers who provide electronic services should develop protocols and policies to protect client confidentiality. They should use encryption software and firewalls and periodically assess confidentiality policies and procedures to ensure compliance with statutes, regulations, and social work standards.
Standard 2.08: Electronic Payments and Claims
Social workers who submit insurance claims for payment electronically shall take reasonable steps to ensure that business associates use proper encryption and have confidentiality policies and procedures consistent with social work standards and relevant laws.
The processing of electronic claims and payments includes information about the client that should be protected. Use of electronic payment systems should comply with social work confidentiality standards and relevant statutes and regulations.
Standard 2.09: Maintaining Professional Boundaries
Social workers who provide electronic social work services shall maintain clear professional boundaries in their relationships with clients.
Social workers who use technology to provide services should take reasonable steps to prevent client access to social workers’ personal social networking sites and should not post personal information on professional Web sites, blogs, or other forms of social media, to avoid boundary confusion and inappropriate dual relationships. Although social workers have a right to freedom of speech, they should be aware of how their personal communications could affect their professional relationships.
When using technology, social workers should make distinctions between professional and personal communications. Social workers should not post any identifying or confidential information about clients on professional Web sites, blogs, or other forms of social media.
Social workers should be aware that they and their clients may share “friend” networks on Web sites, blogs, and other forms of social media; social workers may or may not realize they have these shared online connections. Social workers should be aware that shared membership in online groups based on race, ethnicity, language, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, religion, addiction recovery, or personal interests may create boundary confusion and inappropriate
dual relationships and should avoid relationships that are likely to lead to a conflict of interest, particularly when there is risk of harm to the client (for example, if the online social relationship may compromise the social worker’s ability to maintain a clear professional–client relationship).
Standard 2.10: Social Media Policy
Social workers who use social media shall develop a social media policy that they share with clients.
Social media policies inform clients regarding their social worker’s professional use of social networking sites, e-mail, text messaging, electronic search engines, smartphone applications, blogs, business review sites, and other forms of electronic communication. A carefully constructed social media policy that social workers share
with clients can enhance protection of private information and maintain clear boundaries. The social media policy should be reviewed with clients during the initial interview in the social worker–client relationship and revisited and updated as needed.
Standard 2.11: Use of Personal Technology for
Social workers shall consider the implications of their use of personal mobile phones and other electronic communication devices for work purposes.
If a social worker’s employment setting expects the social worker to use mobile phones or other technology to communicate with clients, ideally the employer or organization should provide the devices and technology and have clear policies regarding clients’ electronic access to the social worker. As a matter of fairness, employers should cover the costs of the devices and technology
that are required for social workers to fulfill their work obligations. Providing clients with the personal mobile phone number of the social worker might limit the social worker’s ability to maintain appropriate boundaries with clients and compromise client confidentiality. In situations where social workers use personal mobile phones or other electronic communication devices for work purposes, they should take reasonable steps to protect confidentiality and maintain appropriate boundaries.
Standard 2.12: Unplanned Interruptions of
Electronic Social Work Services
Social workers shall plan for the possibility that electronic services will be interrupted unexpectedly.
Electronic social work services can be interrupted unexpectedly in a variety of ways. Technology failure is always a possibility, especially as a
result of power outages or lost, damaged, or stolen devices. Social workers should develop policies on how to manage technology failures and discuss them with clients at the beginning of their relationship. Social workers should have specific backup plans to handle technological failures or interruptions in services during emergency or crisis situations. If such failures
interfere with a social worker’s ability to assist clients (including difficulty clients may have managing technology failures), social workers should consider seeing the client in person or referring clients to service providers who can assist the client in person.
Standard 2.13: Responsibility in Emergency
Social workers who provide electronic services shall be familiar with emergency services in
the jurisdiction where the client is located and share this information with clients.
Social workers who provide electronic services may have clients who encounter emergencies or crisis situations. Some crisis services may be provided remotely, but others may require in- person communication or intervention. Social workers should take reasonable steps to identify the location of the client and emergency services in the jurisdiction. If the social worker believes that a client may be at risk (for example, having suicidal thoughts), the social worker should mobilize resources to defuse the risks and restore safety. Social workers should develop policies on emergency situations that include an authorized contact person whom the social worker has permission to contact.
Standard 2.14: Electronic and Online
Social workers shall refrain from soliciting electronic or online testimonials from clients or former clients who, because of their particular circumstances, are vulnerable to undue influence.
Electronic and online testimonials about social work services (including text, audio, or video) create the potential for boundary confusion and conflicts of interest. Social workers should not solicit testimonial endorsements (including solicitation of consent to use a client’s prior statement as a testimonial endorsement) from
current or former clients who, because of their particular circumstances, are vulnerable to undue influence.
Part B: Communities, Organizations, Administration, and Policy
Technology can greatly enhance social workers’ ability to engage in social action, promote social justice, work with communities, administer organizations, and develop social policy. This section provides social workers with guidance on the use of technology in the context of social work with larger systems. In these contexts,
social workers may use technology for various purposes, including:
- engaging, empowering, and organizing community members and groups
- coalition and capacity building
- advocating for changes in social policy to improve the social and economic well-being of individuals, families, groups, and communities
- providing supervision to social workers, other professionals, and volunteers
- planning, implementing, managing, and evaluating social programs
Standard 2.15: Organizing and Advocacy
When using technology to organize communities and advocate, social workers shall take reasonable steps to ensure that the information shared using technological tools is honest, accurate, and respectful.
Social workers have a rich heritage advocating for social change; engaging in policy practice; and improving the services provided to individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers use Web sites, online social networking, and other electronic communications to mobilize and organize communities and advocate about policy issues. Social workers who use thought-provoking language and stories to attract attention and motivate people to action should ensure that the content of their communications is honest,
accurate, respectful, and is neither exploitative of clients nor sensationalistic.
When social workers establish or facilitate online communities, they should inform participants that information shared with the community may be open to the public. Social workers should also establish and maintain rules of “netiquette,” that is, guidelines for respectful communication within the online community.
Social workers may use technology to communicate political messages and mobilize clients, colleagues, and citizens to engage in social action and monitor legislative activities.
As with in-person advocacy and communication, social workers who use technology for these purposes should do so respectfully and in a manner that is consistent with professional, legal, and ethical standards. Social workers should not use technology to harass, threaten, insult, or coerce individuals or groups.
Standard 2.16: Fundraising
When social workers use technology for fundraising, they shall take reasonable steps to ensure that information provided to potential donors clearly and accurately identifies the purposes of the fundraising and how the funds will be used.
Using technology for fundraising may open up new and broad channels for raising money for social work services or other causes. As with any fundraising, social workers should use honest, accurate, and respectful language to explain why they are fundraising, including information about the intended beneficiaries and how the funding will be used to help them. Social workers should ensure that the system used to collect payment
is secure, so that the donors’ confidential information is protected and the funds collected are used only for the intended purposes.
Because technology allows fundraising from various states or countries, social workers should consider jurisdictional issues pertaining to fundraising (for example, tax laws, laws governing charitable donation status, and laws pertaining
to support for causes or groups deemed to be related to terrorist organizations).
Standard 2.17: Primary Commitment to Clients
When social workers who are responsible for program administration, planning, and development consider whether and how to use technology in conjunction with social work programs or services, they shall prioritize the needs of their clients.
Social work organizations may find it beneficial to use technology to generate revenue, expand services, or provide services in a more cost- efficient manner. Regardless of the organization’s motivation for considering the use of technology, social workers who are responsible for program administration, planning, and development should ensure that the needs and interests of potential and current clients are taken into account. For example, social workers should consider not only whether technology could make service provision more cost-efficient, but also whether the use of technology would foster more effective services for the people intended to be served by the organization.
Standard 2.18: Confidentiality
Social workers who use technology to facilitate supervision, consultation, or other confidential meetings shall use appropriate safeguards to protect confidentiality.
Social workers who conduct supervision or consultation, and those who facilitate other confidential meetings through the use of technology, should take appropriate precautions to protect the confidentiality of those communications. Precautions to protect confidentiality depend on the type of technology being used, and may include
- using passwords, firewalls, encryption, and antivirus software
- using electronic service providers that rely on standards of security for data that are transmitted and stored
- ensuring a private setting when using their electronic devices
Standard 2.19: Appropriate Boundaries
Social workers who work with communities and organizations shall ensure that they maintain appropriate boundaries when they use technology.
The types of boundaries that social workers should maintain when doing organizational or community work may be different from
those required when providing clinical services to individuals, families, and groups. Because social workers sometimes assume multiple roles and functions in their organizations and communities, they may not be able to avoid
all dual or multiple relationships. Still, they should consider how to maintain appropriate boundaries and, in particular, how to avoid significant conflicts of interest.
Boundary issues may be particularly complicated when social workers participate in online discussions hosted on social networks and other forms of electronic communication that are intended to be available to the public. For instance, if a social worker posts political or personal opinions on a blog or social networking site, the worker should be aware that this posting may be seen by people in the organization and community in which the worker is practicing. This does not mean that social workers must avoid all political or personal communication through electronic means. However, social workers should be careful in determining what information or opinions they post, where they post the information or opinions, what language
they use, and who might access the information or opinions they post. Social workers should consider how members of their organizations and communities may react to information that social workers decide to share electronically. Social workers should apply the principles of
honesty, respect, and social justice, whether their electronic communications are for personal or work-related purposes.
Standard 2.20: Addressing Unique Needs
Social workers who help communities and organizations advocate for changes in policies, practices, and programs regarding the use of technology shall ensure that the unique needs of individuals and groups are considered, including factors related to different cultures, ways of learning, abilities, educational levels, and economic circumstances.
The use of technology has the potential to improve the economic and social well-being of various individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. Social workers who are engaged in policy or program development activities should consider how the use of technology may have differential impacts on people given their unique biopsychosocial circumstances and
should share these concerns with appropriate decision makers. For instance, when developing Web sites, social workers should consider how to ensure that the information is accessible to
people with visual impairments or other physical challenges. When considering an online social work program for people with depression, anxiety, psychosis, or phobias, social workers should consider whether online or in-person services would be more appropriate. When people are expected to use text-based application forms to access social work services or benefits, social workers should consider options to help people who prefer to use a language other than English and people who are not comfortable
with the use of electronic devices.
Social workers who provide electronic services should also be aware of economic challenges, for instance, services that require the use of data plans, computers, tablets, smartphones, or other technology that individuals and groups may not be able to afford. Furthermore, social workers should note that some individuals and groups may not have access to technology at certain times because of religious reasons (for instance, prohibitions from using technology on a Sabbath).
Standard 2.21: Access to Technology
When appropriate, social workers shall advocate for access to technology and resources for individuals, families, groups, and communities who have difficulty accessing them because they are a member of a vulnerable population such as people with disabilities, limited proficiency
in English, limited financial means, lack of familiarity with technology, or other challenges.
Access to technology includes access to data plans, electronic devices (such as computers, tablets, or mobile phones), relevant software or apps (through purchase or subscription), and technical support (as needed). Advocating for access to electronic services is part of social workers’ commitment to social justice. Access to technology, particularly for vulnerable and disadvantaged populations, is important for the following reasons:
- Potential clients may not have reasonable access to needed social work services unless they have appropriate access to technology.
- Having access to technology empowers people to participate in democratic and political processes, for instance, expressing their concerns and advocating through online social media, registering to vote, engaging government officials and other policymakers, organizing social action events, tracking legislative and public policy processes, and accessing other information about public policy issues.
- Having access to technology allows access to
online communities and groups that may provide various forms of social support.
Advocating for access to services on a case-by- case basis may not be sufficient, so social workers may consider addressing access issues through community organizing and other forms of advocacy (for example, ensuring that entire neighborhoods, communities, or vulnerable groups have access to certain forms of technology).
Having access to appropriate technology may also be a concern for social workers themselves. Social workers may need to advocate within their organizations and communities to ensure that they have access to technology that is required to perform their jobs effectively.
Standard 2.22: Programmatic Needs Assessments and Evaluations
Social workers who use technology to conduct needs assessments and program evaluations shall obtain participants’ informed consent and provide information about how they will
Social workers use online surveys or other technology to gather information for needs assessments, evaluations, or other research activities. For example, when social workers use technology to conduct needs assessments or evaluations for communities or organizations, they may plan for the information to be shared with government officials, policymakers, program administrators, other decision makers, or the general public. As part of the informed consent process, social workers should ensure that participants are aware of the intended uses of
the information gathered, including who will receive the information and what information will be shared. For some purposes, such as legislative advocacy, it may be appropriate for community residents to share personal stories and identifying information, with the participants’ informed consent. For other purposes, it may be appropriate to allow participants to share information on an anonymous basis or to ensure that any identifying information is removed before it is shared with others. Participants should also be apprised of how the results of the needs assessment or program evaluation will be distributed, for instance, through in-person meetings, paper documents, or electronic means.
Standard 2.23: Current Knowledge and Competence
Social workers practicing with communities, organizations, and in policy positions shall strive to maintain knowledge of current technology, adhere to best practices for its use, and periodically update their knowledge and skills.
Technology is constantly evolving, as is its use in various forms of social work practice. Social workers should keep apprised of the types of technology that are available and research best practices, risks, ethical challenges, and ways of managing them. Social workers should also ensure that they know how to use technology in an effective manner so that they perform functions required for work with communities, organizations, and in policy practice.
Standard 2.24: Control of Messages
Social workers who use technology for community organizing and social advocacy shall be aware that they may have limited or no control over how their electronic messages may be used, shared, revised, or distorted.
When social workers post information on blogs, Web sites, and social networking sites, they should be aware that others may use, share, and adapt their messages. For instance, if a social worker posts a written article, photo, or video online, others may edit the posting and share it with others. Postings and other electronic messages may be misinterpreted, misrepresented, or taken out of context. Although it would be unreasonable to expect social workers to keep track of all uses of their postings, when feasible social workers should try to correct misuses
of their postings when such misuses come to their attention.
Standard 2.25: Administration
Social work administrators shall ensure that they plan and budget for the use of technology in a manner that promotes the organizations’ mission and goals in a cost-effective manner.
Social workers may use technology to facilitate various administrative functions, including budgeting, forecasting, planning, meeting, communicating with stakeholders, personnel management, project management, and program evaluation. Although technology can be used to streamline an organization’s administrative processes, social work administrators should also be aware of the implications of its use for clients, social workers, and other employees. When making decisions about the appropriate use of technology for administrative purposes, social workers should take the potential benefits and costs of its use into account (for example, how new technology might improve services, how workers and clients might respond to new technology, and the best use of an organization’s limited resources).
Standard 2.26: Conducting Online Research
Social workers who conduct online research shall assess the quality, strengths, and limitations of the research.
Social workers should evaluate the credibility and limitations of research obtained from online sources. This includes taking reasonable steps to assess authorship and sponsorship; the credentials and competencies of the researchers; the reliability,
validity, currency, and limitations of the research; and the accuracy of the reported findings or results.
Standard 2.27: Social Media Policies
Social work administrators and supervisors shall consider developing social media policies to guide employees and volunteers who work in their organizations.
When employees and volunteers post information on social media, that information may have an impact on their organization, whether or not
that information was posted for work or personal purposes. By establishing clear social media policies, administrators and supervisors can provide employees and volunteers with guidance on how to maintain professional standards, including protection of client confidentiality, maintaining appropriate boundaries, and the use of accurate and respectful language.