The need for greater understanding of service user and practitioner experience of the use of digital communication technologies in their interactions is urgent. The Coronavirus outbreak and the need for social distancing meant that many interactions between social workers and their clients were either stopped or changed to digital communication technologies (communicating by email, telephone, text, video calls or video conferencing). Since there is an established drive to make government and its services ‘digital by default’, it is likely that the use of digital communication technologies will continue to shape significant aspects of social work practice with service users in the future.
However, early findings on service users’ experience of the use of digital communication technologies in accessing care and support during COVID-19 indicates that the use of such technologies has both advantages and disadvantages. The increased use of digital communication technologies has made it easier for people with certain disabilities to access some services, and there have been calls to build on the “remote access revolution” to help facilitate access and participation. Despite ease and equality of access and use being central to the government’s updated digital service standards, the increased use of digital communication technologies during recent months has, overall, exacerbated digital exclusion. Barriers include inability to use such technologies; lack of equipment; poor quality equipment and / or internet connection; and concerns over online safety and confidentiality.
Some guidelines on how digital communication technologies should be used in social work have been published recently by organizations that oversee social work in England or promote best practice in social care. But these guidelines have not yet been evaluated to see if or how social workers are applying them. Nor has anyone studied Disabled service users’ experiences of social work delivered using digital communication technologies.
This user-led study aims to improve Disabled service users’ and adult social workers’ experiences regarding the use of digital communication technologies in their interactions, by exploring:
- Whether, how, with whom and for what purposes should various digital communication technologies be used in interactions between adult social workers and Disabled service users
- In what ways and by what means should policy and practice around the use of digital communication technologies at the interface between adult social workers and Disabled service users be improved.
This study has been designed by a team comprising service users, practitioners and academics. It consists of one-to one interviews (or email exchanges if preferred) for Disabled adults and a focus group to investigate the experiences of people with learning disabilities.
Researchers who have lived experience of adult social work (‘service user researchers’) will interview 30 Disabled adults with an impairment or disabled by a long-term health condition who use adult social work services; and 25 front-line social workers who work with adults.
A group of people – including Disabled service users, front-line social workers, social work managers, people who teach social work, and policy-makers – will then work together to produce 1) a practical guide for social workers for using digital communication technologies that meet the needs of both Disabled users and workers; and 2) information for Disabled service users to help them make choices about the use of digital communication technology with their social worker and to share with them what other service users have found helpful.