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Innovative Approaches to Social Work Practice

October 12, 2023

For a long time, the field of social work has emphasized personal client-centered relationships. Social workers have been slow to embrace technology and innovation in their work, citing concerns related to depersonalization, confidentiality and client trust.1

However, the world is experiencing radical changes in social, economic, cultural, and technological sectors. We no longer can operate by the status quo; some of the approaches used by social workers in the past may fall short of addressing current needs. To bridge this gap, social workers need to embrace new solutions in the face of social change and complex social problems.

Here, we’ll discuss some of the more recent, innovative approaches to social work to help you better serve your clients and community.

Understanding Innovative Approaches to Social Work

Innovation in social work is not just about turning over all social work to the bots. Instead, it’s about finding more creative ideas for complex social issues. It can also involve improving the existing approaches to make them more relevant and effective. In essence, this innovation is driven by the realization that societal needs are changing, and social work needs to change with them.

There are multiple benefits of using innovation to address social issues, as evidenced by emerging social work research. According to a study by the Journal of Social Work, technology-mediated social work is more available and accessible.2 For example, digital and online services like Zoom and Skype make it easier for social workers and their clients to interact on a regular basis. Communication tools, like telehealth and telemedicine platforms, allow social workers to share and distribute information among social service organizations, agencies and caregivers, which can improve the quality of care.

At the organizational level, innovation improves efficiency and coordination. If organizations and individuals want to collect and store client data, it’s easier and quicker to do so using modern electronic systems instead of maintaining a collection of handwritten notes.

While innovation has multiple benefits, social workers must adhere to ethical principles and guidelines to ensure the well-being and rights of the people they serve. Here are some of the ethical considerations as stipulated by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW):3

  • Accuracy and validity of information: When social workers use technology to pass information to their clients or the public, they should ensure the information is accurate and valid
  • Compliance: Social workers should ensure their social work practices comply with the jurisdiction in which they are located and where the people they serve are located
  • Informed consent: Social workers should ensure their clients understand the nature and purpose of the interventions they use, including their benefits, risks and implications
  • Client’s relationship with technology: Social workers should consider clients’ views regarding technology and the way they want it to be used
  • Competence: Social workers should obtain the necessary knowledge and skills to competently use new innovations
  • Professional boundaries: Social workers should maintain clear professional boundaries while providing care for their clients

Integrating Technology in Social Work

Information and communication technology has brought new possibilities for the social work practice, especially in recent years. As of 2023, there are about 5.3 billion internet users across the globe, which is about 65% of the world’s population.4 On the same note, there are 7.33 billion mobile phone users, which is over 90% of the global population.5 Therefore, most people in the world can access social services, support, and information wirelessly.

The use of technology in social work is evident in teletherapy and online counseling. Social workers can now connect with their clients through online platforms. As a result, the people who were previously marginalized by disability, economics, or geography can now access help from wherever they are at any time of the day. Besides, there are numerous mobile apps to provide ongoing support, crisis intervention and self-help tools to people in need, thus making care accessible at all times.

Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Approaches

Technology has made almost every aspect of social work easier and more effective. To help streamline their process, social workers can access online databases, record their interviews and meetings with clients, connect to other professionals and share data using digital means.

For example, if a social worker is operating within a particular service, they can now use an electronic records database that keeps track of caseloads, interventions and impact.6 This collaborative documentation helps them to perform a program evaluation, maintain consistent reports, identify errors, determine best action plans and improve response efforts over time.

Strengths-Based and Empowerment Approaches

In the past, social workers focused on identifying the challenges of individuals or communities to help them. Today, the focus is not only on harm reduction but also on the strengths and capabilities that individuals or communities have. The aim is to empower these individuals and communities so they can identify their own needs and actively participate in finding solutions.

A good example of a strengths-based perspective is in assessment tools and software. A social work professional can use these tools to identify the strengths and capabilities of individuals and then use these unique abilities to develop more targeted interventions. In addition, online empowerment communities and virtual support groups allow affected persons to connect with their peers, share their experiences and offer support to one another.

Trauma-Informed Care

According to the National Council for Behavioral Health (NCBH), 70% of US adults have been through at least one traumatic event.7 Social workers are almost guaranteed to come across people with a history of trauma. Some of the events that trigger trauma are bullying, physical or sexual violence, systemic oppression or depression, poverty, emotional neglect or the death of a loved one, just to mention a few.

Many different approaches have been put in place to diagnose and treat trauma. For example, innovative screening tools and instruments are used to identify people with trauma-related symptoms, such as mental health disorders.8 Such tools include the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ), child behavioral health screener and child welfare trauma referral tool. For people already diagnosed with trauma, there are wearables that can collect objective data, like heart rate, to understand when a person is in fight or flight mode.9 Social workers also use electronic health record software to consolidate data in one place and enhance support.

In addition, several evidence-based treatments are available, including Prolonged Exposure Therapy, Child-Parent Psychotherapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, motivational interviewing, mindfulness practices and formal peer support programs.10

Advance in Social Work With the Latest Expertise

The world is rapidly changing, bringing about new challenges, more complex problems and a demand for social innovation. Social workers must stay up-to-date with emerging approaches to remain helpful now and in the future.

If you are passionate about social work, the first step is to gain adequate education, training and skills in the latest approaches. At Yeshiva University Wurzweiler School of Social Work, we offer an online Master of Social Work program that equips you with everything you need to serve and create a lasting impact in your world. The concepts, tools and technologies you’ll learn in your courses will be immediately applicable to your everyday work; even better, you’ll gain experience in some of the exact same platforms as you will employ with your clients.

Take a bold step forward to enhance your social work practice by speaking to one of our admissions outreach advisors today.