The Digital Capabilities Statement is a practice framework that outlines the knowledge, skills and values that social workers should have in order to use digital technology in practice with adults, children and families in England.
It provides a framework to:
- assist social workers with practice judgements and decision-making
- support social workers to meet the needs of adults, children or families who use or could benefit from digital technology
- support trainers and educators to consider how to strengthen social workers’ understanding of the role of digital technology in social work.
It supports social workers to meet and adhere to the regulatory standards - The Professional Standards – developed by Social Work England, and sector-wide agreed levels of ethics, knowledge and performance in the Professional Capabilities Framework and the Knowledge and Skills Statements for children and adult social work.
The statement has been developed by the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) and the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE), with the support of a sector-wide advisory group, in consultation with key stakeholders, and funding from the Building the Digitally Ready Workforce Programme managed by Health Education England and supported by NHS Digital.
The statement is made up of 6 different sections:
- Background and definitions - Policy, practice and regulatory developments that are driving the use of digital technology. Plus definition of ‘digital technology’
- Capabilities statement and other standards - How the digital capabilities statement supports the Professional Standards, PCFs, and Knowledge and Skills Statements
- How to use the digital capabilities statement - How social workers and others can use the statement to develop skills, knowledge and values, and improve practice and leadership
- Purpose - Why social workers should develop their digital capabilities, including meeting standards, and promoting involvement, access and connections
- Practice - The knowledge and skills required to demonstrate digital capabilities including understanding tech needs and usage of service users, ethics, safeguarding online, and regulation
- Impact - How social workers can use their proficiency in digital technology to make a positive impact on organisations that provide social care and advance practice and outcomes
This summary outlines the key elements of the digital capabilities statement. For further information, including the background and context of the statement, please see the full digital capabilities statement, ethical considerations report and the accompanying learning resource.
Definition of digital technologies
Digital technologies in social work refer to:
- Electronic systems (software) to facilitate day-to-day work of social workers
- Online resources for professionals and people using social work services
- Assistive technologies for people using services
- Social media and social networking interfaces
- Informatics – how information, including large data sets, is used and analysed through computation, and how data is used strategically to determine aggregate need and to monitor and improve services (e.g. performance management software used by social work managers)
- Personal identifiable data – accessing and identifying data about people who contact services
- Information management (e.g. search, retrieval, data security and access)
- Hardware (e.g. smart phones, mobile devices and web enabled laptops)
- Online learning (e.g. professional e-learning, online courses, webinars, online communities of practice)
- Artificial Intelligence and machine learning - for processing large amounts of data about the population to predict their needs
Using the practice framework
This practice framework can be used by:
- Social workers in all sectors and settings to provide guidance in everyday practice, to aid continuous professional development (CPD) planning and supervision.
- People with lived experience, their carers and their networks of support to enable them to understand expected standards of social work practice.
- Managers and supervisors to inform supervision and support managers to understand the systems required for effective practice.
- Practice educators, and Higher Education Institutes to show how the ‘use of technology and numerical skills’ in the Subject Benchmark Statement (Social Work) can be met.
- Employers, services providers and training providers to support social workers’ CPD planning, training and developmental opportunities in relation to digital literacy.
- National organisations – to improve understanding of what digital capability means for social workers
The Digital Capabilities Statement is based on the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF). The developmental and ethical principles of the PCF are reflected in the Digital Capabilities Statement. It also adopts the ‘levels’ in Health Education England’s A Health and Care Digital Capabilities Framework to show the standards of expertise that social workers should aspire to.
Why should social workers develop their digital capabilities?
Social workers should develop their digital capabilities in order to:
- Meet professional standards: Digital capabilities are reflected in several of Social Work England’s Professional Standards for social work.
- Promote user and carer involvement: Digital technology can enable social workers to enhance the involvement and participation of adults and children in decisions about their care.
- Fulfil social work values and ethics: Access to advice, benefits and services is increasingly online. Big data can introduce biases. Social workers need to be aware of the risks and benefits, and ethical issues associated with digital technology.
- Enable relationship-based practice: Social workers can use digital technologies to enhance face-to-face contact. They can help to build and maintain professional relationships, if used appropriately and securely.
- Connect people to online groups for support: Social workers can direct people to safe online services and networks can reduce loneliness, provide therapeutic interventions and enhance peoples’ community networks.
What are the knowledge and skills that social workers need in order to develop their digital capabilities?
Social workers should develop their knowledge and skills in relation to:
- Understand the online uses and technology needs of people who use services: Social workers should understand how different groups of people with distinct needs, use different online services and technology to support their wellbeing.
- Deliver services through: People use the internet to access many statutory services. A range of interventions, such as counselling, are also available online.
- Ethical decision-making: There are additional ethical issues to consider, such as an increased ethical duty to maintain data security given the large amount of personal information social workers have access to, and the risk of ‘boundary issues’ as private lives become more public on social media.
- Online safeguarding: Social workers need to be able to identify and balance the benefits and the risks of digital technology – and how to mitigate against those risks. Risks include online sexual exploitation, grooming, fraud and financial abuse.
- Understand legislation and regulations: Social workers must understand and comply with applicable legislation and regulations. They should keep up with developing policies and approaches.
How can social workers use digital technology to make a positive impact on systems, services and organisations?
Social workers should aspire to make a positive difference through their use of digital technology by:
- Developing and maintaining digital professionalism: Digital capabilities are integral to social work practice and professionals, including understanding how social workers online behaviour can affect professional identity.
- professional leadership and advocacy. Digital technology offers social workers opportunities to develop new roles in social work, such as designing and coproducing technology, apps and systems with tech developers and people with lived experience.