In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Technology for Social Work Interventions

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Work
  • Textbooks
  • Online Databases
  • Specialized Organizations
  • Appraisal of Technology-supported Social Work Interventions

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Social Work Technology for Social Work Interventions
Chitat Chan, Michael Holosko
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 February 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 February 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0263


The growing trend of using technology in social work interventions is rapidly increasing. The impact of technology goes beyond increased efficacy, as new technologies urge practitioners to expand their abilities and change how they design and implement interventions. While on a global scale technology has evolved quickly in just a few decades, social work interventions are also becoming more sophisticated and evidence based. In the context of “technology for social work interventions,” “technology” primarily refers to information and communications technology (ICT). In the 21st century there are newly developed academic references, research studies, competency standards and ethical guidelines, which make “technology-supported social work interventions” an emerging practice domain. There are various types of technology-support interventions, some are merely technologically adapted, and some are driven by artificial intelligence systems. Overall, many technology-supported interventions indicate good outcomes and have internal validity, but there is much room for improvement in both evaluation designs and theorization. There are also emerging challenges and opportunities arising from technology-supported interventions, such as digital divides, practitioners’ competence issues, jurisdictional boundary issues, and various ethical issues.

Introductory Work

In the discourse of technology for social work interventions, “intervention” generally refers to any activity designed to produce changes, and “technology” is an evolving construct, which mainly refers to information and communications technology (ICT). Schoech 2014, the founding editor of the Journal of Technology in Human Services, noted that there were different technology paradigms in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, including the statistical analysis era in the 1960s, the information systems era in the 1970s and 1980s, the Internet era in the 1990s, and the mobile era after the 2010s. These different technology eras, however, are not simply replaced by one another, but they have evolved and co-existed together. As Ballantyne, et al. 2017 points out, we are in an age of technology fusion, which blurs boundaries between different disciplines and even between physical and cyber domains. ICT is used as an umbrella term, referring to the convergence of audio-visual broadcast systems, telephones, and computer networks through a single cabling or linking system, which is an extended synonym for information technology (IT); however, it stresses the role of unified communications and the integration of telecommunications. This does not mean that other forms of technology are not relevant or applicable to social work, as the essence of social work is about social relationships, and recent technologies related to social networking and information exchanges have occupied a more central position in all of our lives than other forms of technology. Despite the 21st-century reality of increasing uses of technology in social work, the status of such use in social work has been variegated. Parrott and Madoc-Jones 2008 perceives that ICT has been viewed with reluctance and has been minimally used in social work for primarily managerial purposes. West and Heath 2011 notes that social work theories and models are outdated and that the profession has difficulty understanding and responding to current issues of globalization and ICT. It is not until the 21st century that technology uses in social work interventions have a more positive reception among a growing circle of social work practitioners and scholars. This momentum has gradually consolidated as an identified theme of the Grand Challenges for Social Work initiative led by the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare in 2015 (see online), which is a call to action for people in the United States to work together to tackle their nation’s social problems. Berzin, et al. 2015, authors of one of the Grand Challenge papers, almost universally promote the positive potential of using ICT in social work practice and discussed how these could benefit society overall. Yet Goldkind and Chan 2017 notes that new and emerging technology brings both risks and opportunities, pointing out that technology has been reshaping the landscapes of social work administration, practice, education, and ethics daily; they contend that as a result, new research is urgently needed.

  • Ballantyne, N., Y. C. Wong, and G. Morgan. 2017. Human services and the fourth industrial revolution: From husITa 1987 to husITa 2016. Journal of Technology in Human Services 35:1–7.

    DOI: 10.1080/15228835.2017.1277900

    This editorial overview reviews the history and development of technology use in human services in the past decades, and presents articles selected from the husITa 2016 conference.

  • Berzin, S., J. Singer, and C. Chan. 2015. Practice innovation through technology in the digital age: A grand challenge for social work. Grand Challenges for Social Work Initiative Working Paper No. 12.

    This paper describes the potential and various challenges of using ICT in social work practice and discusses how these benefit society. Suggests ways to achieve progress.

  • Giffords, E. D. 2009. The Internet and social work: The next generation. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services 90:413–418.

    DOI: 10.1606/1044-3894.3920

    Describes Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs, social networking sites, and discusses how the Internet is changing social relationships. Stresses the importance for social work practitioners to understand this new medium.

  • Goldkind, L., and C. Chan. 2017. The Journal of Technology in Human Services turns a new page. Journal of Technology in Human Services 35.4: 271–276.

    DOI: 10.1080/15228835.2017.1356996

    Summarizes the state-of-the-art of technology in human services in a concise manner, and it introduces how the fast-changing domains have already disrupted service admin, practice, education, research methodology, and ethics in no small measure.

  • Goldkind, L., and L. Wolfv. 2015. A digital environment approach: Four technologies that will disrupt social work practice. Social Work 60:85–87.

    DOI: 10.1093/sw/swu045

    This overview discusses the implications of a technology-supported culture for designing social work curricula and training and also how to make these innovations more tangible and available to both agencies and practitioners.

  • Parrott, L., and I. Madoc-Jones. 2008. Reclaiming information and communication technologies for empowering social work practice. Journal of Social Work 8:181–197.

    DOI: 10.1177/1468017307084739

    Points out that ICT has been viewed with suspicion and is somewhat used in social work, primarily for managerial purposes. It contends that using ICT in social work will help address issues of service user powerlessness and economic and social exclusion.

  • Schoech, D. 2014. Human services technology, 1980+: Retrospective and perspective. Journal of Technology in Human Services 32:240–253.

    DOI: 10.1080/15228835.2014.968432

    Reviews the author’s experience as the editor of the Journal of Technology in Human Services and offers future directions for research and practice with technology.

  • West, D., and D. Heath. 2011. Theoretical pathways to the future: Globalization, ICT and social work theory and practice. Journal of Social Work 11:209–221.

    DOI: 10.1177/1468017310386835

    Points out that social workers are faced with challenges such as speed of response, the use of the Internet, accountability and cost effectiveness but that many of our social work theories and models are outdated.

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