How Technology Supports Social Work in North carolina

Written by Jack Levinson

working online from home

Throughout its century-plus history in the United States, the social work practice has always evolved according to changes in the way we live. From widespread improvements in transportation to major medical advances, there have been all sorts of technological advancements that have required social workers to adapt, ensuring that the services they provide are in step with the ever-changing needs and capabilities of our world. 

Over the past several decades, information technology has been the central driver of change in the social work field, transforming many services completely.

Efforts to embrace and utilize new technologies within the social work field are always guided by a desire to improve delivery and reach more people. Indeed, many longtime social workers have been amazed by the developments in their field, which in many cases have streamlined and automated administrative services to allow social workers to focus on the richest and most rewarding aspects of their work.

That said, incorporating new technology into the social work practice can involve significant adjustments as well as important new ethical and procedural questions. It also means that social workers working today are oftentimes among the first to implement these new approaches into their practices, troubleshooting the difficulties they face and examining the true effectiveness of these new tools.

If you’re a social worker in any field, you’re likely to make use of up-to-date technologies in your current practice and continue to adapt to new ones over the course of your career. This can be an exciting and rewarding part of the social work profession, keeping you engaged in your work and allowing you to see progress over time.

So how has the Internet transformed the world of social work, and how will technology change social work in the future? Read on to learn more about the growing use of technology in social work and the recent innovations poised to change the field further.

The Current State of Information Technology in Social Work

As with every industry under the sun, the Internet’s impact on the social work profession is already so deep as to be inextricable from the practice as a whole. Over the past thirty or so years, the arrival of the Internet transformed the operations of a wide variety of social services as well as creating new means by which separate agencies could communicate and collaborate with one another. This has made the Internet a tremendous boon for the social work field.

Below are a few of the most notable ways that social work and information technology have become intertwined.

Improved Access to Resources and Information

Social workers who act as case managers for people in need frequently are tasked with connecting individuals with supportive resources. Thanks to the arrival of online databases, it’s easier than ever for social workers performing such roles to find specialized services that are tailored to the unique needs of their clients.

The Internet also is a powerful tool of education for social workers, who can find up-to-date information on best practices, emerging methods in their areas of focus, and other areas of specialized knowledge to expand and enrich their expertise. This is one way that technology can be a source of skill-building and professional development for social workers today.

Improved Communication and Enhanced Collaboration

Technology has improved communication for social workers on every level, be it with clients, other social workers within their own agencies, or even social workers in separate agencies with whom they are collaborating. From the use of shared administrative documents that show information updates in real time to the ability to easily hold video conference meetings between professionals, this is hugely time-saving for social workers, allowing them to get to the meat of their work without the significant amount of logistical and administrative work that had previously eaten away at their time.

telehealth visit

Telehealth Services

Telehealth is one of the most important recent innovations in technology in the social work field, showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Having risen to the fore over the past decade or so, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic ushered telehealth into the mainstream, as lockdown restrictions relegated a significant amount of clinical care to virtual contexts.

For the most part, telehealth services have been tremendously useful to providers and clients alike. For clients, the convenience of meeting from home can be a make-or-break factor in making social service appointments. This is especially true for low-income clients who cannot afford to miss work or pay for childcare who are now able to pursue the social services they need without scheduling interference. For social service providers, it means the ability to take significantly more clients, amounting to a greater extent of support for communities overall.

In fact, use of telehealth services is only growing, as practitioners develop its use for more and more contexts. There are even instances of using telehealth technology for social work interventions, showing that even some of the most challenging social work responsibilities can be carried out effectively in an online context.

Breadth vs. Depth: A Central Debate in the Use of Technology in Social Work

When contemplating the advantages and disadvantages of new technologies in the social work field, one consistent debate is the issue of breadth–the ability to provide more services to more people–vs. depth–the ability to provide services comprehensively and with focus.

One such example of this debate can be found in telehealth. While few practitioners in this day and age are fully opposed to the use of telehealth services, some have voiced concern that a high volume of remote sessions may undermine certain aspects of the care that clients were receiving in person. Some mental health counselors, for example, bemoan the loss of information they previously have gleaned from patients’ body language in in-person appointments, which is far more difficult to read in a virtual session.

Because information technology is showing no signs of slowing down (and rather to the contrary, is only seeming to ramp up as the years go on), most social workers are responding to these debates by thinking through how to enhance these virtual services to provide care that is not only more accessible than in-person appointments but also as effective. In some fields, this can mean a completely revised approach to the practice, engaging the video conferencing platform as a context with its own defining factors to inform methods of care. It can also mean evaluating existing practices to think deeply about instances when in-person care is markedly more effective than the virtual option.

To help social workers understand the new parameters they are working within, the National Association of Social Workers is continuously expanding its research into the ethical considerations and best practices for telehealth. This is one example of how social work organizations will work with new technology while assessing its impacts holistically.

Social workers in any field should expect to see such debates over the course of their careers. Doing the work of developing these responses and determining how to maximize the impact of technology on the social work field can be an exciting dimension of the social work practice, especially for those who have grown up alongside the Internet’s rise. This is one way that contemporary social workers have the unique opportunity to transform the field for the future.

The Future of Technology in Social Work Practice

The world of social work has already been transformed by technology in the 21st century, but those who are paying attention know that these developments are only continuing to increase. Here are a few of the top trends likely to reshape the social work field in the years to come.

A.I. and Data Analytics

The growing field of data analytics has become more and more important to industries of all types, and there are ways that it can impact the social work field for the better. After all, social work is a research-based practice that relies heavily on data to illustrate the impact of issues that would otherwise be difficult to measure. In cases of large amounts of information – such as, say, census findings – the use of artificial intelligence in data analytics can potentially expedite research as well as even identifying important phenomena to illuminate certain causes. This is one trend for tech-minded social workers to look out for in the years to come.

Social Work Apps and Platforms

The widespread adoption of telehealth has already led to the proliferation of many health and social service apps that are user-friendly and make care even more expedient. These are only expected to increase in years to come, as more and more social services get the resources to move their operations into easy-to-use online platforms. While these will give rise to many of the ethical questions and considerations alluded to in the sections above, it is an important step in making social services more accessible to all.

These are just a few of the rising phenomena incoming social workers can expect to continue to develop over the course of their careers.

video conference call

Social Work Jobs in the Tech Industry

For those who are passionate about technology and information science as well as the social work field, there are excellent opportunities to merge those interests by taking a social work position in the tech industry. Indeed, many tech companies are massive organizations that employ social workers, whether to offer supportive services to their teams or to enhance their product offerings with the insight and expertise of social workers.

Opportunities for social workers in the tech industry are likely to continue to increase, making this an excellent field for incoming professionals to launch their careers.

Below are a few of the top job titles for social workers in tech:

These are just a few examples of social work positions in the tech sector. As you can see, there are roles for those with a variety of specializations, from clinical services to research-related positions and more. If you’re a civic-minded individual who wants to help usher the social work profession into the future, there are many exciting opportunities for social workers in the world of tech.


What license level do you need to perform clinical social work services in a telehealth context?

There is no difference in the license level needed to perform clinical social work in a telehealth context vs. an in person one. In both cases, you will be expected to hold a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) certification, which you will be eligible to pursue once you have completed your Master of Social Work (MSW) degree.

I’m not especially tech-savvy. Will I need to be in order to become a social worker?

If you don’t have an aptitude for data science, programming, or other advanced tech skills, don’t worry – these are by no means requirements to enter the social work profession, even as its dependence on technology deepens. That said, it will be important to learn how to utilize the technologies that your specific practice makes use of, from databases to telehealth operations. You are likely to receive a thorough orientation in these wherever you are working, so this is nothing to stress about.

Why do tech companies hire social workers?

There are a variety of roles for social workers in tech organizations. These can include clinical counseling roles to support staff members (especially in very large tech companies with extensive employee benefits), consulting roles on products intended for use by low-income or disadvantaged users, and research roles to help shape new offerings in a way that is socially and culturally responsive.