Social Work and Technology: Past, Present and Future

Social work has always used tools of the time period to help those in need. We are the helping hand, the caring voice, and the ready help for those in need, but a common misconception is that we cannot tell the difference between a computer chip and potato chip.

Quite the contrary, being soft-hearted does not mean we are also soft headed. Social workers have always embraced technological change through out history.Though the official profession of social work has only existed since the 17th century, people have been using the tools of the time to help those in need. These tools are often technological innovations which have taken many forms over time.

Social Work in the Pastabaman2500 B.C. Ancient Hebrews used mandatory tithes to benefit the poor, it could be said this was the origin of the first social workers who used tithing to minister to the needy. This later evolved into what we now consider charitable contributions to the Church.

500 B.C. The first use of the word philanthropy appears in Prometheus bound; Phil=Love, Anthro= meaning man. Maybe some the first written conceptualization of giving service to those in need, in reference to Prometheus giving man fire and blind hope. (The second being characteristic of social workers)

373 B.C. Ancient India, King Ashok helps create some of the first known official social services, the abacus was used to keep track of donations.

325 A.D. Emperor Constantine the 1st legitimizes the Christian church which then sets up a variety of social services including; elder care, hospitals, orphanages.

1817 A.D. Elizabeth Fry, know as the angel of the prisons attempts to reform the prison system of England. Thanks to her work treatment of prisoners became more humane. 

1884: Arnold Toynbee, one of the first to notice the economic disparity caused by the industrial revolution. His contributions inspired others to developed a map to visualize the data they collected on poverty. A precursor to modern projects like healthy cities which can be used to help improve social services.

 1889: Jane Addams, the settlement houses in the United States. Pioneer in the social work field. Hull House maps and papers they reported on the effects of concentration of different ethnicity and their living conditions, about labor circumstances in the sweatshops, about child labor.

1985: The book, “Computers in human services” comes out and brings to the forefront need for computer use in social services and counseling. Soon after this use of technology exploded, social services starts to integrated technology into practice.

What does this mean for you now?

allthetechCurrently social work as a profession receives a failing grade when it comes to technology literacy; we do not teach it in schools according to a research study by the National Institute of Health in  2011. Without the ability to integrate and use new technology, we will fall behind a profession. We will neither be able to help our clients or ourselves in the modern era.

So now we are in the modern era, there are so many new technologies every day it can be overwhelming. There are 1,157,279 Apps for download on the itunes store, and there are countless pieces of software available. Not to mention the differences between a Mac and PC, Android and Apple, Google chrome, internet explorer, firefox etc. Now if you further want to complicate things, you can inject the famous social work ethics which then restricts you from using certain pieces of software/hardware because of the actions of the company that made it. (See Firefox debacle)

How to move forward?

bmanYou need to learn how  to effectively utilize these technologies for our clients and the organizations we work for. Social work is often seen as a profession of technological Neanderthals. This myth is partially true and comes from the fact that we often work in underfunded organizations. We often end up using technology that is outdated and not completely functional, whereas many times other professions are using the latest and greatest on the market.

It is true that new technology is expensive, if we do not have an understanding of its value it becomes hard to justify this expense to the organizations we work in. Unlike other sectors, we do not have the luxury of adopting the newest technology because it is new. Unless you have a firm understanding of how useful technology can be such as the time and costs it can save, convincing the CFO that you need new laptops maybe a challenge.

So what does that mean for you? Its time for you to learn! Social Workers should be Tech savvy, if not experts. The time and cost it can save means more clients helped with less work for us. We work in a profession that is perpetually underfunded and over worked, and isn’t it time we come up with some solutions?

Here is where I come in, I will post/doodle every week about new technologies that can help you. More importantly, I will give you information about how technology can help you everyday and how you can learn to use it to meet your needs. We will also touch on ethical questions that come up with using technology in social work such as the use your clients data and whether technology is a barrier or an aid for your client. What are your thoughts?

Published by

Daniel Ortiz Reti

Daniel Ortiz Reti is the Technology Staff Writer for Social Work Helper, he received his MSW from USC in May 2014. Using innovative ways of integrating technology and social work, Daniel wants to show you more efficient ways of delivering services to your clients. With experience working in the private sector, rural social work, hospital social work and outreach programs. If you want to know more about how you can implement the tracking and analysis of data, new software or technology literacy programs into your organization email him at: View all posts by Daniel Ortiz Reti

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