9 Mobile Apps for Social Workers

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Add digital skills to the many skill sets we wear as social workers. Our clients are carrying around devices that can serve as a secondary tool to support practice and our primary connections. Many practitioners feel that technology is taking away from the human interaction. However, technology can actually enhance our practice and empower our clients while scaling our efforts.

For instance, we can reach people in rural areas we weren’t able to reach before, empower clients to monitor their moods outside of sessions and have real time data to discuss in session, make connections with children on the autism spectrum that is difficult for a human to make, assess suicidal ideations, alert authorities/contact of domestic violence situations in real time, and the list goes on.  We must not fear technology as it is here to stay.  In fact, they are now moving into the world of the Internet of Things (IOT) such as wearable technology.

The social work practice will not progress by chance, we will have to embrace and educate ourselves on technology in order to most effectively advocate for our clients and the profession.

  • “Most social workers have no access to data in the field, even though worldwide global mobile access is above 87%.” Northwoods Business Brief
  • “Smartphone owners use an average of 24 apps per month but spend more than 80 percent of their [in app] time on just five apps.” Forrester Data
  • “To date, 85.5 percent of the world subscribes to mobile phone services…” Technology for good: Innovative use of technology by charities

Mobile apps are a wonderful tool, however they are just that: a tool.  They should not replace the relationship but rather enhance and augment the work you are doing.

1.     PTSD Coach – “The PTSD Coach app can help you learn about and manage symptoms that often occur after trauma. Features include:

  • Reliable information on PTSD and treatments that work
  • Tools for screening and tracking your symptoms
  • Convenient, easy-to-use tools to help you handle stress symptoms
  • Direct links to support and help
  • Always with you when you need it

Providing you with facts and self-help skills based on research.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Veterans, Mental Health

2.     Northwoods Compass CoPilot – “It’s the ideal solution for mobile social workers at child and adult protective services agencies, and other workers who visit clients in their homes or other locations. Social workers in the field use Compass CoPilot to access all case and client information, forms, and documents, just as they would in the office. It’s the only social services software to ensure that social workers are never without the files and information they need while they’re on the road. During client visits, social workers can use Compass CoPilot to record interviews, take photos, document, and notate their findings — all while they are in the field. Being able to accomplish all of this with a tablet makes the information gathering less intrusive, which helps put clients at ease and allows for better interactions. Our innovative social service software syncs the new information with the agency’s Compass® system back at the office.” (iTunes)

Tags: Child Welfare, Case Mangement

3.     Classdojo – “Easily encourage students on participation, perseverance, or something else? Customize ClassDojo to work for your classroom.  See a timeline of students’ progress, share a beautiful timeline of all the wonderful things your students do. Students love how positive classrooms are and it saves teachers valuable class time, too.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: School Social Work, Autism

4.     TF-CBT Triangle of Life – “new [free] mobile game app helps children who have experienced trauma by letting them use their tablets or smartphones to practice life skills they have learned in the therapist’s office. With the tagline “Change how you think; change your life,” the TF-CBT Triangle of Life game is designed to help children age 8-12 better understand their thoughts, feelings and behaviors, and move toward a better quality of life. During this game, the player takes the role of the lion in a jungle story, guiding other animals toward more positive experiences and relationships.” (iTunes,Google Play)

Tags: Mental Health, Trauma, CBT, Therapist

5.     Aspire News – “A domestic violence app is disguised as a normal icon and even has a decoy home page, so you’ll be safe if your abuser takes your phone. The most important feature of the Aspire News app is called the GO Button, which you can activate the moment you are in danger. Once activated, the GO Button will send a pre-typed or pre-recorded message to multiple trusted, preselected contacts, or even 911, saying that you are in trouble. Additionally, once the app is activated, your phone will begin recording audio of everything that is going on in the room, which can be used as evidence for any legal proceedings that may stem from the incident. Robin emphasizes that it’s important to always have your location services activated, as many of the app’s features require it. For example, the app can be used to locate the shelters and resources closest to you.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Domestic Violence

6.     The Savvy Social Worker – “Trying to stay abreast of developments in social work and human services practice? Few practitioners have the time to identify all the key sources of information on the web. This app, developed by the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, will help you stay current with new developments in social work practice, especially evidence-based practices and best practices. We bring information about key practice resources and practice research findings to you all in one place, in an e-news reader format. You select the information providers (channels) that you would like to monitor, and we do the rest. Included in our list are key sources such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the Cochrane Collaboration, the Campbell Collaboration, ad Information for Practice.” (Google Play)

Tags: Social Work, Resources

7.     Suicide Safety – “Suicide Safe, SAMHSA’s new suicide prevention app for mobile devices and optimized for tablets, helps providers integrate suicide prevention strategies into their practice and address suicide risk among their patients. Suicide Safe is a free app based on SAMHSA’s Suicide Assessment Five-Step Evaluation and Triage (SAFE-T) card.” (iTunes, Google Play)

Tags: Therapist, Suicide, Social Work

8.     The DBT Diary Card – “DBT Diary Card is the only DBT iPhone app designed and created by a licensed and DBT intensively trained psychologist.” (iTunes)

Tags: Therapist, Social Work, DBT

9.     Dialysis Finder – Dialysis Finder App quickly identifies your location and lets you choose the nearest Dialysis Clinic as well as get other information about the location. A convenient way to find a US Dialysis Clinic near you. (iTunes)

How Will Paul Ryan’s Anti-Poverty Plan Affect Social Welfare and Social Services Programs

Paul Ryan pretending to wash pans.
Paul Ryan pretending to wash pans.

Recently, Paul Ryan released a new anti-poverty plan which he claims will empower poor Americans and create life opportunities. His plan calls for providing individual case managers to help develop goals and target money where it is specifically needed. Under the Ryan plan, Congress would “reward” social agencies after they can prove that clients’ benchmarks have been achieved. The plan for re-distribution of anti-poverty program funding in the form of block grants would have strings attached to positive outcomes.

How outcomes will be measured and determined to be successes or failures are vague. This is concerning in light of the fact Ryan did not address the proposed reduction in funds to evaluate outcomes.

According to the Daily Kos,

“TANF Research Funds are used by the Department of Health and Human Services to evaluate the effectiveness of different state TANF programs and to develop new approaches for improving employment outcomes among TANF recipients. These funds date back to the inception of the TANF program in 1996 and have been included in each extension of TANF since. If this cut is enacted, studies currently being conducted on vocational training, job search services, and other initiatives would be severely disrupted.”

After listening to Paul Ryan’s concerns about the shrinking middle class and long term unemployment at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), my ultimate conclusion is that his potential plan is a bunch of double talks. John Boehner, the House GOP leader, during the same AEI conference, perpetuated the myth that unemployed Americans are just lazy and enabled by government programs. The leader has defended the position by stating that EUC prevents people from looking for work.

Having case managers customize plans on a 1:1 basis for millions of social services clients sounds great, but it is unworkable. It will create higher demand and an increased burden on an already overworked system. Referrals to separate agencies for services would still be necessary. Where are the cost savings or reductions in bureaucracy?

But the evidence doesn’t support that argument. The economy has indeed improved, but not for the long-term unemployed, whose odds of finding a job are barely higher today than when the recession ended nearly five years ago. And the end of extended benefits hasn’t spurred the unemployed back to work; if anything, it has pushed them out of the labor force altogether. Of the roughly 1.3 million Americans whose benefits disappeared with the end of the program, only about a quarter had found jobs as of March, about the same success rate as when the program was still in effect; roughly another quarter had given up searching.  ~FiveThirtyEight

According to the Economic Policy Institute, the number of unemployed workers losing benefits is growing steadily by 72,000 each week. If Congressional leaders want a proven anti-poverty program it behooves them to renew Emergency Unemployment Insurance. The failure to support an extension will cost  240,000 jobs by the end of the year. If unemployed workers lose their car, or cannot afford gas, or their phone bills, the chances of them finding a job and getting back to work decline significantly.

As a recent Bachelor of Social Work graduate, I went back to school in order to upgrade my skills. When I began my unpaid field work internship last winter, my benefits lapsed, I was unable to meet my basic needs or have gas to drive to my internship. Fortunately for me, new state funds became available, and I was able to complete my degree. However, this is not the case for many long-term unemployed Americans. How does having to drop of out school and training programs that will upgrade your skills align with Ryan’s plan for opportunity?

House GOP leaders’ refusal to bring the bipartisan Senate Emergency Unemployment Extension bill for a vote to the floor has had dire consequences on the lives of the long-term unemployed. Testimonies during Witness Wednesdays on Capitol Hill illustrate how the House GOP leaders have contributed to the increase in poverty instead of creating jobs. Americans have lost their homes, life savings, credit, and the resources to find work. Currently, there are over 280, 000 unemployed veterans that have also lost their unemployment insurance lifeline. Of the 3.5 million unemployed Americans who have been looking for work for longer than 27 weeks, one in ten are veterans.

Child Protection: The Cases You Live With

My first case as a social worker involved child abuse, and the father of an infant had inflicted a spiral fracture of the tibia and fibula on his child. He and the mother ended up losing their parental rights to the child, but they would go on to have other children together. It was a powerful lesson in the ability of child protection to intervene in the life of a child. But, we must understand, it is one life at a time.

child-abuseNot long after meeting that child, I would meet another. He was a boy of about 8 years old who was found early one Sunday morning, naked and wandering between garbage cans by a local beach. He was in a dissociative state. The police officer who found him brought him to the ER and showed us the boy’s emaciated body with evidence of old burn marks. It would be weeks before we learned who he was.

I thought of these two cases recently when I was looking at autopsy photos of another case. Our work in and around child protection is a world that few in our society truly understand. We are exposed to the individual horrors that one person can inflict on the vulnerable. We see things that most people would not even want to talk about.

I did my first practicum 40 years ago, and I am still proud to call myself a social worker. I am still excited by what we do. Yet I have seen social workers leave the profession because the work got too much. I have also seen workers who have stayed but shouldn’t have as they become bitter and toss their power about as retribution for the harms that they have seen.

Vicarious trauma is the right term for it, yet the term creates a sense of distance as though it is somehow a little less harmful than “real” trauma. The trauma of being a witness is real. As social workers, we speak of it often when we talk about how children are affected by witnessing domestic violence. We spoke of it when we saw the children being led from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. We again speak of it when we see people exposed to violence such as the survivors of the Columbine High School shootings, the killing of the police officers in Las Vegas just a few days ago or the cold blooded murder of 3 RCMP officers in New Brunswick recently.

In child protection, we must also acknowledge that we too are the witnesses and the victims of the violence that we experience in our work. We take it home. It lives within us. Too often we here about self care and then go back to work. To be really good at this work, we must be really engaged in being healthy and hold on to our reasons for coming into the profession. I am honored to teach social work and listen to new students each year talk about entering social work in order to help people and make a difference. If we cannot hold on to our health, we are unlikely to hold onto truly making a difference.

In order to manage vicarious trauma within ourselves, we must be willing to listen at what is going on within. Our work can change our world view to one where safety is not seen as the norm but rather risk is seen that way. As social workers, we might also remember that in the course of our day to day work we are exposed to a skewed sample. Largely speaking, people who are doing well don’t come to see us.

We must also advocate for work environments where talking about the traumas that we see and how they affect us is seen as not only ok, but also as desirable. This includes being allowed to express our grief and anger so that we can normalize not only what we see but how it affects us. A self care plan is essential, and this is nothing new. Although, I continue to see far too many colleagues forgetting themselves, and helping ourselves is also essential part of helping clients.

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