NASW Technology Standards: How Do You Measure Up?

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One thing that students and current working social workers are familiar with is the NASW, which has a huge influence over most of the standards set for social work practice and education.  They also have some clearly defined standards for technology as outlined in the NASW’s Code of Ethics.

The standards cover a wide variety of topics, and I know that my education as a social worker did not address more than a minimum number of the standards. As discussed in an earlier article by Deona Hooper, Social Work and Technology: Fails in Teaching Students Technology, even though in 2005 it was directly laid out that we should by the NASW!

Lets take a look at what the NASW’s standards are and we can see how we measure up:
I will be scoring myself on a 1-5 scale you should too!

Ethics: 4/5

“Social workers providing services via the telephone or other electronic means shall act ethically, ensure professional competence, protect clients, and uphold the values of the profession.”

Technology adds an entirely new dimension to the ethical standards social worker’s have to abide by. Not only do you have to know what can  and cannot be shared via communication on telephone and email. Technology has a way of blurring lines that are otherwise clear. If someone texts you something are  you still mandated to report that or is that something you keep private? What about if you hear something in the background of a Skype conversation?

Privacy: 4/5

“Social workers shall protect client privacy when using technology in their practice and document all services,taking special safeguards to protect client information in the electronic record.”

Do you know about HIPAA regulations? Do know about the many ways client confidentiality can be compromised in electronic means? More importantly do you know what you might be held liable for? To compound  the issue  most social workers need to know about how to maintain client privacy when using nonstandard means of communication. This is particularly relevant when looking at the recent development of teletherapy (therapy via video conferencing). Worse, what happens if you store your clients information on a personal computer and it gets lost?

Let me know in the comments section if you have ever had questions about client confidentiality and privacy related to technology!

Access: 3/5

 “Social workers shall have access to technology and appropriate support systems to ensure competent practice, and shall take action to ensure client access to technology.”

The NASW acknowledges that we work in organizations that often have obsolete software and equipment and they clearly state we should advocate for both ourselves and our clients when it comes to access to technology, something I agree with. Good job NASW! Do you have access to “appropriate technology”? Do you know what the technology you might need is? Let alone the technology that your clients might need. This is a gap in education for social workers that needs to addressed by schools across the country.

If you know of any schools that have classes that address technology and social work let me know in  the comment below!

Proficiency: 3/5

“Social workers shall be responsible for becoming proficient in the technological skills and tools required for competent and ethical practice and for seeking appropriate training and consultation to stay current with emerging technologies.”

This is where you can check where you measure up, do you know how to use the technology in your workplace? Does your workplace offer training in that technology so that you can better help your clients? What should social work programs offer in the way of technology?

Let me know in the comments below what you wish your social work program had taught you about using technology to help your clients!

Final Score: 14/20

Ouch  70%!  It is pretty obvious that this is an issue that still needs to be address, for right now you can keep visiting Social Work Helper to educate yourself about technology until social work education gets its act together!

And don’t forget to let me know your final score in the comments below!

Social Work School Separates from National Association of Social Work

Catholic University of America’s (CUA) National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) has long been a well-respected social work program, with the Gourman Report placing it in the top 11%. Its web site states: “Our commitment to supporting traditional social work values while responding to today’s educational and practice developments continues to make ours a highly regarded program both within the academic world and the practice community.”

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Catholic University of America

Despite this statement, NCSSS’s new dean,Will C. Rainford, LMSW, Ph.D. announced in October that the school was severing ties with the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), the largest membership organization of social workers in America, basing his decision on what he referred to on Twitter as an “overt public policy position that social workers should advocate for access to abortion.”

A Google search for NASW + abortion brought up two hits; arguably a less than overt position. The announcement was made without either informing/meeting with students and/or alumni to discuss the implications of this step. Confusion regarding concerns such as accreditation has inevitably ensued.

It is unclear what prompted this action since NASW issued their Family Planning and Reproductive Health policy statement in 2006: “Self-determination means that without government interference, people can make their own decisions about sexuality and reproduction. It requires working toward safe, legal, and accessible reproductive health care services, including abortion services, for everyone.”

The press release on NCSSS’s web site boasts that its newest Dean was NASW-Idaho Social Worker of the Year with his CV adding that he also served as a member of the same chapter’s Legislative Advocacy Committee between 2005 and 2007. Given Dean Rainford’s previous affiliation with NASW it is hard to believe that he was not previously familiar with the 2006 policy statement, making his stated motivation for NCSSS’s resignation from the organization questionable.

Dr. Frederick Reamer, a highly respected professor of ethics at NCSSS, wrote in Social Work Values and Ethics that NASW is not a pro-abortion organization; rather it is a pro-choice organization (2006). The NASW Code of Ethics does not directly address abortion; rather it states that social workers have an obligation to foster self-determination. However, Reamer writes that the Code of Ethics does state that social workers should refer clients to other professionals when they are not able to provide assistance or be effective.

It is difficult to understate the significance of this membership organization and the state chapters within the social work profession. The NASW Code of Ethics, sacred to the practice of social work, is integrated into educational curriculums. It helps practitioners learn the difference between right and wrong as well as to help them apply that understanding. NASW adjudicates when social workers violate this code and applies sanctions when necessary. Although state licensing boards do not require membership in NASW, they do require adherence to the NASW Code of Ethics. An education that excludes this code clearly puts future practitioners at a disadvantage.

NASW also accredits CEUs; an annual necessity for licensed social workers. NCSSS itself offers CEU workshops throughout the year and it is unclear what impact no longer being affiliated with NASW will have on these continued education opportunities. Discounted CEU workshops have also traditionally acted as an incentive for field instructors to take on students in field placements and if discontinued may impact the field placements NCSSS is able offer.

To understand the motivation behind seceding, the school of social work must be placed within the context of CUA as a whole. CUA isn’t the average regularly religiously affiliated school, it is a pontifical university established and approved by the Holy See and governed by the Pope. It was established in 1889 with the mission of the instruction of Catholicism and human nature with the goal of furthering strengthening the Church via scientific and humanistic research as informed by the Catholic faith. Since 1889, tremendous advances have been made in science contributing to mankind’s understanding of both reproduction and the prevention of disease including the scourge of HIV/AIDS. The intrinsic humanistic benefits of this progress have been ignored by a Church still dwelling in an era with a primarily agrarian economy and high infant mortality rates.

With this decision, Dean Rainford has shown not only poor judgment but poor timing as well. Pope Francis has reinvigorated many who felt the Catholic Church was no longer relevant, recently writing that the church has grown “obsessed” with abortion, gay marriage and contraception, putting dogma before love. Although remaining pro-life, Pope Francis has conceded that the church has done little to help women who were in need of it. However, the Vatican also recently distributed a survey designed to assess the difficulty of practicing the church’s preachings in a modern world, asking Catholics about their use of contraceptives, feelings on homosexuality, and divorce. This is remarkably progressive for the church and while it has taken a step forward, NCSSS has simultaneously taken a large one back.

Dean Rainford has also potentially tarnished the high regard in which the program has been held by assigning it more of a religious mission and less of a social service one. Religious schools are not legally required to be accredited. Lack of accreditation has typically been associated with schools that award degrees with little to no coursework to any “student” who can pay the price. Should NCSSS slide down this path, it is sure to devalue the substantial financial investment associated with getting a Master’s degree.

The process of NCSSS’s resignation from NASW can be seen as a metaphor for the arguments over reproductive rights. Those who hold the power (the administration at NCSSS), have made an important decision on behalf of those do not (the student body). Self-determination, so prioritized in this field, has been ignored by the administration at NCSSS. As Dr. Reamer wrote, if a practitioner is unable to assist a client, they should make an appropriate referral and excuse themselves.

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