How the Internet and Social Media Is Impacting Social Work

Social media and the Internet, in general, have had an immense effect on social work. It enables communication between people from different corners of the world and makes access to information fast and easy. On the flipside, social media has brought about evils like fake news and Cyber Bullying whose effects can be fatal. But how exactly has what is possibly the most significant invention of the 21st century affected the field of social work? Below is a look at both the positive and negative impacts of social media.

Positive impacts

Enhanced Communication

Social media has significantly improved the communication experience between social workers and their clients. Social networks such as Facebook and WhatsApp make it easier, cheaper and faster for social workers to get in touch with clients without necessarily spending money on transport. In addition to this, most social workers have social media pages where interested clients can contact them and book appointments without breaking a sweat.

Globalization of social work

Decades ago, social workers could only deal with issues affecting their neighboring communities. Now, with social sites like Skype and Facebook Messenger, it is possible for a counselor in the USA to offer their services to a client in Europe or Africa without either of them incurring massive expenditure.

Easier solicitation of clients

As mentioned earlier, social workers can attract more clients by opening social media pages and regularly updating content. As it were, there are numerous resources available to social workers who want to establish and grow their online presence such as using video to increase engagement on social media. On their part, clients can search for available social workers and be able to receive services such as spiritual, psychiatrist and anxiety counseling online even without revealing their identities.

Negative Impacts

Ethical dilemmas

Social workers who have direct contact with their clients on social media face a lot of moral issues in their work. For one, being friends on Facebook may result in both consensual and unwanted flirting which may lead to a sexual relationship. This often leads to conflicts of interest which might affect the social worker’s efficiency.

Privacy and confidentiality

In the past, social workers relied on the personal information provided by their clients when designing interventions. With social media, social workers like counselors and psychiatrists may be tempted to spy on their clients’ social media pages to fish for information. This amounts to an invasion of privacy, which is not only an ethical issue but a legal issue as well.

Social workers may also find themselves in awkward situations when, for instance, clients send them friend requests on Facebook and start chatting them up. There is also the risk of clients stalking social workers and using the information and pictures on their pages for unprofessional purposes.

Regulatory challenges

Social work remains mostly an unregulated field, and the increasing social media usage doesn’t make it any better. On one side, regulatory bodies may find it difficult to regulate online social workers who may not have a physical office or address for that matter.

This is made even worse by the fact that there is no existing regulatory framework for online social work. Clients, on the other hand, may also not be in a position to verify the registration and regulatory status of their social workers especially if they’re not from the same country.

Dealing with unregulated social workers exposes one to dangers such as sexual harassment and even fraud.

Way forward

Social work has a lot of challenges as it is and social media, despite being a significant opportunity, happens to be one of them. As government agencies find ways to regulate online social work, both the public and social workers must look out for themselves and find ways to protect their confidentiality.

Incorporating Homophobia into the Definition of Elder Abuse

Although many older adults receive necessary support from family, friends, and external agencies, some older adults experience exploitation and abuse. Since there is no universal definition for abuse against older individuals, a broader definition refers to elder abuse and neglect as, “any action or inaction by any person, which causes harm to the older or vulnerable person”.

Abuse of older adults includes physical abuse, psychosocial abuse, financial abuse, neglect (active or passive), institutional abuse and domestic violence. Research indicates that family members instigate much abuse against older individuals. Thus, as a result, many abused older adults suffer in silence, making it extremely challenging to estimate and eliminate abuse cases against older adults.

older lesbian coupleEvery year, approximately 4 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse. Additionally, for every case of elder abuse and neglect reported, researchers estimate that as many as 23 cases are unreported. The quality of life for older adults who experience abuse is significantly altered.

They often experience decreased functional and financial status as well as increased dependency, poor self-rated health, feelings of helplessness and isolation and psychological stress. Older individuals who have been abused also have a lower life expectancy than those who have not been abused even in the absence of chronic conditions or life-threatening illnesses.

Shari Brotman, Bill Ryan and Robert Cormier from the McGill School of Social Work wrote an article exploring the experience and realities of gay and lesbian seniors and their families in accessing a broad range of health and social services in the community. It recommends that older lesbian and gay individuals would benefit from homophobia being included in the definition of elder abuse. Also, the article articulates the definition of elder abuse should be expanded to include sexual harassment based on sexual orientation. Individuals often experience intimidation, harassment, humiliation, or shame as a result of identifying as an older lesbian and gay individual, and this discrimination is heightened in elderly individuals living in long-term care facilities.

Lesbian and gay individuals, especially lesbian and gay seniors, have a long history of discrimination and marginalization as a result of identifying as a lesbian or gay individual. Incorporating homophobia into the definition of elder abuse would greatly benefit older adults as it would help them to be further integrated in society instead valued based on their sexual orientation. It would also introduce freedom of harassment and/or reduce injury when sexual orientation is seen as a right.

Although there is a need to include homophobia in the definition of elder abuse, there currently is not a well-developed universal definition of elder abuse. Stigma is embedded within identifying as a lesbian and gay individual but also with being an aging individual.

Therefore, before this policy change can occur, a universal definition of elder abuse should be developed. Policy makers should also consider incorporating ageism as well as oppression against LGBTTQ seniors in the definition of elder abuse as well.

Response to Nicky Morgan’s Speech at the National Children and Adult Services Conference

The College of Social Work’s Chair Jo Cleary said: “The College of Social Work is extremely heartened by the Secretary of State’s, Nicky Morgan, clear and explicit support for a strong and confident profession.  The proposals about a new assessment and accreditation system for social workers, supervisors and managers who hold statutory child care roles hold real potential for promoting social work excellence in children’s services.  They could significantly assist in enhancing the status, standing and standards of social work. As such, they should dovetail with other measures already being progressed to strengthen further the quality of social work practice.

Conservative Representative Nicky Morgan- UK Parliament
Representative Nicky Morgan- UK Parliament

“It is obviously now important to understand the details of these proposals. The College and other stakeholders will be particularly concerned to ensure that any accreditation system connects with, and supports the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF).

Social workers, employers and educators need to have one coherent standards framework.  There is strong evidence that the PCF is now well established in initial and post qualifying training, in supervision and also in many employer appraisal systems.

“The College has questions too about how a new accreditation system for children’s social work might be complemented with similar approaches in adult social work.  It is vital that there is equity and equivalence across these two connected spheres of our profession.

“We support the importance of social work professional leadership and the proposal to develop accreditation for senior practice leaders is a bold step. However, we will need to understand how this will ‘fit’ with the existing Principal Children and Families Social Worker (PSW) role.  The PSW role is now well embedded in most local authorities and we look forward to clarification of this matter.

“Plans to consolidate partnerships between employers and higher education institutions are also a positive step forward.  TCSW has been working closely with these partnerships to ensure that social work students are properly prepared for the reality of frontline social work, both in terms of university-based education and practice placements.  This new announcement will help to develop this work further.

“Yesterday’s announcement marks an important milestone in a new and potentially exciting era for the social work profession and The College of Social Work looks forward to working with government, employers and other stakeholders on translating these intentions into workable proposals that will support the delivery of first class social work to children and families.”

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Mark Ivory | Head of Policy and Communications | The College of Social Work
T: 020 8453 2922 |  M: 07906 893019 |
The College of Social Work, 30 Euston Square, London NW1 2FB

Press Release: Social Work Helper Magazine was not involved in the creation of this content.

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