By Stephen Shrank
One of the biggest strengths of social work is the vast amount of workers daily traversing nearly every neighborhood of a given metropolitan area. However, a weakness has been a lack of collaboration and consolidation of the knowledge, resources and observations of these workers.
There are a variety of reasons why resources may not be shared. Caseworkers may perceive a scarcity of resources and feel a need to keep their resources close to the vest. Or a worker over time may become so accustomed to a typical type of client that when they receive a client from a different background, they simply have no idea where to find resources.
In addition, social workers in all fields but particularly child welfare face severely inflated caseloads. The need to cope with time restraints is intensified when attempting to link a client with a complex case to appropriate resources. When working to best serve a client and complete all necessary documentation in the midst of any of these reasons, collaboration with others may sound like another time-consuming task when time is not a luxury.
However, social workers have an ethical duty to find any way possible to increase the frequency and quality of collaboration. When knowledge of resources is not shared it is effectively stored away in silos, unavailable to others in the social work community. The 2014 CalYouth survey indicated that there was not a single system in which even 4 in 10 workers had a positive response in their level of satisfaction with collaboration with other systems. And greater than 1 in 4 surveyed was dissatisfied or completely dissatisfied with the collaboration with mental health and housing systems relative to their work with AB12 youth (Courtney, Charles, Okpych, & Halsted, 2014). As social workers, this must improve.
Yet, the potential of existing technology to improve identification, sharing and utilization of resources by social service professionals may be one of the best remedies. NASW stresses that social workers must “invest in the use of advanced and emerging technologies to enhance service delivery and management of workloads [and] collaboration with partner organizations to advocate to fully fund child welfare funding streams to support the workforce and improve and increase services for vulnerable children, youths and families” (NASW, 2015 p. 40).
In working in Southern California, the largest technological or online resource for resource sharing is 2-1-1. It is accessible through a phone call or looking on the Internet. However, it only captures a small fraction of the resources available in each community; resources like job fairs, food banks, sober living homes, apartment complex vacancies, charter schools accepting applications, and community building events remain unknown. Accessible and centralized databases of resources where social workers can both locate and add community resources are needed. Facebook pages (in addition to other social networking), web and mobile based internet websites, and mobile (iOS or Android) apps are emerging technologies that hold great potential as innovative ways to enhance collaboration and service delivery. Public and nonprofit social work agencies must be willing to propose projects that invest in emerging technology to better support caseworkers and ultimately better serve vulnerable children, youth, and families.
Stephen Shrank, MPA is a MSW Candidate at California State University Long Beach. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Courtney, M.E., Charles, P., Okpych, N. & Halsted, K. (2014). California youth transitions to adulthood study (CalYouth): Early findings from the child welfare worker survey. Chicago, IL: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago.
National Association of Social Workers. (2015). Social Work Speaks, 10th edition.
National Association of Social Workers Policy Statements: 2015-2017. Washington D.C.: National Association of Social Workers