An exploration of social workers’ understanding and digital competency in managing opportunities and risks for young people and vulnerable adults online

Paper #1246 presented at #husITa14 in Melbourne, Australia, July, 2014.


Sangeet Bhullar (Wisekids, UK) & June Taitt (Swansea University, UK).


The rapid evolution of the Internet, social and mobile services presents huge opportunities and challenges, the latter a particular concern for young people and vulnerable adults. Research in this arena has generally focused on the risks presented by digital environments, although there is now an emerging recognition of the need to consider children’s rights in digital environments. For those who work with young people and vulnerable adults, or who might be involved in guidelines and policy development in this area – being knowledgeable and digitally competent is vital.

We therefore propose that social work practitioners need to be knowledgeable and digitally competent in order to effectively understand and manage the risks, as well as take advantage of the opportunities that the digital environment presents for service users. This will allow them to consider the relationship and understanding of individuals to their digital environment, make balanced decisions in relation to risks and opportunities based on research evidence, and be reflective of digital trends and practices.

This presentation will provide findings from a mix methods pilot study with social workers within a Local Authority in the UK. The study explores social workers’ knowledge and digital competency (in general and in relation to their understanding of online risks and opportunities facing young people and vulnerable adults) and its influence on their decision making and the service and advice they provide; it seeks to establish the gaps in knowledge and digital competency of social workers; finally it aims to uncover what professional development social workers require in this area. These findings will feed into good practice guidelines and the development of a social work digital competency model.


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