Abstract: ICT-Supported Applications in Social Work Practice: Defining a Research Agenda (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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ICT-Supported Applications in Social Work Practice: Defining a Research Agenda

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Paul P. Freddolino, PhD, Professor, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Background and Purpose:

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic not a week went by without a report of a new service or tool supported by Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to improve the lives of traditional social work clients and/or their caregivers. Examples range from literally hundreds of mobile phone apps for mental health, to the use of virtual reality as an intervention for post-traumatic stress disorder, to videoconferencing for everything from psychiatric assessments to social support for isolated seniors, to the use of ‘big data’ and predictive analytics to assist child welfare agencies in improving safety for their workers and for families (Berzin, et al., 2015; Coulton, et al., 2015). The current public health crisis has forced individual social workers and human service agencies to begin utilizing many of these tools, frequently with little time to explore training needs, potentially negative features, and ethical challenges. While descriptions of recently available products – and new tools being released in response to the current health situation – are publicized widely by their creators and the vendors that distribute them, data-based reports of utilization and actual impact improving the lives of the intended users are considerably harder to locate.


A scoping review of published and unpublished literature has identified strengths and challenges in the current use of emerging ICT-supported tools and services in social work and behavioral health. Issues requiring further research were also noted. Practice areas covered include child welfare, older adults and caregivers, health and medicine, mental health, substance use disorders and other addictions, and veterans.


In each area of practice reports make clear that there are some extraordinarily positive outcomes that have been documented, together with some failures and occasional reports of negative results. Ethical issues have been noted in each area of practice. This presentation will highlight what is known based on available data, and describe the areas in which there are conflicting reports of benefits and harms. Because studies of the new tools becoming available in response to the coronavirus pandemic are only now beginning to appear in the literature, this review will be updated and include literature in print and online by the end of November, 2020.

Conclusions and Implications:

This analysis will lead to a set of recommendations for critical areas that must be investigated further to determine the potential impact of ICT-supported tools in actual practice. Particular attention will be paid to literature reporting on the expanded utilization of ICT-supported tools in 2020. These tools are being used in practice around the world, but we currently have little data-based information about the good or harm that results.