With the advancement of technological development, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have transformed social work practice. Although ICTs have improved the effectiveness of social work practice, the working relationships with clients have also been transformed. Informal ICT use is considered when social workers use ICTs between sessions as an informal adjunct to face-to-face practice. However, research is lacking on informal ICT use and factors that are associated with such social work practice in Taiwan. To address this research gap, the current study used ecological system theory as a framework to understand factors that are associated with informal ICT use among Taiwanese social workers.
An online survey was distributed among social workers with direct contact with clients across Taiwan from October 2021 to February 2022. To best capture experiences of informal ICT, survey items included socio-demographic characteristics (e.g. age, gender, sexual orientation, education), level of technology acceptance (perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use; behavioral intention to use), organizational factors (e.g. role, practice setting, client age group), boundaries, and supervision and policy. Univariate analysis reported the frequencies of each variable. Chi-square analysis was used to explore how socio-demographic characteristics and organizational factors were related to the informal use of ICTs. Independent sample t tests examined level of technology acceptance and mean different between informal use of ICTs,
In total, 579 Taiwanese social workers completed the online survey. Participants’ mean age was 34.4 years. Majority of Taiwanese social workers self-identified as female (78.2%), heterosexual (82.6%), and have a degree in Bachelor of Social Work (72.5%). Majority of them offer individual counselling (80.8%), case management (74.8%), and public consultation (64.9%). One third of them worked for non-government organizations (39.7%), followed by government (33.9%), child welfare agency (21.9%), hospitals (6.7%), and schools (3.1%). Among participants, 37% (n = 214) of them interacted with their clients informally using ICT. Both client and social worker (52.5%) initiated ICT use. More than half of participants were not aware of a national-level (55.4%) and government-level (57.5%) policy on informal ICT use in Taiwan. In bivariate analyses, informal ICT use was associated with psychotherapy (x² = 4.77, p < .05) and case management (x² = 11.31, p < .01), as well as willingness to interact with clients outside of formal work hours (x² = 4.23, p < .05) and high intention to use ICT at work (t = -2.27, p < .02). Informal ICT use was also associated with participants who worked for non-government organizations (x² = 5.23, p < .05). No significant factors were found on socio-demographic characteristics and supervision and policy factors.
Informal ICT use is not an infrequent strategy to connect with clients in social work practice in Taiwan. However, more than half of participants were not aware of policy and regulations that indicates informal ICT use. The current findings suggest a starting point to provide educational workshops for social workers who interact with their clients informally on ICTs. Further evidence-based research may support ICT supervision and policy development in social work practice.