Abstract: Factors Influencing Providers' Engagement with Technology-Enhanced Practice (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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671P Factors Influencing Providers' Engagement with Technology-Enhanced Practice

Sunday, January 15, 2023
Phoenix C, 3rd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Kirsten DiNicola, Doctoral Student, State University of New York at Albany, Albany, NY
Background and Purpose

Increasingly information and communication technology (ICT) is being used in social work practices. For example, technology-enhanced practices (TEP) like etherapy, specialized smartphone apps, and email/text are commonly used to substitute in-person connections or interventions (Mishna et al., 2021). Research from other disciplines shows engaging ICT for activities (e.g., banking, health care, employment) versus not, creates greater benefit in expected outcomes. Many factors influence this ICT use and differences within them have significant effects on outcomes. Disproportionalities are created, leaving some people advantaged over others (van Deursen and Helsper, 2015). Social work has yet to investigate this phenomenon within TEP. This study helps to fill the gap by examining TEP in a kinship agency from the providers’ perspective. Factors unique to social work, and differences within them, are discovered.

Research Question

What factors influence providers’ TEP engagement?


Data were collected at a kinship agency in a southwest state in the U.S. Nine semi-structured interviews were conducted with providers working there to learn about ICT use in delivering services through TEP (e.g., case management, support groups, and caregiver training). Field observations were also conducted at the agency for six months. Field memos were taken, interviews were voice-recorded and transcribed, and combined they were analyzed using a thematic approach.

The scope of TEP includes email/text between client-provider, live online training and support groups (e.g., Zoom), internet-based pre-recorded trainings and a resource locator tool, and an agency Facebook page which was the main platform for announcing events, resources (e.g., diapers, food), peer to peer emotional support, and ongoing/open client-provider discussion.


Analysis revealed ICT is a critical element in practice and a primary mode for service delivery. Providers’ ICT use was influenced by three factors unique to social work: perceptions of ICT in a human-centered approach, competencies around access barriers, and provider-client boundaries. Further, individual differences were found in all three factors. For example, some providers saw ICT as a disruption to the relationship needed in a human-centered approach and didn’t use it whereas others felt it was a natural part of contemporary communication. Similarly, there were differences in recognizing access barriers, some providers adapted workarounds. Lastly, some staff used their personal means (e.g., smartphones, media accounts) to engage clients, whereas others did not. As a result, TEP with clients was different across providers delivering the same services.

Conclusions and Implications

The findings highlight that there are factors unique to the field of social work influencing use of ICT and the differences within them create differences in how providers engage in TEP. TEP is increasing across all sub-fields in social work. This is especially true since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic (Mishna et al., 2021). Evidence from other disciplines demonstrates it is critical to examine factors influencing ICT use and the differences found within them, as it has a significant effect on outcomes. This study was a first step for social work. Further research is needed as it is unknown how this phenomenon impacts clients and their outcomes.