How are Computers Used in Social Work

Computers are becoming indispensable tools in the social work field, completely changing the way social workers interact with clients and handle data. Computers are used from the very beginning of education, research, job hunt and to other spheres of life. We have come up with this article to explore the critical role that computer technology plays in contemporary social work.


Key Points:


  • Social work has had the reputation of being averse to technology, seen as Luddites.
  • Despite this, the profession has adapted to new innovations over the years, considering the challenges and opportunities that arise.
  • In the early 20th century, the telephone became a tool for crisis intervention and counseling in social work.
  • Similarly, with the rise of personal computers near the end of the century, social workers contemplated the implications for their daily work.
  • Initiatives exploring the challenges and opportunities gained momentum in 1985, with the launch of the Computers in Human Services journal by Dick Schoech in the USA and Computers in Social Work by Bryan Glastonbury in the UK.
  • Notable figures such as Hein de Graaf, Jackie Rafferty, Rob MacFadden, and Jan Steyaert contributed to the establishment of HUSITA (Human Service Information Technology Applications) and ENITH (European Network for Information Technology and Human Services), organizing global and European conferences.
  • Concerns about the digital divide and the potential erosion of social capital emerged with the increased accessibility and usage of technology, including the internet, web 2.0, and social networking platforms.

Read more about social networking service.

Why are Computer Skills Important in Social Work?

Licensed clinical social workers are expected to have computer and internet access for research, continuing education, and communication. Basic computer technology skills are now a necessity for all social workers.


Published in 2005, the National Association of Social Workers’ Standards for Clinical Social Work state that all licensed clinical social workers must have computer and Internet access in order to conduct research, participate in ongoing professional development, and communicate via email. These days, all social workers must have a basic understanding of digital technology.



  • Social workers utilize hardware such as desktops, laptops, printers, fax machines, and photocopiers.
  • They use software including word processing, spreadsheet, and database programs, with special emphasis on maintaining client record confidentiality.
  • The National Association of Social Workers and the Association of Social Work Boards have established technology standards focusing on maintaining privacy and ethical practices.
  • Social workers must uphold ethical standards during digital communication, ensuring client information remains confidential.
  • Technical competence with new technologies is crucial to prevent confidentiality breaches and data loss.
  • Familiarity with effective internet search techniques aids social workers in finding essential information for their clients.
  • Social workers need to consider cultural appropriateness in website design and communication for the target community.
  • Ensuring access to technology for clients who may face difficulties in regular internet access is also a part of the standards.


How is Computer Used in Social Work Research?

Sociologists have been using computers for data and modeling purposes for over a century, with the 1890 U.S. census being the starting point. Herman Hollerith’s punch card system, developed for the census, laid the foundation for modern computer-based data management.

Key Milestones:

    • The introduction of Univac I in 1948, the first commercially produced electronic computer, marked a significant milestone in managing census data.
    • The development of high-speed magnetic tape storage systems, sort-merge software packages, and statistical programs facilitated efficient data analysis.

Rise of Personal Computing:

    • By the 1980s, universities and colleges widely adopted microcomputers, making them accessible to researchers and faculty members.
    • The American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) survey in 1985 indicated a significant adoption rate among sociologists.

Impact of the Internet:

    • The internet and the World Wide Web brought substantial changes to sociological research, revolutionizing communication and information exchange among scholars.
    • Sociologists began incorporating email and web-based research tools into their methodologies and data collection practices.

Diverse Computer Applications in Sociology:

    • Computers are used for various research tasks such as text production, statistical analysis, data collection, content analysis, simulation, and modeling.
    • Computer-based content analysis and qualitative analysis have become prevalent, aiding in systematic examination and analysis of large amounts of text data.

Challenges and Concerns in Sociological Computing:

    • Errors in data and software remain a persistent challenge, necessitating cross-validation of results through multiple software.
    • Cost constraints often limit access to sophisticated software, posing barriers to researchers, particularly graduate students.
    • Continued research and development in sociological computing are essential for addressing challenges and embracing new technological breakthroughs.

See More: What is Social Science Computing?

What Computer Skills do Social Workers Need?

Computers and technology have become indispensable in contemporary social work practice. Here is what social workers need to know when it comes to Computers & Technology.

  • Basic computer skills, including proficiency in word processing, spreadsheets, and database programs, are necessary for effective social work practice.
  • Social workers are responsible for safeguarding sensitive client information stored on their computers, necessitating knowledge of data protection protocols from the early stages of their training.
  • The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) have established technology practices that adhere to high ethical standards, which social workers must be familiar with.
  • Social work students must continually update their knowledge of the latest technology and best practices relevant to their profession, in addition to the information covered in their coursework and training.

Read More: What are the 7 uses of computer in the society?

What Technology Does a Social Worker Use?

Modern social workers can use a wide range of tools to help their particular clients, including videoconferencing, online counselling, phone counselling, electronic social networks, mobile apps, self-guided Web-based interventions, automated lessons, email, text messaging, and much more.

How is Technology Used in Social Work Supervision?

Administrators of social work programmes can call online video conferences with participants from far-flung locations. Some social workers supervise colleagues they never encounter in person via the internet.

How did technology affect social work?

The use of computers in social work has created interested scenarios. Commuters have just revolutionized the social work landscape Here is how the technology is shaping up social work.

Online Counseling:

    • Virtual counseling sessions are conducted by clinical social workers using various technologies, including telephone, video conferencing, and web-based platforms.
    • These technologies provide convenience by eliminating travel time and costs, enabling effective communication between social workers and clients.

Client Information Management:

    • Technology aids in tasks such as taking and managing client notes, offering options ranging from spreadsheets to specialized note software programs.
    • Collaboration software like Google Docs and Google Sheets facilitates resource sharing and collaborative document editing.

Agency-Level Use of Technology:

    • Videoconferencing technology helps manage and supervise social workers in different locations.
    • Technology is also employed for financial management, budgeting, and secure storage of client information through encrypted electronic records and cloud storage.

Technology in Education and Training:

    • Educational institutions and training departments utilize technology for online courses and training programs for new social workers.
    • Continuing education opportunities are provided through live online sessions, recorded videos, webinars, and podcasts.

Access to Research and Resources:

    • Social workers stay updated with the latest research and industry practices through online resources like blogs, social media, and newsletters produced by professional organizations such as the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).


Here are some other users of technology that a social worker does:

Online Education: Accredited online undergraduate and graduate programs in social work are available, catering to different levels of experience and accommodating busy lifestyles.

Job Search: The job search process for social work often starts online, including video-chat interviews. Platforms like NASW’s JobLink, Social Worker Careers Magazine, CareerBuilder, indeed, Monster, and SimplyHired are frequently utilized.

Client Note-Taking: Social workers use electronic systems, including spreadsheets, project management software, and note-taking applications like ColorNote, for efficient data tracking and retention.

Information Dissemination: Communication tools like Google Docs, Google Sheets, Trello, Basecamp, Slack, and others enable easier distribution of information among caregivers and social service agencies, promoting efficient collaboration and organization.

Research Access: Social workers stay updated on peer-reviewed research and social issues through blogs, social media accounts, and newsletters from social work agencies such as NASW and ASWB.

Business Operations: Social work managers utilize technology to monitor personnel, manage programs, handle budgets and organizational finances, and communicate with various stakeholders, government entities, and professional organizations.


Additional information

Association of Social Work Boards

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