World Social Work Day is the moment in the year for us to reflect on the incredible work that social workers do, and the value they bring to our communities. At the European Social Network we provide the international exchange and sharing platform for local and regional social services, strive to ensure that local and regional social services are genuine partners of the European Union, and empower professionals like social workers and people using social services by promoting quality in service management.
Social workers work in social services to help individuals, families and communities to live safely, purposefully and well in their own homes; play an active and productive part in society; have better life chances and outcomes; and build social cohesion and capital. Therefore, this is a day to celebrate and thank social workers for their commitment to improving peoples’ lives.
We still face a series of crises, including the war in Ukraine, the cost-of-living crisis and the devastating impact of Covid-19. The value of social work for individuals, families and communities at times of crisis is crucial. This year’s theme for World Social Work Day is ‘Respecting diversity through joint social action’, which provides an opportunity to acknowledge the power of local actions and diverse communities working together to achieve transformational change. This theme focuses us on how social workers work with each other and with other professionals across boundaries and sectors, using their skills, and progress made so far for the benefit of all.
At the upcoming European Social Services Conference, the largest public social welfare policy and practice forum in Europe, we will hear about many examples from public social services across Europe, America and Asia related to transformational change through the use of technology and digitalisation. More than 600 delegates from across the world will come together to discuss how technology and digitalisation can promote social inclusion and autonomy for the people social services work with.
In the Netherlands, people with intellectual disabilities are being empowered to enter and remain in the labour market through specialist technologies that have been developed to make competitive work more accessible for them. A joint approach between people with disabilities, social and regular companies, technology developers, policy makers, government organisations, and a research institute ensures the technologies developed address the needs of workers with disabilities as well as employers.
Ensuring the autonomy and the inclusion of people at risk of social exclusion is being addressed by social services through the support of technology solutions like mobile applications. For example, in Scotland, there is an app available for women who are homeless and may be using substances to provide them with information about the effects of different substances, how to use substances in the safest possible way, and how to prevent overdose. In Spain, a digital platform for people who do not have a fixed address helps them to safely secure their information in the cloud so that they and their social workers can access it without the risk of it being lost leading to bureaucratic hassle.
Lastly, digital approaches allow for innovative outreach approaches. In Belgium, Public Social Welfare Centres are using an app to match social workers with vulnerable citizens through verified accounts as well as connecting neighbours within their communities so that they can help each other and lead change at community level. These approaches are also helpful reaching out to populations whose need may not be identified through traditional outreach in social work. Children and youth with family members with alcohol or drug addictions can receive anonymous digital counselling and access digital youth groups through a programme developed in several Danish municipalities.
These are just some examples of how digitalisation and technology in social work can facilitate the transformation towards technology-supported but person-led social services. To find out more about the entire programme on offer at the ESSC, join us in Malmö, Sweden between 14-16 June to learn more about similar approaches to social inclusion through digital and technology transformation. The consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic are lasting and innumerable but one of the more positive of these was the necessary and overdue progress of technology. It is now the time to seize the momentum and capitalise on the greater appreciation of the role that technology can have in social services.