Let’s Call It What It Is: Telesocialwork

Published on : May 15, 2020

About Social Work Responds 
The Association of Social Work Boards, the Council on Social Work Education, and the National Association of Social Workers are committed to collaborating on the range of issues affecting the social work profession and the people and communities we serve in this ever-changing and unsettling environment created by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.


 Based on previous Social Work Responds e-mails and calls to action, our organizations want to share critical follow-up information.

  • ASWB: Exams are again being administered throughout the United States and Canada, with some modifications based on state emergency orders, requirements for social distancing, and availability of staff at test centers. The number of exams administered each week is starting to increase. To augment this increase, ASWB is working with Pearson VUE to explore as many options as can be identified to continue the expansion of testing. We are hopeful that the trend will continue and the backlog created over the last several weeks can be resolved sooner than originally anticipated. Please keep checking ASWB's COVID-19 page for updates.
  • CSWE: This week the CSWE Commission on Accreditation voted to recommend that the reduction of field hours currently in place through December 31, 2020, be extended to May 31, 2021. Learn more on CSWE's website.
  • NASW: As the country reopens, clinical social workers are looking for guidance on how to safely resume in-person services. Please check our COVID-19 Workforce Issues page for our reopening practice guidelines. As announced previously, NASW was also successful in expanding telehealth flexibilities to allow the use of audio-only devices (such as landlines) for psychotherapy provided to Medicare beneficiaries.


Let’s Call It What It Is: Telesocialwork

Two weeks ago, we asked readers to take a brief survey to share with us the challenges they are facing professionally as a result of the pandemic and how they are meeting those challenges with creativity and innovation. We want to thank you for your stories and your feedback.
One of the top challenges identified in the survey was how to effectively deploy technology to provide social work education and, for practitioners, social work services. According to many of the 1,600 responders, platforms we are using in the crisis “may not meet client needs."

This makes it even more important that we keep relationships at the center of our work. As frustrating as the digital platforms may be for us, they are probably at least that frustrating for students and clients. Let’s not get so distracted by the tools that we pay less attention to the care. They simply allow us to deliver services, education, and communication in new ways. It’s social work through technology—or telesocialwork.

When social work educators and students needed to quickly shift to online teaching and learning, faculty members had less time for typical intentionality in course development. But creating quality online learning experiences requires attention to the same things as the face-to-face experience—especially in ways to support engaged learning.

One survey participant said, “Having to quickly pivot face-to-face courses to online has required me to think creatively for courses in which I have taught several times. Some of these strategies have actually increased the depth of responses to assignments and connection to peers in the class.”
Digital platforms have also given rise to inspiring creativity. In the survey, we heard of students holding grief workshops virtually and creating social platforms for isolated people, including those in hospice care. New competencies are being articulated to support practice with digital technologies, and field agencies are also providing telesocialwork for their interns. Faculty members are not only delivering the entirety of social work education online but also using digital platforms to provide support to students who are being affected by COVID-19 personally and professionally.
We know that social workers are resourceful problem solvers and are quickly adapting their practice to ensure continuity of care despite social distancing. A survey participant shared, "We developed a drive-thru process for our food pantry and used teleconferencing for financial assistance appointments." Social workers are providing services to new clients who are presenting with a range of mental health challenges due to the pandemic. Other survey participants talked about using personal cell phones for video calls with clients and even meeting car-to-car in private parking areas with clients who do not have access to smartphones. Recent policy flexibilities allowing the use of smartphones and telephones, in addition to previously allowable videoconferencing, have enabled much-needed access to care. Nevertheless, ethical constructs and clients’ legal rights to confidentiality and informed consent remain in effect.

Deploying new digital tools includes taking the necessary steps to ensure confidentiality on both sides of the videoconference, telephone, or car-to-car connection. Although providers might be able to close the door to the home office to prevent disruptions and enable password protection on video calls, they might also need to remind clients to find a private space away from others to protect confidentiality. In a car-to-car meeting, confidentiality and safety may be harder to maintain but are just as important. In all scenarios, documentation of sessions and informed consent are critical.
Like other essential professions, we are being called to adapt more quickly than ever before to meet the immediate needs of our communities during this pandemic. We must not lose sight of the value of new technology by focusing on the challenges it sometimes presents.


CSWE has resources to help educators teach cutting-edge social work using technology. Curricular guides and textbooks (in paper and PDF) are available to help faculty members refine how they teach social work. Teaching Social Work With Digital Technology is currently on sale at a 30% discount through August 1, 2020.

If you are practicing telesocialwork, please make sure to review the regulations in your home state and in any state where your clients are located. Please visit ASWB's regulatory provisions page for the latest updates during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

NASW will host a webinar on Monday, May 18, from 12:00 pm–1:00 pm (EDT), titled “Telemental Health in a Crisis.”