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Technology and child welfare

I am so excited to be affiliated with the Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare for many reasons, one of which is the conference they held yesterday, “Social Media, Smart Phones and Safety: How Technology is Changing Child Welfare Practice.” I attended the first presentation by Dr. Dale Fitch but had to leave to attend my fellowship seminar. However, lucky for all, the entire conference will be available online. Our center also publishes a companion magazine, the CW360, which you can download here.

I am a pretty heavy user of social media and technology and have been encouraging my fellow colleagues and classmates to embrace all the potential these technologies have to offer our profession. Yes, there are risks, but there are always risks. The key, I think, is to be proactive rather than reactive. Yesterday, we heavily tweeted the conference using the hashtag #cwtech (for those of you on twitter, if you want to follow our conversation you can do a search for #cwtech and you will see the conversation). You can also follow us on Twitter @CCASCW_MN.

You can watch the conference here. If you have feedback, please let me know so I can pass it on to our staff at CASCW.

What motivates us?

My partner sent this to me today, knowing that it warms my social work-y heart. I think that social workers often feel that this is a no-brainer. I haven’t yet met a social worker who went into the “business” for money and financial reward. In fact, we brag about it sometimes, don’t we?

Yet, the reality is that many social workers who work in government or public social services do feel tied to “the golden handcuffs” – making more money than in the non-profit world. We are always concerned in public child welfare, for example, on how to improve worker performance. Child protection workers, due to the nature of the job, often make more money than other public social service workers, for example. Yet even with the higher salaries (compared to other social work jobs) and government benefits, there is a lot of worker turnover.

I thought this video was intriguing for a number of reasons. First, it highlights the idea (based on research) that $ tied to performance does not improve worker productivity – in fact it makes it worse in many cases. Second, I liked the idea that giving workers a sense of mastery and autonomy is huge in increasing worker productivity.

Which leads me to wonder how much this also applies to our “clients” or the people who are served by social work services. We talk a lot in this profession about autonomy, mastery and empowerment. I talk a lot about parallel processing; how much more would child protection workers be able to help families actualize these concepts if workers themselves felt it was achievable in their own lives?

Reframing the “problem” of too-many choices

For a little while, I thought that maybe this year things wouldn’t be so crazed. I’m taking one less class this semester, although I traded that extra class for a 20-hour research assistant position, which I am absolutely loving. I think I got a little lazy, which was not so smart. A few weeks ago I realized that I need to get my rear end back in gear. A big part of my self-induced laziness happened because I wasn’t being very good about structuring my time and using my thoughtfully created “to-do” list. I had to blow the cobwebs off of the list and was mostly reacting rather than planning. I’m a planner, I do better with structure. I haven’t had enough external structure this summer and I do much, much better with concrete deadlines. How am I going to survive after next year when I’m off to do my own research and dissertation writing? Without imposed deadlines? That, my friends, is going to be a challenge and I need to start thinking now about how I’m going to keep motivated.

Another “problem” I have (knowing full well that any “problem” is really a luxury in disguise) is having too many ideas. I went into the program with a pretty clearly defined idea for my research. Except that during and after every class I take, I get another “brilliant” idea (or two or three). All these ideas are piling up on each other and as I start to get closer to thinking about actually doing one of these ideas, I’m finding that having too many options is starting to freak me out. Which idea am I going to do? What if it’s not the BEST idea? What if I regret it and wish I’d done something else?

It’s like what author Barry Schwartz writes about in The Paradox of Choice. The more choices one has, the more unsatisfied one becomes and the more difficult it is to make a decision. And then whatever decision one makes, one continues to think that there’s a better option “out there.”

A week ago, I was talking to one of the faculty members at my school, and he asked how I was doing this year. I explained that my biggest concern was trying to figure out which of the many ideas I have would be the “best” project for my dissertation. He gave me some great advice. First, he advised that I take each of these ideas and actually start to flesh them out a little bit. Right now they’re all pretty much just “ideas” – a research question or two and a vague idea of how it might be structured (and by vague, I do mean vague – like, “quantitative study” or “historical research”). The Professor suggested I start writing a mock description of the research, like a proposal draft, writing down how long I think it would take, who would be involved, would I want to write apply for funding and who would fund this project, etc. etc.

The other piece of advice the Professor gave to me was more of a “re-framing” of my “problem.”

“Instead of thinking of having too many ideas as a problem,” he said, “once you begin to flesh out these ideas, think instead of having a collection or portfolio of ideas that could be your legacy of your future academic career.” He suggested that having solid ideas on a wide variety of potential projects could make me a very “compelling candidate” (his words), as a search committee would be able to see that I’d be bringing with me a lot of projects and potential funding sources too.

The cover of the Schwartz book is an egg carton with 11 regular eggs and one golden one; I feel that is a pretty accurate description of the Professor’s advice. I have the carton already, the framework of study (adoption/foster care) and now I want to start to place the eggy ideas in the carton. At some point I’ll have to pick one, but as the Professor advised, I don’t have to throw any of these other ideas in the trashcan. Just because I pick one now doesn’t mean the others are bad ideas. At some point in my life, any one of them might be the “perfect choice”

Welcome to my sandbox

What is the “Sandbox?”

As a self-described late-bloomer, I “discovered” social work in my mid-thirties.  Currently, I am a graduate student working towards a Ph.D. in social work. This blog is a place for me to explore, discover, and basically think aloud about social work – practice issues, research (especially insider/outsider themes), ethics, theory, education and policy and politics.

I think a lot about social work history and social work current issues. I question whether this chosen profession is more about social control than social justice. I think a lot about race, power, privilege and the impact “professionalization” has had on the work we do.

As a first generation immigrant to the United States, as a person of color, as a feminist, as a former recipient of child welfare and social work services (in two countries), and as a mother, all of these experiences impact my social work perspective.

This blog is the place where I will process my thoughts, opinions and feelings about being a social worker and about social work education and about being a future social work researcher and teacher some day.

I like to think of this blog as a “sandbox” because it’s a place to explore and discover, not a place to be authoritative and have all the answers. What I’ll be expressing here are my thoughts and ideas and opinions about things. I don’t claim to have all the answers or any of them.

Along with that metaphor, I ask that visitors to the sandbox be respectful, play nice with each other, and have the same spirit of discovery and self-reflection. Comments will be moderated to prevent spam and trolls, but will otherwise be published as long as they are respectful to others.