Transcript: Social media and social work practice

In April 2012, a team from Iriss took part in an international workshop on evidence-informed practice in County Cavan, Ireland.

Podcast Episode: Social media and social work practice


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

IW - Ian Watson
DG - Deborah Goodman
KD - Katharine Dill

IW In April 2012 a team from Iriss took part in an international workshop on evidence informed practice in County Cavan, Ireland. Following the workshop I was invited to spend a couple of weeks in Toronto working with PART (Practice and Research Together). PART’s mission is to link research to child welfare practice which they do by promoting practice, organisational and systemic change. My task was to help formulate their ideas on the role of social media in this process as well as the use of multi media such as animated storyboards, video and audio. Child protection in Canada is different from the UK and I began by asking Doctor Deborah Goodman, Director at the Child Welfare Institute at the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and a member of The Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto, to set the scene by explaining how things work in Canada.

DG So each province within Canada has their own child protection system, and again while they may look similar when you look at them, they are all operated a little bit differently. So in Ontario it is de-centralised, in Alberta it is centralised so that the province itself provides directly the child protection service. In Ontario it is indirect where the province funds it but assigns agencies a mandate to provide that service. Within those 45 agencies there is different models again. Some of them are stand alone, like our agency, the Children’s Aid Society of Toronto, which is what we do is provide child protection. Some agencies have what is called a mixed model where they provide both child protection and children’s mental health. So each agency has a Board of Directors and then they have under that, the Executive, both the Director and then the Senior Management team. Under the Senior Management team there then usually is different departments, so there would be an Intake Department and a Family Service Department, an Adoption Department and your typical standard Business Department of Finance and HR and Quality Assurance for some agencies.

Again the size of the organisations within the province of Ontario differs so we are the elephant in the room. We have 820 staff, but there will be some agencies that are quite small with 50 staff, depending on their region. Again in southern Ontario we have a populous here in Toronto of about 2.5 million people and the greater area around it is 5.5 million people, but some of the agencies in the northern part of Ontario will be fly-in communities, so they do their social work and child protection via airplanes because they need to fly in to that community.

The First Nations here is a significant part of our service, so some agencies are specific just to our First Nation’s communities and I think there are 6 or 7 of those

We are very lucky here at Children’s Aid Society of Toronto. We have our own medical team which is not common and so we have a staff of doctors and nurses, psychologists, even dentists, who are very skilled in servicing and treating children who have been affected by child maltreatment. We also have a specialised team on our intake that specifically works with domestic violence. We also have a specialised team that works on immediate response. We also have, on our family service team, so again if the case is going to beyond the 30 days or the intake investigation needs further ongoing work, they go to one of our branches and we have adolescent teams that are specifically trained in servicing families with adolescents. Our goal is always to try to keep the child in their family at all times but sometimes it is necessary for the child to come into care.

We can take care of children until aged 21, they formally at age 18 are crowned wardship status if they are crown ward ends, but we, on extended care and maintenance, continue that care and support until aged 21. At that time they leave our service and we have a very strong focus on trying to transition those that need to, into the adult services, whether it is developmental services or the mental health adult services around that. But it is certainly an area of continued focus for us, for our children.

IW So the structure might be different but we share the same objective, to promote evidence informed practice. Indeed PART was inspired by, Dartington based, Research in Practice, itself set up to promote a culture shift in using evidence informed practice to improve the lives of children, young people and families. Dr Kathryn Dill is PART’s Executive Director. I talked to Kathryn about PART’s approach to embedding evidence in practice and the role of social media in this process.

KD After some research together we started/founded in September 24th 2007 and it’s based on the programme from the UK called “Research in Practice”. We have 3 full time staff, including myself and we cover, now 2 provinces in Canada, so very large geographical area, with probably about 12,000 staff in total, across the 2 provinces.

IW These provinces are …?

KD Manitoba and Ontario - so we are located in the central part of Canada, and our goal is to start to expand outwards. So unlike in Scotland, Canada is extremely large and each province is the size of a country. It is a bit unique in Ontario - Ontario started PART and we … it was started by child welfare, child protection focused organisations, and it was started because we had a total of 53 welfare child protection organisations - we have now merged several of them - we are now down to about 45 organisations - and we focus exclusively on making sure the wellbeing and safety of children in the care of their parents - and if they are not safe, then they would need to come into care. And we have those 45 agencies and then we also have Manitoba on board, and we also focus on the same organisations there that focus on child protection and child welfare. So in Canada, social services are a little bit different than they are in the UK in that child welfare is one component, children’s mental health is a whole other area and then the educational system is also the third component of the social service network for children and families. But each works in isolation … oh sorry I skipped … I should say Criminal Justice as well for children and youth. So our different areas of practice are in silos. We tend to work collaboratively, but child protection is one specific stream of practice for children and families and is heavily funded.

Our job with PART is much like what you do with Iriss and with RiP in England, is that we disseminate evidence informed research information through various different streams of programming. So we make sure basically that the best researchers in the world disseminate findings that relate to child protection and child welfare practice to all of our practitioners at our member organisations across Ontario and now Manitoba.

Particles are three to four page literature reviews that focus on a different area of practice that practitioners, or senior leaders even are struggling with. So we have one full time staff - that’s his job, is to do our lit reviews, and they usually are based on issues that the field has arisen, has identified as a need. So domestic violence and child neglect. We just did one about organisational trauma, because a lot of our organisations go through public inquiries, and the impact on organisations. And we just talked today about one of our organisations asked about a particle about the influence of the use of social media on child protection and case decision making, etc. So there are many different lit reviews that we have. We have about 60 now on our website, and we are doing an interesting series right now children in care - looked after children - that focuses on them coming out - if they are dealing with sexuality issues, identifying themselves as gay, bisexual transgender, giving practitioners information about how to help those children come out in foster care. And that was one of the issues identified in the field - and we get people in the field to peer review the lit reviews, so that we know that they are hitting the mark with practitioners and our care givers.

We actually subscribe to a programme called SocIndex, which costs $15,000 a year, and people have access to 800 peer reviewed journals. So our practitioners, our leaders, our policy makers can actually go into the e-library and look up articles that relate to practice. And we have enormous resources and holdings on there. So we usually have about 300 practitioners a month go onto the library and download information.

IW So the licencing arrangement you have for the journals allows anyone working in your membership agencies …

KD Exactly, that’s it, yes.

IW And you also have embraced webinars.

KD Yes, I sat through through a webinar, it was probably about … it will be about 3 years ago actually, about kinship care - and I remember thinking “oh this is a great medium that we could use for PART”, and so we just started learning the technology. We hired a technician at the beginning to do webinars and produce them for us, and then we started to really, we became self-taught. Our programme assistant, she actually uses GoTo Meetings as a platform. And we have webinars twice a month - so we have had … and I am estimating, it is about 15,000 staff that have watched the webinars since November 2009. So, you know, anywhere between 200 … a really, really popular webinar we would have an audience of about 500 staff - and they last for 45 minutes and then we have a 15 minute discussion period. I basically recruit academics from across the globe to do webinars. We had one from … Joe Worral from New Zealand last month, and we have Marilyn McCue from Australia is going to be doing one for us in the fall on kinship care. So, you know, there is great opportunity for the webinars. The only deficit we are challenged with is the video feed, and people really, really want to be able to see the person presenting to them in real time. So we have had great uptake with them - we have learned as we went along to train the academic to present in practitioner-focused language.

Each one of our 44 member agencies - we have one person that works with PART to get the message out to the field. So they work with us, similar to RIP in the UK, they call them Link Officers - we call them Link Partners. And they basically … many of them create a team, a committee to get their research information out there. They really are the champions for creating and using the evidence to bring it forward to practice, but they also are go to people to ask them what the products, how we should shape the products that are meaningful for the field. And we go to them on a regular basis to get feedback about how to shape our materials so that they are relevant.

IW I have been over here with PART for a couple of weeks now, had some interesting meetings with your Board and with various other children’s services organisations. The big topic has been social media and its role in children’s services. I think you are a bit of a convert, but how do you see social media in the landscape for knowledge transfer, knowledge exchange?

KD Yes, I mean that is a great question and that is something that we have been grappling with over the last couple of weeks. I think that we have learned a lot of lessons with having you here, Ian, just in terms of how important it is to bring leaders on board and get them to understand the importance of social media to disseminate the use of evidence. But in order to get to that point you have to get leaders to understand that social media isn’t something to be afraid of.

The leaders are, you know, critical to moving social media forward. They need to role model, they need to embrace it and not see it as … I think a lot of our leaders before you came, saw it as a time waster - it was a way to slack off at work, be a slacker. But there is many ways to be a slacker at work - not just using social media - and I think you have been very influential in getting us to understand that piece, and we really see PART as using social media, in particular to engage the front line practitioners. Right now our front line practitioners are still predominately unaware of PART and evidence informed practice and we see social media as a tool, a platform, that they tend to use regularly, that population, and we see it as an opportunity to disseminate research findings or at least get people to the door. So we have a really cool webinar coming up, we one coming up September about, you know making the best use of group care for children, looked after children. We can use Twitter to get people to hear about the Webinar and get them signed up and get them to engage in the conversation - and even after the Webinar they could use Twitter to make commentaries about what they thought was the impact of that webinar and its massages on practice. So there is a ton of implications and I think one of the, there is two things that we have learned having you hear over the last two weeks, about social media, is that there is a need to focus on social media as it relates to organisational in systemic communication, but there is also to use social media to influence client service delivery or consumer feedback. So one of the things that we have been noticing is that our youth in care, our looked after children would love to use, or have been using social media, to interact with each other, but also with their Social Worker - and there has been a lot of questions posed to you and conversations amongst peers about how do we use social media to engage our clients and get the message going and that I think we are actually behind our clients, our consumers, in terms of using social media that many of them - parents, families, looked after children, children in care are already using social media and were behind them in terms of adopting those practices.

IW In the meetings and discussions with Executive Directors, front line workers and researchers, the emphasis was on understanding that social media is not one single technology, in fact it is about people rather than technology. What we call social media is the natural development of the world wide web as a communication rather than a broadcast medium. A recurring question was, whether social media has an age dimension? Does it appeal more to younger people? This I think is a dubious assumption and possibly the wrong question. For example, we hear of grandparents in Scotland enthusiastically embracing Skype to keep in touch with their grandchildren in Canada or Australia. They use Skype not because they thought “oh I must get into all this social media stuff” - they simply wanted to talk to and see their remote family more often and more economically. Skype, which is web based telephone and video, does that job rather well. The lesson here is to use tools that meet a need, tools that help us to do existing jobs better, that make communication a richer and more effective experience.

Changing the way we work and communicate can of course be unsettling, and many people worry about the risks associated with the instantaneous and relatively de-centralised nature of web based communication. But if we bear in mind that social media simply provides new and often more efficient ways of doing what we have always done: finding, organising and sharing information and advice, collaborating with colleagues and clients, if we remember these things, we can put the risks into perspective and trust professional people to act responsibly. The key to effective and responsible use of social media, as Kathryn Dill mentioned, is leadership and my feeling was that the Executive Directors of Children’s Services in Ontario and their staff had grasped this and were keen to explore further.

Leadership in fact is a topic we will be highlighting as part of Iriss’s contribution to social media week, this coming Autumn. On 24th September, in conjunction with the Improvement Service, we are planning a BBC question time style discussion entitled “Who’s Leading?”. A panel of key influencers will be asked to consider the question, who is, or should be, taking the lead to bring about the cultural change required to unblock access to social media and encourage innovation in the use of web based communication in the work place. Further details will be announced on the Iriss mailing list, on our Twitter feed and my Blog “just do it”. You will find all the links on our website

Transcript Copyright:
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License