Digital Practice is gaining momentum – the trick is to try lots of different approaches. Nicola McGeown, East Sussex CC.


I am really excited about writing this blog post as I am passionate about using these kinds of platforms to share and develop practice in social work.

It is very strange how practitioners, who pretty much live their lives online (shopping, paying bills, keeping up to date with friends), put all of that behind them when they walk through the office doors. The old pen and notebook and even the paper diary is pulled out of the bag as soon as most workers sit down.

I think in East Sussex this kind of approach to social work is slowly changing. The first step was providing staff with the right kit and ensuring that the technology was the kind of gear that children and young people could interact with. This meant providing workers with smartphones and hybrid devices that could be used as tablets with families. We have had this technology for a few years now and way in advance of a number of local authorities. However, we have got a really long way to go; in the last focus group I ran with children and young people they all told me that they would like their social workers to use online resources in direct work with them much more.

The next step was making sure that workers could access research and resources readily online.
To do this we have set up our own website called
Single Source. This is where we promote latest
research, events, resources and also have a section
called Tools for the job. In this section we have
themed the sections (e.g. DA, CSA, FII) with research and practice tools for each area. I have identified experts from across the service to keep this research up to date and relevant.

Within Single Source there is a link to my blog which has a series of blog posts written by Social Workers from across the service focusing mostly on top tips in practice (e.g. working with resistance, surviving my first year as a frontline manager). We also have posts that have been written by the families with whom we work about how social work made a difference to them and their children. The trick to the regularity of these blogs is using our communications team to interview the social workers and write the blogs on their behalf. If workers were asked to write the blog themselves it would constantly fall off their priority list.

We promote Single Source via our Single Source newsletter, which goes out from me once a month. In this newsletter I provide a roundup of the last month with a focus on celebrating success, highlight latest events and link to latest resources.

I also use Single Source to promote digital practice, via the digital toolkit we have developed which includes resources to engage, assess and intervene with children and families and this is constantly being updated.

However this is only a very small part of the picture when it comes to “digital professionalism” as so powerfully addressed by Amanda Taylor from University of Central Lancashire. Social workers need to embrace digital practice as a reality of developing relationships, whilst being vigilant to ethics of privacy, confidentiality and professional conduct.

In ESCC we are trying to navigate this difficult terrain with the introduction of 8 digital practice leads who are placed across the service. They receive intensive training and support and we meet regularly to discuss and plan and identify resources with the view to disseminating this learning through group supervision and practice development. The practitioners deliver an annual conference and a series of lunchtime seminars over the course of the year on subjects as varied as “supporting children and families in a digital world” to “contact and social media”.

This cascading effect of knowledge is beginning to help the cultural change work that is needed to really bring social work kicking and screaming into the digital world!

Top tips:

  1. Form a relationship with IT department and ensure they understand your vision. This relationship is vital if you want to innovate and breakdown those (fire)walls.
  2. Have a Lucy (my assistant who is based in the frontline services and knows loads about communications, technology and marketing).
  3. Look towards the horizon and future proof service – ensure devices are fit for purpose and will last.
  4. Do not make assumptions that staff will know how to access Wi-Fi remotely, how to Skype and use OneNote.
  5. Provide guidance in your operational instructions on how to explore the digital world in assessments and how this informs interventions (e.g. when doing child protection investigations make sure we are asking what technology is used in the home and is this helpful or part of the abuse).
  6. Most important as a digital champion driving cultural change – don’t give up and don’t be afraid to try new things!


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