Research on the use of technical and digital means has allowed researchers to find scientific sources (Distance Learning/Learning/Education Handbook, 2020) that examine how educators use technical and digital means, but there has been no analysis of the experience of social workers related to the use of technical and digital means in the provision of special social services. Therefore, it is appropriate to examine the application of the technical and digital means used by social workers to provide special social services. It should be noted that this research is broader and covers more social services, but the following article analyses only the provision of special social services and, based on the experience of social workers, the communication and collaboration of social workers and recipients of services when providing special social services to families.
The aim of the following article is to reveal the technical and digital means of communication and collaboration used by social workers when providing special services to families at social risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Research questions: What special social services were provided by social workers working with families at risk during the pandemic period? What real technical and digital means did social workers use during the pandemic when communicating and collaborating with families to provide them with special social services?
Research methods. The qualitative research type was chosen for the study in order to reveal the kinds of technical and digital means of communication and collaboration used by social workers in providing special social services to families, based on the experience of social workers. The method of a semi-structured interview was also used. The obtained data were analysed by using the content analysis method. Qualitative content analysis was performed in the following sequence: the repeated reading of the content of transcribed interview texts, the distinction of meaningful elements in the text analysed, the grouping of the distinguished meaningful elements into categories and sub-categories, the integration of the categories/sub-categories into the context of the phenomenon analysed, and the description of their analysis.
The sample of the research. A criteria-based sample was used in the study. The research participants were chosen according to the following criteria: 1) social workers who have a degree in the area of social work; 2) social workers working with families; 3) social workers who provide services to families with a length of service not less than three years; and 4) social workers who provided special social services during the pandemic period. The study was conducted in October-November of 2021. The study involved 22 social workers who provided special social services to families and worked in social service and social support centres and departments, care centres for children and adolescents, institutions protecting children’s rights, hospitals, and community homes for children in different parts of Lithuania. This research is based on the ethical principles of: respect for the person’s voluntary participation in the research; provision of information about the research; introduction of the aim of the research, methods, and procedures for collecting and analysing research data; beneficence and non-maleficence to the subject; confidentiality; and anonymity. When analysing research results, the characteristics of the study participants are presented in general to ensure that no personal information that would allow for the identification of a particular research participant; accordingly, the anonymity and confidentiality of study participants are ensured.
The research revealed that during the pandemic period social workers used technical and digital means to provide the following services: development, maintenance, and/or restoration of social skills; intensive crisis management support; assistance to carers and caregivers, guardians on duty, adoptive parents, and family members, or those preparing to become such; and services for social children’s day care. The research revealed that social workers providing special social services communicate with the family through the use of internet communication tools and mobile devices. The Microsoft Teams, Zoom, FB Messenger, and Viber apps are used in the provision of services related to the development, maintenance, and/or restoration of the social skills of families in order to strengthen their communication skills, in the organization of positive parenting training or group activities, in the application of case management due to the development of parental social skills, and in the continuity of support services. During intensive crisis management support, when families are counselled by mobile teams, case management meetings are organized to restore the independence of service recipients, aid with lost social ties, and help integrate into society. This can involve providing temporary accommodation if a person or family cannot use their place of residence due to violence, abuse, the need for child protection, or for other reasons, and in these cases the Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet, and Skype apps are used.
Social workers used the conferencing and chat application Zoom to: provide assistance to carers and caregivers, guardians on duty, adoptive parents, and family members, or those wishing to become such; organize training for carers or caregivers, guardians on duty, adoptive parents, and the staff of community children’s care homes; communicate with caregivers at the social services centre; and provide the competencies necessary to raise foster, cared for, and adopted children. During children’s social day care, with a view to developing the social and life skills of the child and family members, social workers used the Zoom application to organize remote parental meetings in the pandemic period. Research participants indicated that during intensive crisis management support and case management meetings, the appointment scheduling software Calendar was used.
According to most participants, during quarantine, physical contact and training was replaced by remote. This positive alternative allows one to quickly join a group, and, furthermore, there are no restrictions on the number of participants, as there are in physical groups. Remote social services are still provided today, especially when establishing and creating contact with recipients of services in case a family is in isolation, or if they are unable to leave their home for important reasons. As noted by research participants, by making calls with the help of the Messenger and Viber applications, it is possible to communicate and collaborate with more families over the same period of time and at least see them at a distance.
Mykolas Romeris University retains copyright ownership and publishing rights. Authors contributing to Social Inquiry into Well-Being agree to publish their articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public (CC BY-NC-ND) License, allowing third parties to share their work (copy, distribute, transmit) and to adapt it, under the condition that the authors are given credit, and that in the event of reuse or distribution, the terms of this licence are made clear.