ICT-Supported Social Work Interventions with Youth: A Critical Review


This study conducted a systematic review of information and communication technology (ICT) supported social work interventions with young people. This included tailor-made project websites, computer hardware, mobile phones and general internet use.

Understanding the potentials and limits of ICT could be useful for social workers. Picture: Shocky/Adobe Stock
Understanding the potentials and limits of ICT could be useful for social workers. Picture: Shocky/Adobe Stock
  • Chitat Chan, Journal of Social Work 18 (4), (2018)

The review included research published between 2000 and 2014, and on the specific exclusion and inclusion criteria for the review; 13 studies were included in the review. Each study was assessed for its quality, where 54 per cent of them were Level One Evidence, the equivalent to a randomised control trial; 15 per cent were Level Two Evidence (that is, case–control trials without randomisation); and the remaining 31 per cent were Level Three Evidence (case reports).

Findings

The most popular ICT type was tailor-made project websites, for example, Vstreet.com (now closed) for young people deemed at risk; designed to teach life skills and build community. Or the MoodGYM platform, an online cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) programme. Next popular were computer hardware, mobile phones and general internet use. Examples included web-phone intervention where interventions took place for things like changing smoking behaviour or using mobile phones to maintain contact with homeless young people.

Outcomes

There were only three studies which could provide direct evidence indicating that interventions using ICT were more effective than interventions without using ICT. These were:

  • A programme teaching cyber-safety (Chi & Frydenberg, 2009)
  • A web-phone intervention for changing smoking behaviour (Peng & Schoech, 2013)
  • An online counselling programme called MoodGYM (Sethi et al., 2010)

The remaining studies in the review could only provide evidence implying that ICT-based interventions might be associated with positive intervention outcomes. For example, Holden et al. (2000, 2002) evaluated a multi-user virtual environment, indicating that children experienced less pain intensity and anxiety in the virtual environment condition.

However, the study did not mention the ways in which essential features of the Starbright World platform are common to, or different from other, multi-user virtual environments. Likewise, in the study about Vstreet.com (Pacifici et al 2005) – a website for at-risk young people designed to teach life skills and build community – was found to be effective in increasing users’ knowledge and feelings of peer social support, but the study did not explain what are the essential features bringing these positive effects.

Implications for practice

  • There are very few ICT social work interventions designed for use with young people with an evidence base to show that they are more effective than interventions without using ICT
  • While some interventions, such as the MoodGYM platform, provide positive outcomes, we cannot easily determine whether the findings can generally apply to all online CBT platforms or merely apply to the MoodGYM platform
  • This review suggests that ICT use in social work is not usually conceptualised as an independent intervention, but is usually bundled with specific ICT products; which can make it difficult to unpick, in evaluations, which aspects of the evaluation have been effective
  • Rather than evaluating a specific ICT product that may easily become outdated, research should address relationships between respective ICT capabilities and respective social work processes. For example, instead of solely focusing on social media, research can evaluate a particular ICT function, and use Facebook as an illustration
  • This review also reflects a gap between different ICT generations: The ICTs researched in the included studies are not the prevailing ICTs used among young people or frontline youth workers nowadays, such as WhatsApp or Facebook.
  • This paper suggests that a proper understanding about the potentials and limits of different types of ICT may be an essential professional competence; thus enabling social work practitioners to make informed choices when working with young “digital natives”.


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