Students research social media in human services - Mar 13, 2014 - Human Behavior, Justice and Diversity Department - UW-Superior News and Events

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Students research social media in human services

Posted on Mar 13, 2014
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Nicole Melhorn, Jolene Long, Michaela Dahl and Morgan Maddy surveyed attendees of the St. Louis County Health and Human Services Conference on their use of social media.

Nicole Melhorn, Jolene Long, Michaela Dahl and Morgan Maddy surveyed attendees of the St. Louis County Health and Human Services Conference on their use of social media.

You're a social worker and a client wants to friend you on Facebook. What should you do?

It's -- well -- complicated.

That's according to four social work students at the University of Wisconsin-Superior, who did a research project on social media use by human services professionals.

Social media has become a primary means of communication for millions of people. But in human services, the need to be responsive and accessible can sometimes conflict with concerns about privacy and professional boundaries.

MORE GUIDANCE

"People want and need a little more guidance," said Michaela Dahl of Gilbert, one of the student researchers and a social worker for Lutheran Social Services in Virginia.

The students surveyed human services professionals who attended the 2013 St. Louis County Health and Human Services Conference, an event that attracts 2,500 people from throughout region.

The survey defined social media broadly -- from email and text messaging to Skype and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter.

Subjects were asked which types of social media they used with clients, how often they used it, what they used it for and more.

AWARENESS NEEDED

Of the 108 professionals who responded to the survey, 84 percent said they used social media at work, but 31 percent weren't aware of their agency employer's policies on social media use.

"As a profession, we need to have more clear standards about social media use," said Monica Roth Day, professor of social work and one of the students' faculty mentors.

Students also researched the social media use standards suggested by The National Association of Social Workers and the Association of Social Work Boards.

Student researcher Jolene Long, a social work intern from Britt, MN, said the project informed her own experience. "Going into my internship, this made me more aware of policies, that I was more impressed if they had a policy."

Students suggest that social media policies probably need to go beyond a blanket rule like "don't contact clients on Facebook".

LEGITMATE USE

There may be situations where social media is a legitimate, or perhaps even the only, means of contact, said Nicole Melhorn, a social work intern from Cherry. While most of the survey respondents didn't contact clients outside of work hours, there could be cases where a scheduled appointment needs to be changed, or worse, an emergency or personal crisis, she said.

A summary of the research was presented to St. Louis County human services officials and Roth Day is working with the students to develop the material for possible publication in a professional journal.

In the meantime, "It's helping our social work program think about how we need to teach about social media use," Roth Day said.

News Contact: Tom Wilkowske | twilkows{atuws}
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