An Exploration of Practitioners’ Experiences of Delivering Digital Social Care Interventions to Children and Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Mixed Methods Study
Hickey, G., Dunne, C., Maguire, L. & McCarthy, N. (2023). An Exploration of Practitioners’ Experiences of Delivering Digital Social Care Interventions to Children and Families During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Mixed Methods Study. https://knowledge.barnardos.ie/handle/20.500.13085/1239
Background: Digital technology is an increasing feature of social care practice, and its use has accelerated greatly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Objective: This study aimed to assess social care practitioners’ experiences of delivering digital interventions to vulnerable children and families during the pandemic. Methods: A mixed methods study combining survey and qualitative research was conducted. In total, 102 social care practitioners working in the Republic of Ireland who delivered a range of digital social care support took part in a web-based survey. This survey captured practitioners’ engagement and experiences of delivering digital social care interventions to children and families as well as training and capacity building needs. Subsequently, 19 focus groups with 106 social care practitioners working with children and families were also conducted. These focus groups were directed by a topic guide and explored in more depth practitioners’ perceptions of digital social care practice, the perceived impact of digital technology on their work with children and families, and the future application of digital social care interventions. Results: The survey findings revealed that 52.9% (54/102) and 45.1% (46/102) of practitioners, respectively, felt “confident” and “comfortable” engaging in digital service delivery. The vast majority of practitioners (93/102, 91.2%) identified maintaining connection during the pandemic as a benefit of digital social care practice; approximately three-quarters of practitioners (74/102, 72.5%) felt that digital social care practice offered service users “increased access and flexibility”; however, a similar proportion of practitioners (70/102, 68.6%) identified inadequate home environments (eg, lack of privacy) during service provision as a barrier to digital social care practice. More than half of the practitioners (54/102, 52.9%) identified poor Wi-Fi or device access as a challenge to child and family engagement with digital social care. In total, 68.6% (70/102) of practitioners felt that they needed further training on the use of digital platforms for service delivery. Thematic analysis of qualitative (focus group) data revealed 3 overarching themes: perceived advantages and disadvantages for service users, practitioners’ challenges in working with children and families through digital technologies, and practitioners’ personal challenges and training needs. Conclusions: These findings shed light on practitioners’ experiences of delivering digital child and family social care services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both benefits and challenges within the delivery of digital social care support as well as conflicting findings across the experiences of practitioners were identified. The implications of these findings for the development of therapeutic practitioner–service user relationships through digital practice as well as confidentiality and safeguarding are discussed. Training and support needs for the future implementation of digital social care interventions are also outlined.