Q&A: Talking Smartphones in Child Welfare

With Dean Keith A. Alford

Portrait of Keith A. Alford.

Similar to Asst. Prof. Melanie Sage’s work within the child welfare system (see main story), Prof. Keith A. Alford, dean of the school, supports the idea of using some communication and information technology to bolster both the way services are provided to youth, and strengthen their ability to feel connected to their providers and empowered in their lives.

Q: What are you seeing with regard to certain technological tools in child welfare practice and in your study of the system?

KAA: Smartphone technology usage in child welfare, as it pertains to youth in foster care, is a growing phenomenon. Studies have shown that for youth in care, having a properly working phone was helpful to them in establishing and strengthening relationships. In a study I co-authored, it was found that some youth had become committed and responsive to the services, and the smartphone served as a tool for interpersonal skill building.

Q: Is there a place for technology in social work education, practice/application, and research, etc.?

KAA: It is clear from the literature that service programs are engaging with vulnerable youths in several different ways using technology. Youths in this study, for example, said that the smartphone was a good incentive to participate. But above all, it was the relationship they formed with their social service providers that made them stay in the project and the smartphone helped to facilitate this reality.

Q: How have technology, apps and social media changed the landscape in the child welfare system?

KAA: Child welfare is embracing a variety of technological features beyond information systems. Studies have shown that connecting with foster youth in their technological space, such as through texting and social media sites, includes them in conversations and increases their capabilities in planning their own lives.