Social workers have responded with unanimous praise for Inglebrook Council’s latest information management system. As of last week, frontline staff ditched their IT systems and started using paper files for maintaining client records.
‘It’s amazing!’ resounded one worker. ‘So easy. To access information all I have to do is turn to the right page. No passwords, no booting up, no freezing. And it’s so mobile. I can take the file anywhere, and if I want to write anything that’s easy too. All you need is a pen!’
Service manager Derek Wilde was equally enthused. ‘We realised something had to be done when computers were being thrown out of office windows in despair. Not only was that a health and safety risk in itself, but also it demonstrated how bad things had got.’
Although many industries have harnessed the power of the microchip to enhance performance, opinion is divided on how the social care sector has embraced technology. When client databases were first launched in the 1990s, many dreamt of the paperless office, however the reality has turned into something different with workers feeling tied to a desk. Instead of liberating the workforce, many feel constrained by their IT.
‘It’s wonderful getting rid of the computer,’ explained another Inglebrook frontline worker. ‘It’s hard to describe the freedom. It’s like being able to breathe again. I feel ecstatic. Now there’s no silly screen telling me I can’t save an assessment because a box hasn’t been ticked. There’s no screen at all. It’s just me, a paper file and a pen. I love it!’
Since the introduction of paper files, the council has already been inundated with applications from other social workers wanting to work there. ‘The phone has rung off the hook,’ explained Derek Wilde. ‘We used to really struggle with recruitment, but literally as soon as word got out that we’d ditched the computers we could fill every vacancy ten times over.’
And the council doesn’t plan to stop there. As well as ditching the desktop they are now also considering terminating their mobile phones. ‘We need our staff to leave work at work,’ explained Derek again. ‘So this is one way of doing that. Plus, you can’t lose an old bakelite.’
For Inglebrook Council, then, it really is back to the future when it comes to their tech. Time will tell if other authorities follow their lead.
Matt Bee is a social worker and writer. He also co-hosts The Social Work Tutor podcast. Every Monday he brings his unique tales of social work parody to socialworktutor.com.