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Br J Soc Work. 2016 Jul;46(5):1249-1265. Epub 2015 Sep 8.

Street-Level Strategies of Child Welfare Social Workers in Flanders: The Use of Electronic Client Records in Practice.

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University of Leuven , LUCAS-Centrum voor Zorgonderzoek en Consultancy, Minderbroedersstraat 8 - bus 5310, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium.
University of Leuven, LUCAS-Centrum voor Zorgonderzoek en Consultancy, Minderbroedersstraat 8 - bus 5310, B-3000 Leuven, Belgium; University of Leuven, Centrum voor Sociologisch Onderzoek (OE), Parkstraat 45-bus 3601, 3000 Leuven, Belgium.


The use of information and communication technology (ICT) in child welfare services has increased significantly during the last decades, and so have the possibilities to process health data. Parton (2009) states that this evolution has led to a shift in the nature of social work itself: from 'the social' to 'the informational'. It is claimed that social workers primarily are becoming information processors concerned with the gathering, sharing and monitoring of information, instead of being focused on the relational dimensions of their work. However, social workers have considerable discretion concerning the way they use ICT. In this paper, we investigate (i) the street-level strategies social workers develop regarding ICT and (ii) how these relate to a narrative social work approach. To illustrate this, an evaluation of Charlotte was conducted, a client registration system that is used by social workers in child welfare services in Flanders, Belgium. Based on fifteen interviews, we find that social workers develop various strategies regarding Charlotte to preserve a relational and narrative work approach. These strategies not only result in a gap between ICT policy and the execution of that policy in practice, but also decrease the extent to which accountability can be realised via registration data.


Information technology; child welfare; data recording; social work discretion; street-level bureaucracy

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