This study reports aspects of a pivotal historical moment in the long tradition of family work practice within Australia. The qualitative research study being reported explored the experiences of eight workers and three managers delivering family work using telepractice.
Family work traditionally involves family workers, family members and other stakeholders engaging face-to-face to help families make changes that support them to maximise their wellbeing. The main themes emerging from the study, which used descriptive phenomenology methodology, relate to the impact of telepractice on clients' vulnerabilities, for family work practice, and on the workforce. Telepractice was found to both exacerbate and ameliorate a variety of client vulnerabilities, such as, feelings of isolation, anxiety, stress, safety, and agency. Furthermore, the study found that while there were many benefits to providing casework using telepractice methods, purposeful change work related to improving family wellbeing was considered more effectively achieved face-to-face.
The findings of this research point to a role that being physically present may play in purposeful family work practice. This study also explores reported impacts to practitioners, their teams, organisations, and to their profession which emerged as result of the need to adapt practice and negotiate new ways of fulfilling the roles and responsibilities of family services to clients.
An overall conclusion of the study is that the reported experiences of using telepractice has highlighted new service delivery options family workers can add to their suite of practice methods, rather than seeking their replacement. The author argues that what may be more beneficial for improved social outcomes than choosing face-to-face over telepractice in family work, is to combine the best elements of both to deliver a hybridised service that is tailored to the unique needs of children, young people and families. However, as argued, this is going to mean that services, the workforce and families are equipped with supportive policy considerations and professional development regarding best-practice using online technologies, high-quality digital resources and the knowledge to use these.