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Artificial Intelligence
and Social Work

AI graphic 1.png

“Social workers are needed [in guiding the development of AI technologies], because they think about the social impacts of such tools, which could be efficient and useful but only to the extent ‘they don’t cause or replicate the same problems we’re trying to eliminate.’”

Desmond Patton, PhD, MSW

The use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the social work profession is an emerging area of practice. AI promises to revolutionize the way we work by using computer systems to perform tasks that typically require human intelligence such as learning from experience, reasoning, problem-solving, and understanding natural language. 

 

“[ChatGPT] has been really helpful for saving me a lot of time and legwork and generating that type of content that then I use with students.”—Karen Magruder, social work instructor, University of Texas in Arlington
 

However, the use of AI has raised questions about how to harness its benefits, mitigate its risks, and ensure it aligns with the values and standards in the NASW Code of Ethics.

 

Social workers in all specialties should stay abreast of the rapidly changing AI news, applications, and emerging AI platforms, capabilities, and technologies. Below are resources for self-learning. In addition to the knowledge shared here, NASW maintains an “AI and Social Work” section on its website. 

 

“Social workers need to engage with it with a critical lens. Be excited, curious—and skeptical.” 

--Lauri Goldkind, PhD, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University

Resources

 

Artificial Intelligence in Social Work: Exploring Key Ethical Issues (Self-study course, NASW CE Online Institute. 1.5 CEs. Dr. Frederic Reamer and Dr. Jamie Sundvall as they discuss real time AI developments in social work and shed light on potential ethical challenges that it presents. 

 

NASW CE Online Institute Artificial Intelligence Self-Study/On-Demand Courses. Five courses are currently available related to AI. Coming soon: NASW Virginia and Metro DC 2024 Annual Conference AI session, “From Algorithms to Advocacy: Ethical Use of AI in Social Work Practice,” presented in March 2024 by Karen Magruder, LCSW-S, assistant professor of practice at the University of Texas at Arlington.  

 

Chat GPT and Social Work: Be Excited, Curious and Skeptical (Social Work Advocates Magazine) “For social work, what’s happening with ChatGPT is both frightening and exciting,” says Lauri Goldkind, PhD, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Technology in Human Services Data Justice Collective. 

 

How the Field of Social Work Is Adapting to Modern Technologies like Virtual Reality, AI (Fortune)

Tech advancements in social work can better prepare students for the realities they face in the field upon arriving on someone’s doorstep, oftentimes acting as the lifeline people desperately need when experiencing a potential crisis in life. For example, the University of Kentucky’s College of Social Work began using virtual reality (VR) in child welfare investigation simulations.
 

Texas Educators Explore Generative AI Adoption–The Etcetera (eastfieldnews.com)

Karen Magruder, a social work instructor at the University of Texas in Arlington, has adopted ChatGPT to assist her with class preparation. Using ChatGPT, she has generated case studies for discussion in her cognitive behavioral therapy course. Her students analyze responses in small groups.
 

"Artificial Intelligence: How Social Work Input Shapes Social Impact" (Social Work Advocates magazine, June/July 2020. 

 

Social Work Innovation in the Era of ChatGPT and AI” (University of Kentucky College of Social Work, uky.edu)

University of Kentucky College of Social Work DSW student Karen Magruder is an active participant in the debate around AI applications and how they will impact social work and the field of higher education. Recently, her article on the topic was published in Social Work Today, and she was accepted to present at the National DSW Conference on “The Age of Artificial Intelligence Has Arrived: Implications for Social Work Education.”
 

How Artificial Intelligence Will Save Lives in the 21st Century (Social Work Today)

Florida State University psychology researcher Jessica Ribeiro, PhD, feels an urgency to improve suicide prevention. Ribeiro is working on a study with the Military Suicide Research Consortium based at FSU that uses machine learning to identify people with an imminent risk of suicide.

 

Keeping a Wary Eye on Artificial Intelligence (Social Work Today)

Given the increasing number of studies employing the relatively new tools of data-driven technology, it is apparent that many social work researchers believe in its potential benefits. However, there’s still a fair amount of concern about these tools, and some social workers are focused on addressing the most disturbing aspects such as the inherent biases that can be found in Big Data.

 

Diversity and Artificial Intelligence: A Challenge (Social Work Today)

To best address AI’s many blind spots, the field must include people of all genders, races, ethnicities, and backgrounds. For Desmond Upton Patton, PhD, MSW, that’s where social workers need to come in. “As social workers, we understand the need to treat people with respect, to work with communities, and to be able to help people leverage their voice in different spaces. That is our beginning place. Those values and morals are critical in the deployment and integration of AI4ALL,” says Patton is an associate professor at Columbia School of Social Work and department of sociology, associate dean for curriculum innovation and academic affairs and director of SAFElab.

 

The Privacy Issues with Using Generative AI and ChatGPT Are Only Beginning (reworked.co)

In response to growing concerns about the lack of security for data provided to ChatGPT, OpenAI announced in April 2024 that it would allow users to turn off the chat history feature for its chatbot. But the response isn't enough, according to some critics.  The “history-disabled” feature means that conversations marked as such will not be used to train OpenAI’s underlying models and will not be displayed in the history sidebar. They will still be stored on the company’s servers but will only be reviewed on an as-needed basis for abuse and will be deleted after 30 days.
 

5 Legal Issues When It Comes To NPOs and Chat (The NonProfit Times)

While the use of AI presents numerous opportunities and benefits, there are a number of legal issues that need to be carefully considered before going too far down the AI path.  Data privacy, intellectual property, discrimination, tort liability and insurance are top considerations.

Social Workers in Technology

 

Columbia University

Courtney Cogburn, PhD, an associate professor at New York’s Columbia School of Social Work

 

Desmond Upton Patton, PhD, MSW, an associate professor at Columbia School of Social Work and department of sociology, associate dean for curriculum innovation and academic affairs, and director of SAFElab

 

Fordham University

Lauri Goldkind, PhD, associate professor at the Graduate School of Social Service at Fordham University and editor in chief of the Journal of Technology in Human Services Data Justice Collective.

 

Loyola University

Jonathan Singer, PhD, LCSW, Professor, and founder and host of The Social Work Podcast

 

Silver School of Social Work at New York University

Victoria Stanhope, PhD, MSW, is exploring person-centered care, which ensures that behavioral health care is individualized, and service users are active, empowered partners in their treatment.

 

Doris F. Chang, PhD, is examining Asian American responses to racism in the COVID-19 era and exploring macro-contextual and individual predictors of discrimination, intergroup attitudes, and collective action to address racial inequality. 

 

Michael Lindsey, PhD, MSW, MPH, has established an AI hub to help researchers investigate how AI-driven systems can be used to equitably address poverty and challenges related to race and public health and to provide thought leadership on the implications.


University of Kentucky

Justin “Jay” Miller, PhD, dean of University of Kentucky College of Social Work


University Portland

Laura Burney Nissen, PhD, MSW, Portland State University School of Social Work

Chat GPT--Primer for Social Work (Social Work Futures)

List of AI Resource--Social Work Futures


University of Texas at Arlington

Karen Magruder, LCSW, social work instructor, University of Texas in Arlington, is using ChatGPT to create social work scenarios for her students to discuss.

“The social work profession needs to be at the forefront of bridging these things. Social workers have an obligation to get on the advisory boards of tech companies — from startups to established giants.” 

--Jonathan B. Singer, PhD, LCSW

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