The Critical Role of AI Literacy for Social Workers

Apr 12, 2024By Dr. Marina A. Badillo-Diaz, LCSW
Dr. Marina A. Badillo-Diaz, LCSW

As I am navigating the space of social work and artificial intelligence (AI), it is becoming more apparent how crucial it is to understand what it is and develop AI literacy. In our social work profession, we play an important role in supporting individuals and communities facing various challenges, especially those who are marginalized and disenfranchised by the system. Our work requires a deep understanding of human behavior, social systems, and the ability to provide effective interventions. However, in today's digital age, social workers can enhance their skills and effectiveness by developing AI literacy while also being aware of the ethical implications for our profession and the clients and communities we serve.

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What is AI Literacy and Why AI Literacy is Essential for Social Workers

AI literacy refers to the knowledge and skills required to understand and interact effectively with AI technologies. This includes the ability to comprehend how AI systems are developed, how they function, and the implications of their integration into various sectors of society. For social workers, AI literacy means not only understanding the mechanisms of AI but also being able to critically assess its ethical, social, and legal impacts.

AI Literacy is essential for social workers because as a profession we need engage in: 

1. Ethical Decision-Making
AI systems are increasingly being available in social work practice from automating administrative tasks to supporting decision-making processes in child welfare, healthcare, and resource allocation. While these tools can enhance efficiency and consistency, they also raise significant ethical questions. AI literacy empowers social workers to scrutinize these technologies, ensuring that the use of AI aligns with the core values of social work, such as respect for the dignity and worth of every individual, and the importance of human relationships.

 2. Advocacy and Policy Development
As AI technologies evolve, there is a pressing need for policies that govern their use, particularly in sensitive areas like social services. Social workers with a strong understanding of AI are better equipped to advocate for regulations that protect vulnerable populations from potential biases and discrimination that can be perpetuated by AI systems. This includes advocating for transparency in AI algorithms and ensuring that these technologies are used to enhance, rather than replace, the human element in social work.

3. Promoting Equity and AI                                                                                             AI systems often reflect the biases in the data they are trained on, which can lead to discriminatory outcomes. Social workers must understand these biases and work towards developing AI tools that are as objective as possible. This might involve participating in or consulting on AI development projects to provide insights into the needs and realities of diverse groups.

4. Bridge the Digital Divide                                                                                               Social workers can play a crucial role in advocating for the development and deployment of AI technologies that are accessible and beneficial to all, especially marginalized groups. This includes lobbying for policies that fund technology education and infrastructure in underserved areas. Social workers can help communities become more AI literate, empowering individuals to make informed decisions about using AI technologies. This involves educating clients about the benefits and risks of AI and providing training that enhances their interaction with these technologies.

5. Professional Development and Adaptability
The field of social work is dynamic, and professionals must continually adapt to new challenges and technologies. AI literacy is a critical component of professional development, helping social workers stay relevant in their field and capable of leveraging new tools to better serve their clients.

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Resources for Developing AI Literacy for Social Work

  • Follow "The AI Social Worker Blog" to learn more about AI and its implication for social work practice
  • Check out trainings on AI and social work through the NASW
  • Collaboration and network with social work and AI experts. Reach out to Dr. Badillo-Diaz at [email protected] to learn more!


AI literacy is not just about keeping up with technological advances—it's about ensuring that social workers can continue to provide effective, ethical, and empathetic services in a rapidly changing world. By embracing AI literacy, social workers can better navigate the complexities of modern practice, advocate for just policies, and enhance the well-being of the communities they serve. The integration of AI in social work is inevitable; understanding and shaping how it happens is essential to the future of the profession.