Class Project Pushing for Legal Regulation
Social work students are spearheading a grassroots lobbying
By Lyn Stoesen, News Staff
Social work students at Southern Connecticut State University
(SCSU) are getting hands-on experience in legislative work through
a class project pushing for two state bills addressing social
Students in SCSU social work professor Elbert Siegel's class
have been working on a licensing bill to recognize new MSW graduates
and a bill that would require state employees to have a social
work degree in order to be given the title "social worker."
Steve Karp, executive director of NASW's Connecticut Chapter,
said the students' work has been enormously helpful for efforts
on both bills. Last fall, students "did all the ground work,
which probably would have taken me a year." The students
researched the current state statutes, read language from other
states, contacted other NASW chapters and wrote language for the
This semester, Karp said, the students have been "handling
the grassroots lobbying end of our effort." Students have
been contacting NASW members to urge them to write or call their
representatives about the bill, conducting e-mail outreach, writing
legislative alerts and staffing phone banks.
"It's really terrific and they're learning a lot about how
to run a legislative campaign," Karp said. He said students
also came to a public hearing on the title-protection bill, and
two students testified.
Siegel said many students are also participating in the annual
legislative field day organized by the school and NASW.
"Between the testimony on these bills and the field day,
there were about four days when students were testifying. It was
a wonderful learning experience for them," he said.
Siegel noted that the students were enthusiastic about the project
for a number of reasons.
"First, they had a community organizing project they could
get their hands in and could see an outcome for. Second, they
were most interested in tackling the problem [of title protection].
They are graduating with a degree in social work, and anyone can
call themselves a social worker. They thought it was totally unfair,"
The Connecticut Chapter collaborates with all the schools of
social work in the state on policy-related projects, including
an annual Lobby Training Day attended by many students and visits
from the chapter's political director to the schools for legislative
Karp acknowledged that both bills face significant challenges.
Due to state budget cuts, the Department of Public Health, which
administers licenses, is severely understaffed.
"Three or four groups ahead of us have sought licensure,"
he said. "Even supporters are telling us that unless there
is money put into the budget, they're probably not going to [license
recent MSW graduates]. . . . We see [the bill] as putting us on
an unofficial waiting list."
Karp said that ideally, the title protection for state employee
social workers would be accomplished administratively, rather
than legislatively. "We've met with the state personnel division
and the Department of Administrative Services, and they pretty
much ignore us. We introduced the bill as a last resort."
"We hope that the threat [of the bill], if we can move it
out of committee and through the Senate, may be enough to get
the state to really do something," Karp said. The title-protection
bill also faces opposition from the state employees union, AFSCME.
"They don't want to change the title; they believe that experience
and job training is sufficient" to use the "social worker"
title. Karp said the bill would grandfather in current state employees
with the "social worker" title.
"We have been getting some of our members who are [AFSCME]
members to call the union and support the bill," Karp said,
but he acknowledged that the union has a lot of influence with
Karp said the work with the students has been "a great collaboration
between a school of social work and the chapter." While classes
have previously tracked legislation or helped with phone banks,
"we've never done this kind of longer-term project."
"We've taken our collaboration to a more extensive level
than we've done in the past," Karp said.
Siegel said partnering with NASW has been very successful for
everyone involved. "I knew [the chapter] had a database and
some interest in the legislation, and my students had to develop
a community action project."
"'Fabulous' is the only way to describe it," Siegel
The students' work has garnered media attention in the state.
An article appeared in the New Haven Register and the Hartford
Courant highlighting the project.
For more information: www.naswct.org/Legislation/Agenda2005/SWLicensureExpansion.shtml
From April 2005 NASW News. © 2005 National
Association of Social Workers. All Rights Reserved. NASW News
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