— Lyn Stoesen and Paul R. Pace
Several NASW chapters have recently made advances in promoting the social work profession in their states, including loan forgiveness, licensure restructuring, title protection and vehicle license plates with the "Help Starts Here" message.
Pictured: Special license plates in Mississippi highlight "Help Starts Here." Image courtesy of NASW Mississippi Chapter
NASW's New York City Chapter has worked successfully to secure funding in the New York state budget that doubles the state's social worker loan-forgiveness program, bringing it from $1 million to $2 million.
"Hundreds and hundreds of NASW members were involved in contacting their [state] senators" in support of the bill, said New York City Chapter Executive Director Robert Schachter. The program will be able to accept twice as many people as it enters its fourth year. The program provides awards of up to $26,000 over a four-year period, with up to $6,500 per year. Recipients must be New York state residents with at least one year of qualified service (full-time employment as a licensed social worker in a critical human service area). If there are more applicants than available funding, awards are paid by lottery.
The New York City Chapter sent more than 7,000 e-mail messages to members asking them to contact New York Gov. David Paterson (D) and State Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith (D) to advocate for the funding. Schachter said the chapter's goal is to eventually have the program funded at $5 million.
In May, Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) signed a new social work licensure bill into law that expands Tennessee licensure into a multi-tiered structure with four licenses offered.
"It's incredibly exciting for us," said Chapter Executive Director Karen Franklin. She explained that the chapter staff and members worked with state schools of social work and the state's departments of health and mental health to develop and pass the legislation. Franklin said the law also had important support from its state Senate sponsor, Thelma Harper (D), and House sponsor, Joe Pitts (D).
"To me, one of the really exciting things about [the collaboration on the legislation] is that it mirrors what is happening with the [Social Work Reinvestment Initiative] — it was not something just the chapter staff and volunteers did," Franklin said.
Franklin said the push for the change started with an analysis of other social work licensure laws around the country and the model legislation from the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). "What we found is that Tennessee's licensure law was behind most laws in the nation. If we're talking about this from a legislative direction, it meant our state was not doing as good a job at protecting the public as most states," she explained.
Tennessee was also out of step with most of the states that border it, Franklin said. "Seven of the eight surrounding states recognize BSWs in their licensure laws, and all require licensure tests," she said.
The new law provides four licenses. Two of these — the LBSW for bachelor's degree-level social workers and the LMSW for master's-level graduates — require passing an ASWB licensing exam. Social workers with the LMSW license can, after two years under supervision, qualify for the LAPSW (Licensed Advance Practice Social Worker) for social workers in macro practice or the LCSW for social workers in clinical practice.
The law was scheduled to go into effect on July 1. The chapter anticipates that new state rules and regulations to implement the licenses will be completed by next year.
The NASW Florida Chapter announced that Gov. Charlie Crist (R) signed a bill into law that makes only those with a degree in social work eligible to use the title "social worker." According to advocates, the Professional Social Worker Identification effort in Florida has been a four-year push.
The work of NASW will soon be shown on some license plates in Mississippi. Chapter Executive Director Janice Sandefur said members were successful in having the state make "Social Workers: Help Starts Here" license plates available to vehicle owners.
The license plates will also include the address of NASW's consumer website, HelpStartsHere.org.
Sandefur said the license plates will serve several purposes. The chapter will receive a portion of the vanity-plate license fee, thus helping generate non-dues revenue; the license plates provide promotion for NASW; and its message can help those who might need it. Those in the state interested in ordering the plates should call the chapter office for the latest information.