Title protection efforts pay off for chapters

The Connecticut Department of Children and Families and the Connecticut Department of Social Services both agreed to hire social workers with these degrees to fill social work positions at their agencies, as opposed to hiring applicants with degrees in other fields of study.

“We used classic social work community organizing methods, and approached this situation from many different angles to get this done,” said Christine Limone, director of political advocacy for NASW-Connecticut. “This is important for the vulnerable families of Connecticut. We made our case that child protective workers who are social workers have better outcomes.”

The chapter said DCF is the largest state agency to employ social workers. A little more than 28 percent of its approximately 1,500 social workers have actual social work degrees, while the remaining hold four-year degrees in other majors.

“Because they employ so many social workers in the state, we wanted to convince DCF that hiring candidates with a social work degree is the way to go,” said Stephen Karp, the chapter’s executive director.

After meetings and communications with NASW-Connecticut staff, DCF Commissioner Joette Katz officially stated in a letter “… I am pleased to embrace your recommendation and have directed my Human Resource Management Department to put forward only those applicants who hold either a BSW or MSW degree.”

“This means moving forward, DCF will have a professional, competent workforce in place and it will be better for every at-risk family who is a recipient of DCF services,” Limone said.

Karp said DSS is the second-largest state agency in terms of hiring social workers. DSS confirmed recently that they have also agreed to “assert a preference for persons with BSW and MSW degrees on job postings for social worker positions at DSS.”

“This is another big success for us as it gets us close to de facto preference in hiring,” Karp said. DSS social workers work with families and adults of all ages, he said, and especially older adults. They mostly serve the moderate- to low-income populations in the state.

Through research, the Connecticut Chapter found that social workers with an MSW or BSW tend to stay in jobs longer and are more comfortable doing at-home visits. Also, child welfare workers do best with a social work degree, Karp said.

NASW’s Texas Chapter offered advice based on successes within its state and research assistance to prove that social work candidates are the best fit for social work jobs. The chapter was able to convince the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to make BSWs and MSWs the preferred degree for social work jobs.

“Thanks to the research done by Dr. Patrick Leung at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, we were able to make the case to several child welfare groups that work done by BSWs and MSWs have better outcomes,” said Texas Chapter Executive Director Vicki Hansen. “They advocated alongside NASW-Texas to make BSWs and MSWs the preferred degree for the Department of Family and Protective Services. Having outcomes data and the support of these advocates was a crucial piece of our strategy.”

In addition to using social work effectiveness research, Limone said, the Connecticut Chapter worked to get other organizations on board and collected petition signatures in order to make its case to DCF. But it was meeting with Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy that helped give the effort the most positive push, she said.

“We were given 45 minutes with him, which was pretty impressive,” Limone said. “The governor appoints the commissioners for DCF, so talking to him was important.”

Limone said that although this is a step in the right direction, the ultimate goal is to get the actual language changed in the DCF social work job descriptions to verify that a BSW or MSW degree is required in order to apply. This is done through approval from the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Administrative Services.

“We are concerned our work in convincing DCF to hire BSWs and MSWs may be gone if a new commissioner takes over and imparts news rules,” Limone said. “Getting the actual language in place within the job descriptions will seal the deal for social work jobs. This is our real goal that we’re working towards.”

The campaign is in line with NASW-Connecticut’s ongoing efforts to convince state agencies to consider hiring qualified social work candidates with relevant educational backgrounds.

“Social workers have the ability to understand and interact with people and institutions of society that many cannot,” said state Rep. Toni Walker, D-New Haven, a social worker who actively supports the chapter’s campaign. “Those are the people that we need working with our children and families in Connecticut to ensure that services and programs are being provided. I am thrilled that DCF is moving forward with the hiring of BSWs and MSWs in the agency.”

For more information on the NASW Connecticut Chapter’s campaign efforts, or to get involved, contact Steve Karp or Christine Limone.