NASW chapters working to save social work jobs

In parts of the U.S., a social work degree or license is not always a requirement for a social work job, meaning these positions can be filled by candidates without formal social work education or credentials. Some NASW chapters are working on behalf of their members to make sure social work positions are filled by social workers.

Stephen Karp, executive director of the NASW Connecticut Chapter, said current hiring practices can cause problems for those with social work degrees, because it hinders them from finding a relevant job in order to gain further training and education in the field. Also, clients benefit from receiving services from a trained professional, he said.

“There have been a tremendous number of studies performed that demonstrate that those with a social work degree in a social work job have better client outcomes than those without a social work degree working in the same job,” Karp said.

Currently, half of “social workers” in Connecticut do not hold a degree in social work, he added.

“The state of Connecticut has invested a lot of money in social work education and can reap the benefits of hiring those with the degree,” Karp said. “There are a lot of social work graduates in Connecticut. There’s no shortage of (professional) social workers to fill social work positions.”

Efforts are under way to change the specifications for social work jobs, he said.

“We are campaigning to change the job specifications for social work jobs so that a social work degree is a requirement in applying,” Karp said. “We have had support from the schools of social work in Connecticut and relatively good responses from the state. Changing the hiring preference would be a huge move forward.”

Chapter members recently met with Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy to discuss further supporting a change in the hiring preference for social workers. A petition signed by 575 social work students calling on the state to hire more professional social workers was presented in the meeting with the governor, Karp said.

“We informed him that we are working with the state Medicaid office to have LCSWs in private practice be eligible providers under Medicaid for adults; we’d like him to support the funding of a new level of license for new MSW graduates; and we’d like BSWs and MSWs to be hired by giving preference in hiring to applicants with the degree,” he said.

In Kentucky, efforts to secure positions for degreed and licensed social work professionals have been ongoing.

The NASW Kentucky Chapter’s efforts recently resulted in the state’s House of Representatives passing H.B. 237. The bill requires that social workers with a degree have to be licensed by July 2014, and those without a degree will have until July 2019 to obtain a license.

“The issue came about when the media began reporting on child fatalities that had occurred,” said Jordan Wildermuth, executive director of the NASW Kentucky Chapter. “Kentucky has a large amount of exemptions in our licensing law including those that work for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.”

Kentucky state Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, who has an MSW, spearheaded the initiative, Wildermuth said. The NASW Kentucky Chapter and the Kentucky Social Work Licensing Board provided her with information to craft the legislation, he said. The chapter is now working to get the bill passed in the state Senate.

“Throughout the process, NASW Kentucky has been lobbying legislators and conveying why a social work degree is best suited for public child welfare and the standard of professionalism that a social work degree, as well as licensing, creates,” Wildermuth said.

In New York State, the NASW chapter is working to save social worker jobs by passing a waiver to a New York State Corporate Practice law that says it is illegal for LCSWs to practice in some social work jobs in the state.

The chapter has worked with stakeholders to implement an application that would waive the need for LCSWs and LMSWs to comply with corporate practice, said Ray Cardona, executive director of NASW’s New York State Chapter.

“We were able to push the deadline for the waiver from June 2011 to February 2012, which was an improvement and saved many social work jobs,” he said.

Celisia Street, the chapter’s communications and professional development associate, said these efforts are important to the chapter.

“With these situations, as part of a chapter office, we are involved with keeping members employed and giving them the opportunities to grow their careers,” Street said. “It’s an extreme priority.”

Workforce Center studies

  • The NASW National Study of Licensed Social Workers (2006) found that social work retention was negatively affected when employees hired non-social workers to fill social work jobs.
  • Tracy Whitaker, director of NASW’s Center for Workforce Studies, said social workers become frustrated when they find they are working in similar jobs with people who do not have similar education or training.
  • “As a result, this hiring practice pushes many social workers not only out of specific agencies, but out of the profession itself,” she said.
  • A 2004 study by the center found that “Nineteen percent of social workers reported that vacancies were common in their agencies and 53 percent reported that vacancies were either “difficult” or “somewhat difficult” to fill. Of those social workers who were able to report whether or not their employers recruited non-social workers for social work vacancies or outsourced social work functions, 27 percent reported the recruitment of non-social workers, and 20 percent reported outsourcing of social work functions. Both of these practices were somewhat more common in the public sector.”

For more, visit the Center for Workforce Studies