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Who is Protecting the Interest of the Public Sector Social Worker? – Opinion piece by: Deona Hooper, MSW – #SWSCmedia #SWweek Series #GASWSC #WSWDay #UNSWDay


It’s an election year. Jobs and the economy are the top priorities that concern Americans. The government has made huge strides to prevent massive job losses for police officers, fire fighters, first responders, and teachers. Did you notice what was missing from that sentence? If you guessed Social Workers, you got it right. The National Association of Social Workers is a great organization who advocates and lobbies for increased standards in the mental health field. However, the organization’s focus primarily serves the interest of Clinical Social Workers or Administrators. This population is only a small sample of the vast majority of Social Workers that remain underrepresented in social services and public health agencies all across America.

Many argued that social workers in public agencies are not required to be classically educated with a social work degree, and therefore should not be able to hold the Social Work title.  I say, “Let us remove the challenges and barriers preventing Child Welfare and Public Health Social Workers from seeking higher education and/or create an Accelerated 2nd Degree BSW program to incentivize higher learning”.  If you are already a professional and carrying a case load, why must you complete an internship (for free) on top of your case load in order to enhance your craft by obtaining a Social Work degree?  I will tell you why…. because there is no one advocating to reduce or change standards that only impose a hardship on the Social Worker and on his/her family. The failure to have minimum educational standards in all social services and public health agencies result in poorly trained staff, poor work conditions, poor supervision, high turnover, lack of nationwide documentation and tracking system, but most importantly poor services to children and families.

Nationwide, these agencies have broad discretion in what minimum education and minimum service standards are implemented. The underrepresentation of Public Sector Social Workers not only affect the workers, it overwhelming affects the families we serve. Administration of child welfare policies and procedures vary widely from state to state, and within those states each county agency approaches child welfare with equally different child protection philosophies. Whether a child receives a long term foster care placement, subsidized guardianship, financial assistance for their relative caregiver, reunification and support services, and/or prevention services: the county or state a child lives in should not determine the standard of care a family receives. Children in need of protection through a child welfare agency should have the same rights and privileges across the state they live in as well as the same rights and privileges as children in other states. Minimum standards in service delivery, policies, and procedures are needed in all child welfare agencies to secure equal access to services, financial assistance, and permanency alternatives. By imposing minimum standards in these agencies, it would help to increase better educated workers, higher pay for workers, better safety standards for workers, and better services to families.

Last month, a father killed himself and his two boys by blowing up the house when the Social Worker came for a supervised home visit. The Social Worker called 911 because he let the boys in the home while locking her outside. In this instance, they did not feel it was enough to warrant a police response. This Worker could have easily been hurt or killed, but she was very fortunate to live to tell the story. Who is going to advocate for better safety standards and agency supervised visits? The reality is that particular agency may impose an additional standard, but what about the rest of the Public Social Workers nationwide?  The system is broken, but we are part of the problem. We must organize and advocate for ourselves. If the mechanism to gain representation doesn’t exist, we must create one.

This was my thinking when I created www.socialworkhelper.com. I know there are a lot of like minded people out there who feel the same frustrations as I do or people who may have a better argument as to why the status quo should be maintained, but how do we find each other? The blogger sphere and Twitter are great tools, but how do I identify Social Workers in my area of practice, how can I get immediate feedback or engagement, what if I want to meet workers in other parts of the world? I created www.socialworkhelper.com because I want to connect social work, social care and human services professionals and students around the globe with all the benefits of Facebook and Twitter without the headaches.  Ambitious…maybe, but I was looking for forum to affect change. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I created it.

Join us on World Social Work Day (Tuesday, 20-March-2012) at 8:00 PM GMT / 4:00 PM EDT to discuss and explore the “Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development” in a rich and lively Twitter Debate @SWSCmedia.

Deona Hooper (@deonahooper) is a new MSW graduate from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a Masters in Social Work as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management.

Discussion

4 thoughts on “Who is Protecting the Interest of the Public Sector Social Worker? – Opinion piece by: Deona Hooper, MSW – #SWSCmedia #SWweek Series #GASWSC #WSWDay #UNSWDay

  1. Great post. I hope to obtain a social work position with a county or state agency dealing with children and families. You have expressed a lot on concerns I have felt.
    While I don’t think a national standard is realistic (I can’t see Congress agreeing to this), I think at the very least there should be state standards or guidelines when dealing with families and social services.

    Posted by Not You (@HeadyHeathen) | March 22, 2012, 3:09 am
    • They have the federal accreditation process which currently is only voluntarily. States can get federal reimbursement from the federal government. Schools, police departments, hospitals all are required to be accredited which is why teachers, nurses, and police officers receive prior consideration. I think it is realistic, but someone must advocate for it in order to be achieved. Social workers are great advocating for others, but not so much when it comes to advocating for ourselves.

      Posted by socialworkhelper | March 25, 2012, 1:59 am
  2. I have advocated for an entirely new major to be developed to prepare candidates for work in public child welfare, for some of the reasons you have cited. As you noted, Social Work programs in higher education tend to focus on clinical social work rather than public child welfare case work. There does not appear to be interest on the part of these programs in developing curriculum targeting the complex skill sets involved in serving children and families in child welfare systems and navigating across systems that interface with child welfare. I have talked with social work students and graduates who share stories of being actively ‘counseled out’ of entering the field of child welfare. Many programs do not offer basic, introductory coursework on the topic. Even if every social work program in the US offered a child welfare emphasis, this would be far from adequate in terms of the number of professionals needed to fill the positions. In some states, there is only one social work program available in higher education. (I’m not certain that there is even a program in every state. Perhaps someone can answer that question.)
    I think other, similar fields have been much more assertive and proactive in advocating for their profession (psychology and medicine come to mind). I can’t help but wonder if something along the lines of family sciences might be better suited to prepare the child welfare workforce. Although I have no direct experience with such programs, it seems they attract a larger number of students and are more accessible and available within institutes of higher education. Of course, making such a shift would require the development of curriculum specifically targeting employment in public child welfare.
    As you no doubt have noticed, this is a topic of great interest to me. I have blogged about it myself, a few times. The following posts address the topic specifically and anything in my blog tagged ‘workforce’ is relevant to the topic.
    Recruits Desert Child Welfare
    http://wp.me/pZmRi-2E
    Professional Outcome Managers (Part 3 of 3)
    http://wp.me/pZmRi-aB

    Thank you for starting the dialogue!

    Posted by ckhayek | March 24, 2012, 3:03 pm
  3. I understand your point of view in which I believe many clinical social workers share your thoughts. However, I do disagree for several reasons. I don’t consider myself a caseworker……I reserve that title to someone who takes applications for medicaid and food/nutrition services. They help assist family with applying and maintaining their services through the life of a case. Child Welfare, Work First, Adult Protective Services, and Public Health social workers responsibilities and services are often time the first engagement of families in need of mental health services. The huge majority of referrals to mental health agencies and providers are received from social services and/or public health agencies. Better educated social workers could properly better identify needs, provide earlier intervention services, and utilize evidence based practices in the administration of such agencies. I have the same skills and abilities as a clinical social worker, program researcher/evaluator, and community outreach/partnership builder, but I chose to use those skills that I learned through formal education to front load services during an investigation. My ability to better assess family needs through a holistic approach using the biopyschosocial assessment allows me to identify needs of the family early verse a worker who lack formal training who can not identify diminishing mental mental capacity. My job can save lives, and not being able to identify presenting factors as someone mental health status can cause a family to be killed. I do not advocate for a different degree for public sector social workers. I advocate for the educating bodies to identify ways to increase the increase point of access for social work degrees for working practitioners in the public sector. We do the same job clinical social workers do and more. We just get paid less.

    Posted by socialworkhelper | March 25, 2012, 2:27 am

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