Posted in:

Licensed Social Workers Do Not Mean More Qualified

Recently, I came across a Boston Herald article questioning why 34 percent of the Boston Division of Children and Families (DCF) were unlicensed social workers. The tone of the article suggests that unlicensed workers are not qualified to perform their duties while indicating that licensed social workers equated to a higher standard.

As a former Child Welfare Investigator, those who follow Social Work Helper is well aware that I am a strong advocate against the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW or equivalent) becoming the standard for all social workers especially in the public sector and child welfare. Many hear the word licensed and assume it means in compliance or adherence to a certain standard, and it does if you are providing mental health services. Until the LCSW, a doctorate in psychology was needed for diagnosing and treatment. Social Work Licensure Advocates for the LCSW changed that dynamic and have helped to make mental healthcare services more accessible. However, each state develops their own licensing requirements which often varies from state to state.

As it relates to the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or the Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) under Massachusetts’ licensing law, it means the individual social worker has a master degree in social work, and he/she is licensed to diagnosis clients with a mental health disorder and/or provide treatment to help improve their outcomes after being diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Additionally, Massachusetts provides licensing for Bachelors level social workers. However, this is not the standard in North Carolina or the majority of states.

Currently, most Child Welfare Agencies require at minimum a bachelors degree in Social Work or related field. However, by requiring social work licensure, I believe it places additional financial burdens on social workers working in traditional social work roles while the Council for Social Work Education fails to address the barriers and challenges those in the public sector face in pursing a social work education.

Both Child Welfare Social Workers and Police Officers are given powers by statutory law. However, child welfare agencies are not required to be accredited and maintain minimum training and standards certifications like police departments despite recommendations by the United States Government Accounting Office (GAO). Although studies show a social work degree is the recommended degree for a child welfare setting, studies also recommend accreditation as the best course of action to improve outcomes for children and families. Having licensed social workers do not guarantee their course work was specifically for working in child welfare nor does it institute transparency, accountability, program evaluation, and minimum standards of care as well as creating standards for the Agency’s administration of policy.

Many social workers are deterred from pursing a social work education due to the barriers and oppressive polices against older, working practitioners, and/or the underpriviledged. Although I had a BSW degree and working as a Child Welfare Investigator, I had to quit my job and work for free at another human service agency in order to be in compliance with the internship requirements. Social Workers are finding themselves without health insurance and in economic turmoil in order to comply with a licensing standard that is geared towards clinical practice and not macro/public service.

The Division of Child and Family Services and other child welfare agencies act under the authority of federal, state, and local statutory laws to investigate allegations of abuse, neglect, and dependency. These agencies are also charged with making recommendations and monitoring the fitness of parents once a determination has been made following a family assessment or investigation. As a result of this statutory authority, licensing law advocates have been unsuccessful in eliminating the licensing public sector exemption for child welfare and human service agencies. However, they have been successful in creating this mandate in the private sector.

Governor Deval Patrick Addressing the Media on DCF
Governor Deval Patrick Addressing the Media on Division of Children and Families

As a Child Welfare Investigator, I brought a knowledge base of almost 14 years of interview and interrogation experience in addition to a Bachelor of Social Work. Later, I pursued a Master degree in Social Work with a concentration in management and community practice.

However, without doing an additional two years in post graduate doing therapy, I am not eligible for licensing in the State of North Carolina. Because someone can go straight to undergrad, then to graduate school, and then work an additional two years post graduate doing therapy for less than minimal wages to get a LCSW in the State of North Carolina, it does not make them more qualified as a child welfare social worker. It makes them more privileged.

Child Welfare social workers act as brokers when treatment services are needed or recommended. We connect families with community providers and resources who are trained to provide those services and make expert recommendations on their progress or lack of progress.

Child Welfare Services must coordinate between schools, police department, hospitals, and other community providers in order to obtain information and coordinate services while maintaining case documentation and hourly billing for reimbursement from the federal government. Unlike private sector project managers, child welfare social workers must complete this high wire act with limited resources and access to technology while dealing with a load of bureaucracies in poor work environments. Child Welfare Social Workers live and work in fear because the bulk of your time doing triage and cases with low activity often get re-prioritized due to high caseloads and staff shortages.

When I investigated cases, the police investigators relied on my evidence and case gathering to determine whether charges should be filed because social workers are more educated and are the experts in these cases. Social worker have both education and training in many aspects police investigators do not. Yet, often the police investigators that I interacted with had higher salaries than I did, received over-time pay or comp time in excess of a 40 hour week, and most only a high school diploma or at best a bachelor’s degree despite our jobs being classified as hazardous by both the county and the State.

If there is a tragedy, the media is asking the wrong questions, and Agencies are not going to steer you into asking the right questions. Child Welfare and Human Services Directors answer only to their Board of Directors, and they operate independently of the county or State unless State legislation has addressed this. State oversight is limited because Child Welfare Agencies predominately operate by mandate of Federal law as adopted by State law.

If you want to know why something happened, find out the case number ratios for each social worker and the amount of hours each worked. See how many children a social worker has on his/her caseload and their risk level which determines the amount of times each social worker must visit each child monthly. Look at the administrative time logged for each social worker which provides insight into actual days work,  time in meetings, time spent in case supervision, and training records. You will find the numbers won’t add up to what is humanly possible.

Do you automatically assume that each case only has one or two children in the same household or go to the same school? Eight-teen cases don’t sound like a lot, but you could easily have over 55 children with moderate to high risk levels. Moderate risk requires bi-monthly visits and high-risk requires weekly visits. Low risks require monthly visits, but they are often not enough to keep a case open for services.  No matter how many children on your caseload, you don’t stop getting cases. 

It is not uncommon for kids to leave for summer camp or go visit relatives especially when they are not in school, and a courtesy request home visit made to another Agency in another state could take months to occur. States are not connected, and sending out an alert on a missing child equates to an email and a report to law enforcement which often don’t go anywhere due to being out of their jurisdiction for investigation.  I believe the cases in Boston will expose systems failures if the right questions are answered. 

Ask for the same records and standard operating procedures, you would seek if you want to know if a police officer or police department was malfeasance and whether proper in-service training was up to date. Under current federal mandates, it is statistically impossible for the best qualified social worker to adhere to every standard and best practices. Front-line staff often take the fall while policy and system failures are not being properly identified.

Where are the supervisory case notes by each supervisor who is suppose to meet weekly with their subordinates to discuss all the children on their caseload? Are the checks and balances clearly defined by supervision and the administration to account for the whereabouts of children falling under the scope of child welfare services, and how is it monitored? 

I challenge the media to ask the right questions. In the video below, the Governor addressed allegations relayed by the school superintendent after the fact. I could write another article on the improvements needed between child welfare social workers and teachers. Social Work investigators’ caseloads are tremendously exacerbated because teachers are not trained on the differences between abuse/neglect and poverty. However, I will have to address that at another time.

Written by Deona Hooper, MSW

blank

Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

206 posts

I couldn’t agree more. I have a BSW only and have been practicing medical social work ever since. I’m more than qualified to do the work. I’m disgusted that after years in the field most hospitals are requiring MSW’s for medical social work or LCSW’s. Having post graduate degrees does not make one more qualified, only experience does that.

I only have a Dipsw and took a career break to meet family commitments..now I find that instead of being able to do a refresher course or CPD I have very little opportunity or path to go down to get on the SW register. The very people who care enough to do a great job in an essential service, are being frozen out by red tape and bureaucracy. Sad times…

This is how it works, a social worker is assigned multiple cases, many times more cases then they can handle unfortunately. The only time a social comes to the foster home is when they hear of a need to do so. Otherwise, you will see your case worker just before 18 years of age, releasing you on your birthday. Then you are on your own.

I worked 7 long years to get my BSW and MSW and I consider myself a Social Worker – I’m about to take my LMSW !!!and now work in the mental health profession !!!! I get weekly supervision

No wrench Jon Lucas. Just an opinion. I am actually a PT, whom decided to pursue SW. I have been laughed at by SW, LCSW, etc. They say you arent gonna make make money. I laugh back because I am doing this to make a difference, and can wear several hats.

It’s about money. Local and state government requires education on the bachelor level along with lots of experience. More are mandating Masters and experience. SWs are going in debt with no financial compensation to live and pay school loans. SWs don’t start off too much more than what has been stated to be a living wage and raise increases are minimal.

As someone who has worked 30 yrs in child welfare at public agencies and who has had her LCSW since 1997…these are my quick thoughts–I believe the LCSW has made me more credible with community partners, has inspired me to continue to learn…go to training (CEUs), it hasn’t brought me more pay and the agency doesn’t value it but I do–my guess is the LCSW may help me get another job when I retire from this one :). I believe the license can and does raise my standards and expectations for others’ work in the field. I supervise foster care workers. In glad I have the license–I encourage others to get it and I wouldn’t give up my years in child welfare for anything–with all the crap we have to deal with–we (CW workers) rock!

I’ve had my MSW for over 7 years. I work in Child Welfare agency where it is not required to have a master degree. I would not be ‘More Qualified” if i were to be licensed. I receive a minimum of 20 hours of training per year which the majority is CU qualified. I don’t see spending the money for licensure as a benefit for myself or the clients I serve.

I have my bachelors in human services but couldn’t find work with it. They offered positions to individuals who have the certificate rather than the degree.

I agree with you Social work helper. Nurses have an RN to MSN track that takes nurses with an associates degree straight to a masters degree (completely bypassing the BA degree and the expense of a university education). I agree that the LCSW credential is mostly about money. Those who can afford to pay someone for private supervision will get an lcsw 2 years after receiving the masters. The cost to pay someone privately is usually around 20k. To get an LCSW for free you would have to work for an employer that has a licensed LCSW supervisor on staff.Normally your salary at a place like that would be below average because supervision is seen as a perk and is often used as a rationalization to pay you less. In my opinion, a LSW with two years post masters experience is just as experienced as an LCSW who just got there paperwork signed. More programs should be available to give social workers the opportunity to obtain LCSW status without having to work for pennies or pay someone privately.

In my home state BSWs are not required to be licensed, only MSWs need to be licensed to become LMSWs (or LCSWs) if the individual chooses to do so based on whatever agency the MSW chooses to work for and their intended overall career goal(s).
Where I am currently living, the state requires a BSW to be licensed. It’s a long process (two years) most agencies do not want to hire just a BSW they want a LBSW (licensed bsw) and are not willing to hire a BSW. You don’t get additional pay…it really just seems like a way for states to get money. A BSW and a LBSW have the same schooling and unpaid internship with supervision from a MSW, the only difference between a LBSW & BSW is just extra supervision through work, taking an exam, and paying $$ that’s it and it’s draining and frankly, ridiculous.
A BSW in a state that requires licensing can’t get work without a license, can’t get a license without work. A license doesn’t show that someone would be better at performing a job than the latter. Maybe one day the states that require licensing for BSWs will see the struggle it imposes on struggling recent graduates. Then again maybe it’s an issue with the system that social workers need to fight to change.

We need to share and spread this article and make a change.

Not to throw a wrench into your statement Keisha, but part of my work is supporting the workers who write the grants, and none of us are in this for the money.

lol medical and lawyers do all kinds of free work BEFORE they are doctors or lawyers same with BSWs and MSWs…all of their unpaid work is done while they are getting their degrees…if you dont want to pay for supervision hours then find an agency that has one…unless you live in straight rural
areas there are some available not saying its easy but anything worth getting isn’t

I’m a “clinician”. Which I guess, on some level, that’s what I’m doing. But I don’t feel as if that adequately describes what I’m able to provide

Nancy Jean I often hear social workers being compared to nurses, doctors, lawyers licensing analogy. So, when will social workers start making that kind of money? Even nursing programs offer accelerated degrees and second degrees to encourage other disciplines to enter and stay in the profession. Then their clinical hours count towards their license. None of these are options to social workers and it creates barriers for those with less financial security, older, or unmarried.

Umm..sorry but not all professions do unpaid internship…I don’t see a medical student doing free work…lawyers aren’t doing free work…why…police officers, nurses, etc…why…because of the risks…well the same risks apply for anyone working towards a BSW or MSW….we are speaking of a low paying career…
Also, there are other degrees that equate to a BSW…you have the less desirable, psychology majors, and the more desirable, sociology majors, and human service majors…BSW and MSW holders should not be able to monopolize the market especially with the shortage of workers. Not enough schools offer this program to monopolize anyhow…

Maria Sofia Panitsidis Actually, I said, “Because someone can go straight to undergrad, then to graduate school, and then work an additional two years post graduate doing therapy for less than minimal wages to get a LCSW in the State of North Carolina, it does not make them more qualified as a child welfare social worker. It makes them more privileged.”

Not everyone has a job with proper supervision to get the hours needed therefore they are doing unpaid work to get hours. Plus other professionals have the light (high pay) at the end of the tunnel. it’s sad to complete all those hours for $15hr

For those who may be confused, the commas indicate separate issues and the licensing process being one of them. Please, re-read the article for clarity as well as the included links.

Yea. There’s no internship for an LCSW. Not sure where that rant was going. Any licensure process has growing pains and can be difficult to manage . For instance physical therapists had to shift to all PTs getting their doctorates and those grandfathered in had to meet some pretty crazy requirements but they understood the larger picture. I sure hope we move along like other professions and increase and better our standards.

you do unpaid internships as part of bachelors and masters level college work like many other professions do so idk why youre crying…the licensure process isn’t perfect but if after all youve done to get through school and finish and all if a sudden the licensure is a big deal then youre the problem

I’m from Michigan. My internship was unpaid. I paid an outrageous amount for testing and I get paid almost next to nothing because the county I work in would rather put its resources into inflating its ego than pay the people who do the actual work what they deserve. The whole system is a racket, its a scam to hurt the people who actually give a damn. If I wasn’t so loyal to the agency I work at I would have left the field a long time ago but I love my agency too much

And in Nebraska you cannot call yourself a social worker with out being licensed…So unless you are licensed you just have a BSW or MSW degree

I agree with Larissa, you don’t see laymen people calling themselves nurses because they correctly changed a bandage or handed someone the right amount of Tylenol. It takes more than just mimicking the work duties of a profession in order to earn the title. Social work is no different. You should not be able to call yourself a social worker just because you mimic a subset of a social workers job duties. On the other hand, I believe that each social work license and certificate should represent a different set of expertise . Nurses have their titles in tiers such as “certified nurses assistant, licensed practical nurse, registered nurse “. Social workers should have something similar so that people understand that a layman, a CSW, LSW, and LCSW all represent a different level of skill and capability.

Nebraska and many other states have title protection..Even though people may call themselves social workers and are not no employer can..My beef is that we don’t make more for being social workers…

I guess my confusion is with what states make you take unpaid internships for licensure? Again I can only speak for NYS but I had to do unpaid internships as part of my masters degree but not my licensure. If that’s the case than that’s kind of ridiculous.

No my beef is with the licensing process, unpaid internships, people have to quit work to work for free, inconsistent licensing policies from state to state, ceu cost being passed on the worker etc. The licensing process has done a lot of damage as implemented. But for an evidence based profession, no one is collecting the data to prove or disprove it. For example, How many people are having to drop out of school because of the hardship unpaid internship require while preventing people from working paid employment? No one is collecting this data and other data because it will not fitting into the narrative of current policies working. Charles, I have no problem articulating what my beef is.

The solution is simple. Case managers don’t need licensure. Bsw or msw can practice generalist social work without s license I don’t really see an issue. There is your title and that is not an issue. In NYS those who work in clinical settings and in hospitals typically need to be licensed. Agencies are pushing for licensure for insurance purposes. Not sure how it works in other states.

It doesn’t always. But it improves the over all quality of the type of social workers produced. The LCSW has, in fact, improved the social work profession. Just like the MSW has strengthened the profession. It sounds like your beef is more with the policies of child welfare than with the LCSW. I’m sure glad doctors and other legitimate professions have testing and standards.

To add on to my comment… The NASW doesn’t represent me, even when I was a member of the Peace and Social Justice specialty concentration. I paid their fees and saw no benefit, and other than being a gatekeeper for special kinds of certification, I’m not sure what purpose they serve.

Until this profession finds a way to be inclusive instead of fighting over who can call themselves a social worker, we will all suffer. We need numbers to increase outcomes for our clients and ourselves. This statement divides and does not help with a solution in my opinion.

I’m of the opinion that licensing has been incredibly detrimental to the profession. It’s pigeonholed us into doing predominantly mental health work, which is important. However, a Social Worker can do so much more. Our unique understanding of human behavior, social environment and other factors make us uniquely situated to address a whole range of issues from mental health to community development.

I completely understand where this is coming from in a child welfare agency. Individuals who do not have licenses should not be called social workers. Just my opinion though

It’s frustrating and not cheap to meet the demands. I was homeless since 14, I seen many struggles and vowed to be the one who helps someone else not be like I was. So it’s also heart breaking to me I can’t be there to help.

We should be making it easier for people like you to stay in the profession instead of kicking you by adding so many barriers to earning an advance degree or accelerated degree taking in account your prior degrees while you work. However, even after meeting those expectations, many social workers can’t afford licensing fees, supervision cost and the ceu cost which is being passed on to the social worker.

I love this article, I went to college earned a bachelor’s in behavioral health and human services, I really wanted to help the homeless and families, I can not because I need further accreditation as my degree isn’t enough.

Licensed Social Workers do so much more than “therapy” and I learned more getting my Masters than ever as undergrad. And have used my education and experience in every job. Those commenting here seem to have a problem with licensed social workers.

How does any of this equate to helping a social worker..we should not be divided by license or non licensed, I agree we are not better just different as an LCSW. I respect ALL social workers, as I have worked in the profession without a license for seven years. It seems that we are punished by equating our skills to only therapy. I love social work, and happen to have diverse interests in many areas. I got my license because I was encouraged to by a mentor and I often think about how this has opened doors for me, but I think we all need to be respected and paid more, license or not. Articles like this are not helpful to our profession.

I have updated the article to reflect the many places LCSWs can be found other than private practice, but if thats all you got from the article… it saddens me.

I have a BSW AND MSW. I chose not to be license because not a focused in therapy. I still have the same education licensed social work have. I’m not less of a social worker. I’m heavily in favor of title protection, but not just for those with licenses. I’m a social worker without a license and I’m as qualified as every other social worker and as deserving of this title.

I know that a lot of people will be resistant to looking at this issue from a different perspective. I don’t expect everyone to see things from my perspective. As far as social work, I speak my truth, and I try to be respectful of other’s truth. Social Work has been fed a steady diet of licensing and title protection, and I realize my views are not mainstream. However, a graduate social work degree should not be required for an entry level social work job. In comparison to other male professions operating under statutes (specifically Child Welfare), law enforcement require a high school diploma. Yet public sector social workers have graduate degrees making less and often with no comp time or overtime. Instead of comparing social worker vs social worker, as a women dominated profession, we are all getting the short end of the stick. My article which I wrote specifically address Child Welfare and I hope that it is viewed in that context. I am a strong advocate for title protection as long as social work education is willing to eliminate barriers and oppressive policies preventing working practitioners from pursing a social work degree. An SW shouldn’t have to quit his/her job and go into financial hardship in order to advance in your already chosen profession.

This perpetuates the disrespect for Social Work. The author has not been working as an LCSW or shows poor understanding if he thinks we are all in private practice. Hire licensed, trained social workers. Pay them what they are worth and limit caseload to effective size. If the welfare of people was as important as banking, retail etc, we would have better outcomes…..not perfect….better!