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Gerontological Social Workers Probe Unexpected Consequences of Licensing Law
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Gerontological Social Workers Probe Unexpected Consequences of Licensing Law
Implications for Expanding the Workforce

Peter Martin, LMSW; Ann Brownhill Gubernick, LMSW; Ken Onaitis, LMSW; Members, Gerontological Social Work Steering Committee

May 2008


Over 240 gerontological social workers explored interlocking issues of licensing and workforce development on March 19th at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Campus. A day long conference, organized by NASW-NYC’s Gerontological Social Work Committee (GSWC), was convened to increase awareness of the emerging challenges and consequences of licensing and other workforce issues on the profession.

Peter Vaughan, PhD, Dean, Fordham University Graduate School of Social Service and Rose Starr, LMSW, President, NASW-NYC Chapter, greeted conferees. Scott Miyake Geron, PhD, MSW, Director, Institute for Geriatric Social Work, Boston University, was keynote speaker, addressing “The Future of Gerontological Social Work.” He outlined the challenge social work faces in recruiting, training and guiding the workforce that will be needed to meet the social service needs of swelling older populations. Today’s geriatric social workers are retiring. Future new workers will be less likely to have degrees in social work if adequate supports to recruit and retain them are not in place. He diagrammed career paths for various categories of workers, illustrating how paths can be advanced or blocked by licensing-related factors.

A panel of respondents moderated by Past Chapter President Barbara Silverstone, DSW, LCSW, expanded on workforce issues.

Edwin Méndez-Santiago, LCSW, Commissioner, NYC Department for the Aging, noted that by 2030, older adults in NYC will out-number school-aged children. He raised concerns including how to preserve and strengthen existing staff in agencies; revise budgets to increase salaries; develop career paths for the BA and AA workforce and for older social workers considering mid-life career changes; attract applicants from diverse backgrounds to schools of social work; help graduating students pass the LMSW exam; extend the LMSW/LCSW grandfather periods; and engage retired social workers and others in aging services.

Mary Pender Greene, LCSW, Assistant Executive Director, Jewish Board of Family and Children Services, brought the perspective of a large mental health and social service agency with approximately 100 students and over 400 social workers. New students and staff often question whether positions lead to the attainment of a LCSW and shy away from senior centers, synagogues/churches, child welfare or other settings for fear that it will hamper their career development. The current definition for psychotherapy is very restrictive. She urged that definitions for psychotherapy and the locations where clinical work can be performed be expanded, as both would benefit clients and the profession.

Patricia Volland, LMSW, Director, The New York Academy of Medicine’s Social Work Leadership Institute, emphasized that MSWs alone cannot fulfill future service needs. BSWs and others must be recruited, mentored and retained. She reported progress in recruiting new social workers to the field of aging through the Hartford Partnership Program for Aging Education, a nationwide program in schools of social work that offers financial incentives and enhances field placements by rotating practice settings.

Commissioner Méndez-Santiago presented a Mayoral Proclamation honoring National Social Work Month to Rose Starr, Chapter President.
A second panel explored “Licensing: Implications for Social Workers & Agencies in the Field of Gerontology.” Robert Schachter, DSW, LMSW, NASW-NYC Executive Director, reported problems getting LMSWs licensed and barriers for those wishing to obtain an LCSW. Many MSWs did not take advantage of the initial LMSW grandfathering period, apparently unaware that licensing (unlike the former CSW certification) is not optional.

Employers are unaware that all social workers employed by them must be licensed or covered by a one-time limited permit. He emphasized a key barrier: to provide supervision leading to an LCSW, an agency must have a Certificate of Operation as a provider of clinical services, or for this to be specified in the regulations for the program. While hopeful of effecting small changes in the way Albany interprets the law, Dr. Schachter gave a sober assessment of the obstacles to amending NYS legislation.

Ken Onaitis, LMSW, Carter Burden Center for the Aging and Co-Chair, GSWC’s Workforce Sub-Committee, moderated a panel that further explored implications of the licensing law.

Martha Adams Sullivan, DSW, Executive Director, Fordham-Tremont Community Mental Health Center and Founder/Co-Chair, Citywide Mental Health Coalition for the Black Elderly, noted that people of color want the same high quality of care that all people want—services that are accessible, affordable and performed by culturally competent workers.

She emphasized the need to develop a broader definition of clinical practice; encouraged social workers to unify in identifying as social workers and form statewide city/coalitions to address workforce issues.

Nancy D. Miller, LMSW, Executive Director, VISIONS/Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired, challenged conferees to inform themselves by reading the licensing law ( and to practice a “2 minute elevator speech” when securing adequate support and funding for client services. “If we can’t tell people what social workers do and why we are indispensable, nobody else will.” She offered a fresh perspective on recruitment, focusing on the roles that people with disabilities can play.

Kimberly Steinhagen, LMSW, Director, Geriatric Mental Health Alliance of New York, noted that most recent graduates sought the LCSW, which resulted in limiting themselves to particular field placements and job opportunities that will lead them on the path to this licensure. Employers now struggle to fill LMSW positions where the greater need is.

Gail Siegal, LCSW, Chair, NASW/NYC Gerontological Social Work Committee, concluded by outlining advocacy steps for changes in the licensing regulations. She urged participants to educate legislators, documenting problems in the form of letters to key NYS officials, with copies to the GSWC.

Workforce/licensing news will be shared through GSWC’s e-mail listserve


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