Meetings Uncover New Impacts of Licensing on Workforce
Chapter Prepares Mental Health, Child Welfare, Aging, Health Care and Settlement Houses
Since the social work licensing law went into effect in 2004, the Chapter has been monitoring its impact on the profession. The focus has been on practitioners, including students, the schools of social work, as well as agencies and programs. While it is widely recognized that licensing was important to the social work profession and assures protection of the public that only qualified practitioners receive the license, there are numerous issues that have been of concern to the Chapter’s Board of Directors.
In order to assure that practitioners and students would be fully informed about licensing, the Chapter created a new staff position titled “licensing specialist”. A person was hired last October and has been able to provide consultation on the requirements for licensing. In addition to this, the Chapter has held numerous meetings with agency and program leaders to make certain that service providers who employ social workers fully understand the requirements for social workers to be licensed.
In the past several months, the Chapter has held separate meetings with leaders in mental health, child welfare, aging, health care, and settlement houses. These meetings provided an opportunity to discuss the LMSW and the LCSW in terms of legal compliance, and issues were identified that are seen as concerns in the present as well as for the future.
Issues with the LMSW
NASW has been having discussions about the fact that licensing requires all practitioners to have, at a minimum, the LMSW to practice. While many agencies have been fully aware of this, many others have not been aware. Related to this is the concern that a significant number of graduates are not passing the exam. Social workers are allowed under a limited permit to be employed for up to one year, under supervision, while they obtain the license, but many practitioners and employers are reporting that staff have been dismissed for not passing the exam within the one year time period.
While there is no quantitative data available, there is anecdotal evidence that social workers whose English is a second language may be less likely to pass the exam than others. The organization that prepares and administers the exam, the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), does not release data that would permit an analysis of possible bias in the exam. The Chapter is awaiting an analysis being put together by the State Office of the Professions about pass rates, but this may not prove to be definitive since much of their relevant data is provided by individual practitioners on a voluntary basis.
The Chapter is encouraging everyone who needs to take the LMSW exam to take a preparatory workshop and to do everything possible to prepare for the exam. ASWB offers sample test questions that can be purchased. In addition, schools of social work and employers need to provide support to help in the preparation.
Issues with the LCSW
A great deal of discussion has focused on the requirements for the LCSW and the need for experience doing diagnoses, assessment based treatment planning and psychotherapy. There is a strong sense that the requirements for the LCSW do not reflect many of the realities of social work practice in organizational settings and that the requirements are overly restrictive. For example, the Office of the Professions is not simply accepting the attestation of the supervisor that an applicant for the LCSW has acquired the necessary experience. The Office has been looking for additional validation based on a program’s certificate of operation or regulations that would permit the LCSW related experience to be carried out.
Providers across various service delivery systems have pointed out that such additional validation is making it difficult to support LMSWs to obtain their LCSW. Program directors have shared with NASW that they have had staff rejected for the LCSW even when they have met all of the legal criteria in the statute. Some of them have reported being successful in challenging the Office of the Professions while others have not been successful.
Members of the NASW-NYC Board, as well as social work leaders in the field, have said that there are far more settings than acknowledged by the Office of the Professions that are appropriate for obtaining the relevant LCSW experience. While some social workers have argued that certain mental health settings are the best training grounds for the LCSW experience, many others are expressing that there are far more settings that provide a range of relevant experience. As one knowledgeable Board member expressed recently, the nature of one’s experience often depends on who the supervisors is. The particular setting should not be the issue.
In the short term, over the next year, NASW-NYC will continue to work with practitioners, agency and program directors, the schools of social work, as well as the Office of the Professions, to continue to address licensing issues. One goal is to assure that everyone is well informed, aware of the issues, and to have adequate input into policy decisions
Over the longer term, the Chapter is concerned about the impact of licensing on the overall social work workforce and whether access to the profession will be overly restrictive and that additional shortages will be seen.