Significant Movement in State Legislature and Office of the Professions
Representatives of the New York City and New York State Chapters of NASW have been meeting with key leaders in the State Education Department and the governor’s office, as well as social workers and service providers who employ social workers , regarding several licensure implementation issues. This update was informed by the policy staff of the New York State Chapter. Four issues are at the forefront at this time and are addressed below.
Issue # 1
Applicants who have met the experiential and educational requirements have been denied licensure at the clinical level (LCSW) on the grounds that their experience was not acquired in a setting expressly authorized to provide licensed clinical social work services. Prior to social work licensure, this was not an issue and hundreds of community based service providers routinely hired social workers to provide clinical services. Upon enactment of social work licensure (and thus the beginning of “scope protection”), such agencies were never informed of this prohibition and have continued to provide scope-protected services without express legal authority. The continuing legal prohibition of the provision of scope-protected services in such settings has and will create significant workforce and service delivery disruptions unless action is taken to change the situation.
Update: In an effort to stem such a disruption, the two Chapters have been meeting with SED to find a remedy to this problem. SED has determined that it needs legislation granting it statutory authority to create and maintain a registry for currently unauthorized settings providing licensed clinical social work services. NASW has requested that in the creation of any such registry primary consideration be made to facilitating the ability of service providers getting into it. If the process of registering is cumbersome, agencies may become discouraged from signing up. In addition, NASW has requested a retrospective review of previously denied applications due to settings not being considered authorized settings for obtaining the LCSW (at no additional cost to the applicant). SED is considering this request. Legislation needs to be drafted and enacted, preferably during this legislative session. The two Chapters are currently working with other interested parties on this legislative initiative.
Special Note on Issue # 1: While the need to authorize settings that provide clinical services has been addressed above, it has also become clear more recently that any agency that provides services protected by the scopes of any profession in New York State needs legal authorization, as well. This would apply to the employment of LMSWs, licensed marriage and family therapists, licensed mental health counselors, and many other licensed professionals. This will mean that a far broader set of agencies will need to register with SED than those providing “clinical” services, once new legislation is enacted
Issue # 2
As discussed above, there has been widespread confusion regarding appropriate settings and supervision for clinical experience required for the LCSW. Currently, applicants are only entitled to review of the acceptability of their qualifications after three to six years (and often thousands of dollars in supervision) of experience.
Update: NASW has been involved in discussing with SED the creation of an optional prospective review process, whereby SED reviews all relevant aspects of supervised clinical social work, such as supervisor credentials, tasks, and intensity of experience. Fees prescribed for such a review process could be applied proportionately toward the LCSW application fee. SED is considering this proposal.
Exemptions provided in the originally enacted statute for OMH, OASAS, OMRDD and OCFS employees, and their regulated, contracted or funded agencies, are due to expire in less than a year (January 1, 2010). Such agencies have requested that the exemption become permanent on the basis that coming into compliance will be a costly and encumbered process. The 2010 sunset provision in the social work licensing statute was and is intended as a consumer protection mechanism, requiring that all social workers adhere to standardized criteria by a reasonable date from enactment of the statute. The failure of professionals and select agencies to comply with social work licensing standards will jeopardize consumer safety and compromise the probity of the social work profession; however, we understand that imposing the exemption on a workforce that is not prepared could have dire consequences for both the social work profession and the clients they serve. As such, NASW representatives have met with state agency and executive chamber staff in an effort to reach a compromise.
Update: While NASW is opposed to the lifetime exemption request made by several agencies, the two NASW Chapters have proposed an extension that includes specific provisions and benchmarks to ensure future compliance. In the 2009-10 Executive Budget proposal, language includes a straight-out extension of the exemption for an additional four years, to January 1, 2014. The two Chapters expressed the need for provisions and benchmarks necessary to move toward compliance. Negotiations with the legislature, the Governor’s office, state, and non-profit agencies will be ongoing and part of the budget process.
Issue # 4
In June of 2008, the State Education Department issued “clarifications” on its website which led to a great deal of confusion, frustration and denials of applicants seeking the LCSW. Such “clarifications” focused specifically on the practice of licensed clinical social work by licensed master social workers in independently owned and operated settings. While statutorily, LMSWs were never permitted to provide clinical social work services (assessment based treatment planning, diagnosis and psychotherapy) in independently owned and operated settings, guidance documents authored by the State Education Department suggested that LMSWs could in fact provide such services if they purchased outside supervision. Such misinformation has resulted in untold numbers of social workers facing denial of their LCSW under the grounds that their clinical experience was obtained in an invalid setting and that such experience was not properly supervised.
Update: Throughout our work with SED, the two NASW Chapters have requested “amnesty” for applicants who practiced in good faith and met all other requirements for the LCSW license, but were denied LCSW licensure due to confusion over setting (i.e., an independently owned and operated setting with the purchase of outside supervision). We have also requested that potential applicants currently in the process of gaining their experience in an independently owned and operated setting be given an appropriate time to complete such experience or appropriate time to cure such a situation. Last, we have requested that SED issue clear directives clarifying acceptable practices by licensees in independently owned and operated private clinical practices.
On January 30, 2009, SED published on its website how it is addressing this issue. For additional information, go to www.op.nysed.gov/swprivatepractice.htm. (NASW-NYC acknowledges the work of the newly-formed New York State Coalition of MSWs on this issue.)
The two Chapters of NASW will continue to work on these issues throughout the 2009 legislative session and keep members updated. Please visit the New York City Chapter website (www.naswnyc.org) for the latest information. Members may also contact the Chapter’s Licensing Specialist, Lu Lasson, LCSW, for specific assistance at Lasson@naswnyc.org.