January 13, 2011

Bill to change social workers' status hits opposition from Federation

For the second year in a row, the Federation voiced opposition to legislation to narrow the field of who can be a state social worker.

Senate Bill 5020 would allow only those licensed by the Department of Health or with a bachelor’s degree from a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education to use the title of social worker.

State social workers can have a wider range of degrees, with experience before and on the job key.

And as Federation Lobbyist Alia Griffing told the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee Thursday, the job title issue went to a demand to bargain session with the state earlier this week.

“As we know this is a field in high demand and there is a national shortage of qualified social workers and Washington state is no different. This bill further narrows the pool of applicants….

“The agency (DSHS) couldn’t tell us why this job series needs to be changed and we believe that this is a bill is in search of a problem.”

Joel Pettit, a social worker 3 in Olympia and a member of Local 443, was part of that demand-to-bargain session.

He said DSHS social workers earn their title not just through their education but also from training from the department and on-the-job experience.

“On a daily basis I’m called to testify as an expert witness not only through my education but also through my experience and my training…,” Pettit said.

When he contacts law enforcement agencies, “they don’t want to hear that I’m a case manager or that I’m a case coordinator. My title as a social worker carries grave weight with them. With that word comes an expectation of competence, comes an expectation that I know what I’m doing, that I have the training commensurate with what I’m supposed to be doing for these children and families.

“I have a tremendous obligation to approach everything through the lense of a moral compass that says that I seek justice for the families I work with and also for the hundreds of co-workers that I work with who may not have a social work degree. Many of these people have been doing social work since before the degree was available.”

Committee chair Sen. Jim Hargrove said the bill needs significant work if it is ever to move out of his committee.

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