As COVID– 19 restrictions are lifted and residents begin to re-engage in their communities, a host of social service needs, especially mental health, will stretch municipal services. At this point in the pandemic, municipalities more than ever need professional social workers who, as essential workers, are trained to deliver the highest quality service.
In 2014 the State of Connecticut, Department of Administrative Services (DAS) instituted preference in hiring of MSWs and BSWs for all executive branch departments for the job classification of social worker. This occurred after the Department of Children and Families began in 2012 to primarily hire MSWs and BSWs and the Department of Social Services followed suit in 2013. Based on the positive results by both DCF and DSS the state put the preference into place as an administrative decision. In 2019 that preference in hiring of MSWs and BSWs became codified into statute. The sole reason for this is that after seven years of employment experience the State of Connecticut determined that employing professional social workers led to better delivery of social services, a more qualified workforce and improved client outcomes. Municipalities should now do the same.
Settings such as social/human service departments, public schools, libraries, senior centers and senior services, youth bureaus and police are all municipal departments where professional social workers can make a significant contribution and where MSWs and BSWs belong. The key reasons that professional social workers should be the preferred candidate of choice for municipalities when hiring for social service positions is as follows:
- Professional social workers must complete a rigorous curriculum that includes core competencies determined by the national Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in order to earn a BSW or MSW degree. Social workers are educated in a ‘person in environment’ approach that assures the most holistic and comprehensive methods to working with clients. This unique perspective helps social workers to assist people in reaching their full potential, while contributing to building healthy and productive families and communities. Social workers have specific skills and knowledge in working with individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities that grounds the social worker in a wholistic understanding of client needs. Professional social workers utilize a systems perspective that fully takes into account the person’s individual situation, the client’s family relationships, the social determinants that impact on the presenting issues and the community resources that can be brought to bear to the problems at hand.
- Attaining a degree in social work requires completion of a comprehensive curriculum that has a strict set of competencies that each social work student must achieve. Curriculum includes coursework on individuals, families, groups, organizations and communities, that is augmented by electives allowing the student to focus on specific populations. Students must complete supervised field internships where the student acquires real life experience prior to entering the field as a practitioner.
- Most MSWs attain professional licensure by passage of a nationally recognized exam.
There are many municipal settings where professional social workers can provide quality services. The most obvious is a Social Service or Human Services Department where residents bring a host of concerns. Public schools often employ school social workers for a range of services, including crisis intervention, counseling, behavior modification, mental health, work with families, and support for teachers and administrators.
Libraries are an area of growing employment for social workers. Public libraries serve a wide range of resident needs that include encounters with persons who are homeless, have mental health illnesses, are unemployed, have unmet health care needs, face family caregiving issues and isolation. Senior services and senior centers are excellent settings for professional social workers to work in. There are social workers who have specific training in geriatric social work that includes working with the individual and their family toward healthy aging. Youth bureaus deliver clinical services to children and adolescents, working on mental health needs and family issues.
Licensed clinical social workers are recognized by all major insurers so can provide billable services to offset service delivery costs. Local police departments have begun to recognize the value of having a social worker as part of the department’s tool box. Having a social worker to accompany the law enforcement officer on social needs can lead to better and safer outcomes for both the person in need and the responding officer.
Connecticut has an ample pool of MSWs and BSWs who are well suited for municipal employment. There are six MSW schools and eight BSW schools in Connecticut and many more in surrounding states that offer municipalities a strong pool of candidates to recruit from.
Municipalities are excellent places for MSWs and BSWs to be employed. In a municipality the social service worker sees a wide range of residents in age, economic status, and social needs. The social work degree best prepares the employee to address this wide range of issues and present the municipality as a responsive government that is capable of improving the lives of its residents, thus enhancing the community as a whole.
Stephen Wanczyk-Karp is the executive director of the National Association of Social Workers, CT Chapter.