Recently, I came across a Boston Herald article questioning why 34 percent of the Boston Division of Children and Families (DCF) were unlicensed social workers. The tone of the article suggests that unlicensed workers are not qualified to perform their duties while indicating that licensed social workers equated to a higher standard.
As a former Child Welfare Investigator, those who follow Social Work Helper is well aware that I am a strong advocate against the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW or equivalent) becoming the standard for all social workers especially in the public sector and child welfare. Many hear the word licensed and assume it means in compliance or adherence to a certain standard, and it does if you are providing mental health services. Until the LCSW, a doctorate in psychology was needed for diagnosing and treatment. Social Work Licensure Advocates for the LCSW changed that dynamic and have helped to make mental healthcare services more accessible. However, each state develops their own licensing requirements which often varies from state to state.
As it relates to the Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) or the Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) under Massachusetts’ licensing law, it means the individual social worker has a master degree in social work, and he/she is licensed to diagnosis clients with a mental health disorder and/or provide treatment to help improve their outcomes after being diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Additionally, Massachusetts provides licensing for Bachelors level social workers. However, this is not the standard in North Carolina or the majority of states.
Currently, most Child Welfare Agencies require at minimum a bachelors degree in Social Work or related field. However, by requiring social work licensure, I believe it places additional financial burdens on social workers working in traditional social work roles while the Council for Social Work Education fails to address the barriers and challenges those in the public sector face in pursing a social work education.
Both Child Welfare Social Workers and Police Officers are given powers by statutory law. However, child welfare agencies are not required to be accredited and maintain minimum training and standards certifications like police departments despite recommendations by the United States Government Accounting Office (GAO). Although studies show a social work degree is the recommended degree for a child welfare setting, studies also recommend accreditation as the best course of action to improve outcomes for children and families. Having licensed social workers do not guarantee their course work was specifically for working in child welfare nor does it institute transparency, accountability, program evaluation, and minimum standards of care as well as creating standards for the Agency’s administration of policy.
Many social workers are deterred from pursing a social work education due to the barriers and oppressive polices against older, working practitioners, and/or the underpriviledged. Although I had a BSW degree and working as a Child Welfare Investigator, I had to quit my job and work for free at another human service agency in order to be in compliance with the internship requirements. Social Workers are finding themselves without health insurance and in economic turmoil in order to comply with a licensing standard that is geared towards clinical practice and not macro/public service.
The Division of Child and Family Services and other child welfare agencies act under the authority of federal, state, and local statutory laws to investigate allegations of abuse, neglect, and dependency. These agencies are also charged with making recommendations and monitoring the fitness of parents once a determination has been made following a family assessment or investigation. As a result of this statutory authority, licensing law advocates have been unsuccessful in eliminating the licensing public sector exemption for child welfare and human service agencies. However, they have been successful in creating this mandate in the private sector.
As a Child Welfare Investigator, I brought a knowledge base of almost 14 years of interview and interrogation experience in addition to a Bachelor of Social Work. Later, I pursued a Master degree in Social Work with a concentration in management and community practice.
However, without doing an additional two years in post graduate doing therapy, I am not eligible for licensing in the State of North Carolina. Because someone can go straight to undergrad, then to graduate school, and then work an additional two years post graduate doing therapy for less than minimal wages to get a LCSW in the State of North Carolina, it does not make them more qualified as a child welfare social worker. It makes them more privileged.
Child Welfare social workers act as brokers when treatment services are needed or recommended. We connect families with community providers and resources who are trained to provide those services and make expert recommendations on their progress or lack of progress.
Child Welfare Services must coordinate between schools, police department, hospitals, and other community providers in order to obtain information and coordinate services while maintaining case documentation and hourly billing for reimbursement from the federal government. Unlike private sector project managers, child welfare social workers must complete this high wire act with limited resources and access to technology while dealing with a load of bureaucracies in poor work environments. Child Welfare Social Workers live and work in fear because the bulk of your time doing triage and cases with low activity often get re-prioritized due to high caseloads and staff shortages.
When I investigated cases, the police investigators relied on my evidence and case gathering to determine whether charges should be filed because social workers are more educated and are the experts in these cases. Social worker have both education and training in many aspects police investigators do not. Yet, often the police investigators that I interacted with had higher salaries than I did, received over-time pay or comp time in excess of a 40 hour week, and most only a high school diploma or at best a bachelor’s degree despite our jobs being classified as hazardous by both the county and the State.
If there is a tragedy, the media is asking the wrong questions, and Agencies are not going to steer you into asking the right questions. Child Welfare and Human Services Directors answer only to their Board of Directors, and they operate independently of the county or State unless State legislation has addressed this. State oversight is limited because Child Welfare Agencies predominately operate by mandate of Federal law as adopted by State law.
If you want to know why something happened, find out the case number ratios for each social worker and the amount of hours each worked. See how many children a social worker has on his/her caseload and their risk level which determines the amount of times each social worker must visit each child monthly. Look at the administrative time logged for each social worker which provides insight into actual days work, time in meetings, time spent in case supervision, and training records. You will find the numbers won’t add up to what is humanly possible.
Do you automatically assume that each case only has one or two children in the same household or go to the same school? Eight-teen cases don’t sound like a lot, but you could easily have over 55 children with moderate to high risk levels. Moderate risk requires bi-monthly visits and high-risk requires weekly visits. Low risks require monthly visits, but they are often not enough to keep a case open for services. No matter how many children on your caseload, you don’t stop getting cases.
It is not uncommon for kids to leave for summer camp or go visit relatives especially when they are not in school, and a courtesy request home visit made to another Agency in another state could take months to occur. States are not connected, and sending out an alert on a missing child equates to an email and a report to law enforcement which often don’t go anywhere due to being out of their jurisdiction for investigation. I believe the cases in Boston will expose systems failures if the right questions are answered.
Ask for the same records and standard operating procedures, you would seek if you want to know if a police officer or police department was malfeasance and whether proper in-service training was up to date. Under current federal mandates, it is statistically impossible for the best qualified social worker to adhere to every standard and best practices. Front-line staff often take the fall while policy and system failures are not being properly identified.
Where are the supervisory case notes by each supervisor who is suppose to meet weekly with their subordinates to discuss all the children on their caseload? Are the checks and balances clearly defined by supervision and the administration to account for the whereabouts of children falling under the scope of child welfare services, and how is it monitored?
I challenge the media to ask the right questions. In the video below, the Governor addressed allegations relayed by the school superintendent after the fact. I could write another article on the improvements needed between child welfare social workers and teachers. Social Work investigators’ caseloads are tremendously exacerbated because teachers are not trained on the differences between abuse/neglect and poverty. However, I will have to address that at another time.
Deona Hooper, MSW is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Social Work Helper, and she has experience in nonprofit communications, tech development and social media consulting. Deona has a Masters in Social Work with a concentration in Management and Community Practice as well as a Certificate in Nonprofit Management both from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.