Top 5 Reasons Social Work is Failing

Airing live on CSPAN, Dr. Steve Perry gave a searing speech on the “The Role of A Social Worker” at the Clark Atlanta University Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the founder and principal of a Connecticut school which only accepts first generation, low-income, and minority students.

Dr. Perry received his Masters of Social Work degree from the University of Pennsylvania and has since become a leading expert in education, a motivational speaker, accomplished author, and a reality tv host.

Dr. Perry was adamant that social workers are the key to solving societal problems because we are the first responders for social issues.

However, he also pointed out that social workers are not unionized, tend to be politically inactive, and do not engage in social conversations in the public sphere.

Dr. Perry asserts that our jobs are the first to be cut because we are silent, and taxpayer dollars are being diverted to education budgets for programs social workers should be implementing.

I have listened to Dr. Perry’s speech twice already, and there were many pearls of wisdom that he dropped on the ears of those in attendance and viewing the broadcast. For the most part, I agreed with 95 percent of what Dr. Perry said which is a very high percentage for me.

Now, I am going to share with you my top 5 reasons why I believe social work is failing:

1. Title Protection

First, it made me beam with joy when Dr. Perry referred to himself as a social worker despite his celebrity status. Most individuals with social work degrees who work in social work settings often refer to themselves as researchers, professors, therapists, or psychoanalysts. The people most vocal about title protection and licensure don’t actually call themselves social workers as if the title is relegated only to frontline staff.

I feel that over time title protection has been convoluted to mean licensed social worker and not a worker with a social work degree. I go in more detail on my thoughts regarding licensure in a prior article entitled, “Licensed Social Workers Don’t Mean More Qualified”. In my opinion, current policies and advocacy by professional associations and social work organizations have fractured the social work community into its current state.

We hail Jane Addams as the founder and pioneer of social work when in fact a story like Jane Addams’ would not be possible today. Jane Addams did not have a social work degree nor did she need a license to advocate, help people organize, or connect them with community resources. As a matter of fact, in today’s society Jane Addams would probably major in gender studies, political science, public policy, business or law.

Social work degree programs have begun dissociating themselves with “casework” connecting community members to resources, and they actually steer students away from these types of jobs. If we are going to pursue title protection, we also need to create second degree and accelerated programs to pull experienced professionals and other degree holders into the social work profession instead of excluding them.

2. Macro vs Micro

For the past couple of decades, social work has slowly moved towards and is now currently skewed toward being a clinical degree while marketing itself as a mental health profession. Over time, the profession has done a poor job in recruiting and connecting with individuals who are interested in working with the poor, politics, grassroots organizing, and other social justice issues.

Individuals who once flocked to social work to do community and social justice work are now seeking out other disciplines instead. Many social workers who want to be politically active and social justice focused are forced to do so under the banner of a women’s organization or other social justice nonprofit due to lack of our own. Students who decided to seek a macro social work degree often feel alienated and unsupported both in school and later with lack of employment opportunities.

3. Professionals Associations Represent Themselves and Not Us

Social Work organizations and associations have been pushing licensing for the past couple of decades which happens to also correlate with the same time frame they tripled the amount of unpaid internship hours required to complete your social work degree.

Recently, the Australian Association of Social Workers conducted a study which found university social work students were skipping meals and could not pay for basic necessities in order to pay for educational materials. American social work students who receive no stipends or any type of assistance are being forced to quit paying jobs in order to work unpaid internships, and they have no one fighting for them. In fact, most social work leaders argue that if you can’t shoulder the hardship this is not the profession for you. Many social workers struggle with supporting the fight for $15 dollars per hour for minimum wage jobs because they have master’s degrees making less than $15 dollars per hour.

You can’t talk to a social worker about anything without hearing the word “licensing”. From the time you start orientation, licensing is being forced feed to you as the solution that will solve all of social work’s problems. You are told licensing is going lead to better pay, better professionalism, better outcomes for clients, and better recognition to name a few. Minimum education and training standards are important, but requiring a medical model for all areas of practice in social work is not the answer. Social Work Licensing advocates often compare social work licensing with that of nurses, doctor, or lawyers.

In my opinion, social work licensing gives social workers all the liability and responsibilities without any of the rights. In states where licensing is required, social work licensing advocates did not advocate for employers to assume the cost of the additional training. The cost of continuing education credits have been passed on to the employee who is already in a low paying job, and the employer may opt to pay for them if they choose.

Here are a few things that licensing actually does:

  • Who can pass the licensure exam without having to pay for test prep materials or a workshop in which your professional association happens to sell to you at a “discount” if you are a member.
  • People are taking the licensure exam sometimes at $500 each time for four to five times. Where is this money going?
  • Once you pass the licensure exam, you are going to need liability insurance in which they also happen to sell.
  • To keep your social work license, you will have to maintain a certain amount of continuing education unit (CEU) hours yearly. They just happen to own and provide the majority of these CEU online companies and workshops for you as well.
  • Then, you have to pay renewal fees yearly and fines to your state board of licensure which goes to sustain their jobs.

Licensing is currently in all 50 states and US territories, and it seems to benefit the people who created the policies more than it does the social worker and the communities we serve. Licensure makes money, and social justice issues just aren’t income generators. For social workers who are already struggling, how does all the above fees and costs affect their career mobility in one of the lowest paid professions with one of the highest student loan income/debt ratios? Without a union for social workers, who will advocate on our behalf and for our clients to get the resources we need to serve them?

4. Lack of Diversity in Social Work Leadership and Academia 

Through Social Work Helper, I have had the opportunity to be a part of conversations with various factions of social work leadership over the past couple of years. Often times, I was the only person a part of the conversation that didn’t have a doctorate or at least in the process of earning one.  Additionally, I noticed that very few were minority voices if any other than me who were a part of these conversations. At first, I was intimidated because they had more education and  higher positions than me.

However, the more I listened and paid attention, I realized they are not better than me rather they had access to more opportunities than me. The ignorance and insensitivity displayed towards communities of color and the plight of social workers who are struggling in this profession was unbelievable.

Diversity in leadership brings different perspectives and point of views to be added to the conversation. Why didn’t more social work organizations and schools of social work support last night’s speech by Dr. Perry hosted at a Historically Black College? How often is the topic of social work front and center in a televised public forum?

According Social Work Synergy,

“At times this will mean sharing power and leadership in deeper ways, and taking proactive steps to undo oppression and racism. The use of community organizing principles and skills are essential” (p.19) to this effort. Read Full Article

5. Lack of Support and Silence

Social work organizations and associations are forever holding conferences that the majority of social workers can’t afford to attend. Many social workers don’t have the luxury of having their university foot the bill for them to attend every social work conference each year. This very dynamic adds to the failures listed in 1 thru 4. In addition, it highlights another point made by Dr. Perry when he stated, “Social Workers will talk to each other, but they won’t engage in the public sphere”.

I have contacted both the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) asking them to waive certain expenses, so I can cover their conferences in order to engage social workers via social media who can’t afford to attend. I can get press access to a White House event, but not to a social work conference. It’s like a country club that you can’t be a part of unless you can afford it.

Watch for free on CSPAN: The Role of Social Workers

 

Celebrities Who Were Social Workers

When we think of Social Workers, we often think in a singular dimension. It is often assumed that a person who enters into the field of social work do so as a last resort or looking for a way to breeze through college. When in fact, it is just the opposite.

Dr. Steve Perry

Many who enter the field have talents and gifts that would allow them to excel in other areas. However, their backgrounds or experiences forced them to develop an overwhelming sense of compassion for vulnerable populations which increases their desire to help and serve others. Here are few examples of Celebrities who were Social Workers before they became famous.

Reality TV Show “Save My Son” star Dr. Steven Perry received his Masters in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania. In the late 90’s, Dr. Perry founded a program in Connecticut called ConCAP which was a collegiate awareness program, and the program was hugely successful. As a result, the program sent 100% of its first generation graduates from low-income homes to four-year colleges.  Since then, Dr. Perry has carved a name for himself as an educator, therapist, and motivational speaker. He is an accomplished author and columnist for Essence Magazine.

Alice Walker

Award Winning Writer and Poet, Alice Walker worked as a Social Worker, teacher, and lecturer during the Civil Rights Movement after graduating from Sarah Lawrence College in New York.  Before gaining notoriety for her literary works, she moved to Mississippi to fight the racial injustices during the Civil Rights Movement.

Ms. Walker is most famous for writing The Color Purple which was later adopted for the silver screen starring Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldburg and Danny Glover, and she was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize for writing the fictional novel.

Samuel L. Jackson

Award winning actor Samuel L. Jackson, who is most known for his roles in Pulp Fiction, Jungle Fever, and a Time to Kill, worked as Social Worker for two years in Los Angeles. Mr. Jackson graduated from Morehouse University in Atlanta, Georgia in 1969.

The now acclaimed actor during his youth was active in the black power movement where he protested the absence of any blacks on the Board of Trustees at his historically black all male college. Mr. Jackson has appeared in over 100 films and has been named the highest grossing actor of all time with an estimated gross of 7.2 Billion dollars.

John Amos
John Amos

John Amos who is most famous for playing James on “Good Times” studied Social Work at Colorado State University after receiving an athletic scholarship to play football. Mr. Amos majored in social work to prepare for his work within the black community.

He went on to become a Social Worker at the New York’s Vera Institute of Justice before catching the acting bug, and his break-out role was as a weather man on the Mary Tyler-Moore show in 1970. Mr. Amos also won an Emmy Award for his portrayal of Kunta Kinte in the historic mini-series “Roots”.

Although these next two did not actually work as social workers, they do deserve an honorable mention for obtaining degrees in Social Work, and they are Money Guru Suze Orman and long time beau of Oprah Winfrey, Stedman Graham.

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