Next weeks blog will be on schedule (Sunday night), as promised, but I couldn’t resist sharing the following letter with you all.
Dr. Angelo McClain, PhD, LICSW, Chief Executive Officer of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) wrote an article for the July 2013 NASW News titled “Helping Social Workers Help People.” I recommend it.
One particular passage jumped out at me. “We know there’s a pressing need to raise social work salaries to levels that allow retention of experienced social workers and incentives for students to enter the field.”
I have replied to Dr. McClain, and share it now with you.
Dear Dr. McClain,
I appreciate the opportunity to reply to a point made in your article “Helping Social Workers Help People,” in the July 2013 NASW News.
Firstly, I want you to know that I very much appreciate your “…plan to help social workers help people.” I, too, share your commitment by way of a new blog I am writing, which I would like to share with you and my fellow social workers. It is called “The Social Work Practitioner: A Nuts & Bolts Blog On Social Work Practice, Supervision, and Project Management” (www.thesocialworkpractitioner.com). This blog is my way of contributing to the collective knowledge of our profession, thus supporting your vision of helping social workers help people. I would be honored if you would be willing to look at my first post, “Trust,” a topic that I chose because of its centrality to caring, compassionate, and effective social work practice.
I am a New York State licensed MSW who graduated from Fordham University’s Graduate School of Social Services in August 2007. There is a line I wrote in a draft of a commencement address I was not selected to deliver which, though exaggerating a point, speaks to an issue you raise. The line is “My fellow Social Workers, we just borrowed about $40,000 for our graduate degrees. We’d all better get right to work, because with a starting salary of about $40,000, it will take us about 40,000 years to pay it back!” Funny, I think, in the “dark humor” way of expressing ourselves that we sometime have. But it speaks to your point that “…there’s a pressing need to raise social work salaries to levels that allow retention of experienced social workers and incentives for students to enter the field.” With regards to the latter there seems to me to be a significant dilemma to address.
As you know, organizations compete to win contracts from various government entities in response to RFP’s. To win these contracts, they of course try to offer the lowest bid possible. As private funding sources began drying up in the economic crisis begun in 2008, the competition for government contracts became even more fierce than it had been, historically. One of the results of this competition has been that organizations are increasingly willing to overlook Social Workers as job candidates in favor of individuals with some human services experience and a Bachelors or Associates Degree (in almost anything), or “equivalent experience.” Why are they doing this? A trusted friend and colleague of mine who is responsible for recruiting and hiring new Case Managers in her program told me that it saved her $3,000 per worker, per year, to hire someone other than a Social Worker. Three thousand dollars! She was allotted $35,000 to hire Case Managers and wanted to hire BSW’s or MSW candidates, but in so many words was told it would be “really great” if she could find “other” new hires for, say, $32,000. This was extremely distressing to my friend and she tried to hire the BSW and MSW candidates anyway. She wanted Social Workers for her clients. The social workers wouldn’t go for it—and who could blame them? That’s the reality. That’s how tight the money is. And I have it from other sources that this is a generalizable dynamic in cash-strapped not-for-profits.
So will raising social work salaries result in hiring more Social Workers? Right now, I’m hard pressed to see how. But if at any point you decide to assemble a team to figure this out, count me in. I have ideas, and like so many of our colleagues I’m a social worker in search of more money!
Thank you for the work you do on behalf of Social Workers everywhere, and I wish you every success.
Craig Moncho, LMSW
A District Judge that I worked with for many years as a Child Protective Services, employee in Texas, always referred to us as angels. It was a little embarrassing at the time but I do believe he got it right. That kind of respect does not exist today. This was in the 70’s and you were proud to be doing your tiny part to protect children and you felt appreciated for what you did. That does not seem to be the case today with Social Workers or Teachers so I do hope it will change. NASW has a leader now that can make that change but it will not be easy.
That sounds like one sweet District Judge. So nice to be seen and appreciated, isn’t it? Even if it feels a little embarrassing at first. I have no doubt but that it was well deserved.
I do not have the long view on this that you have, but I wonder if the change in the level of respect toward social workers and teachers that you describe is limited to those professions. I do believe that social workers, on the whole, are still proud to be doing their part, but there is no doubt that the stress is intense. There have been times when I’ve felt so stressed that a kind word has not even penetrated my awareness, I’m sure.
I hope you are correct about Dr. McClain. Time will tell. It will be a nice beginning if he replies to my comment. If you have any thoughts about how to increase respect for social workers and our profession, I would be very interested in hearing them.
Thanks for reading and writing, Ann. All the best!
About Dr. McClain, My husband was a house parent at Cal Farley’s Boys Ranch before I knew him. He knew Angelo and his brother quite well. Angelo coached my youngest step-sons little league football team. All the kids were crazy about him. When he graduated from college with his bachelors degree, I hired him to work in the intake unit at Child Protective Services in Amarillo TX. He left there to go to Arlington to get his MSW and then returned to Amarillo as a supervisor for a short time before moving to Boston, I think. I have not seen him in over 20 years and was truly amazed at his success. He is a kind and caring person but can be super quiet and appear not to be interested. Many misinterpret this. I assure you if you get to know him you will see him as the unique, intelligent person that he is and the skills he brings to his profession.
The decline in respect for the professionals that care about others I think began in the late 80’s or that is the way it seemed to me. There was a lack of support from the administrators or leaders in Austin. They began making the rules without any input from the field staff or those directly knowledgeable about how to do the job. Caseloads soared and became unmanageable and at the same time there was always talk of cutting staff and it was always those in the field while the administration continued to grow, placing more burdens on those trying to do the right thing and yet comply with all the expectations out of Austin. I suspect this was going on nationwide. It became an almost impossible challenge. As we cut back on what could be done with such a heavy burden, mistakes were made and we were quickly seen as completely incompetent and of course did not know what we were doing. The hurt children became more difficult and as we often said sicker. Intervention was not initiated when the children were small and most vulnerable but later when there was less chance of really helping. The loudest got served first so the little guys were left unprotected.
I retired in 1997 and was telling my husband almost daily that this job was going to kill me if I didn’t quit soon. I loved the work and still have all those good memories about the special people that I had the opportunity to know and work with for 28 years and will always cherish them. It was the bureaucracy that was so very difficult and make an already difficult job, impossible. Really hope it is better now but from what I do hear things are still pretty tough..
Hi Spence—so glad you’re on board!
What you describe about the NASW is appalling, and I hope to hear from others who either feel similarly, or who would refute this. I have heard this charge in some form before, and have no awareness of the NASW making the very sensible effort you describe. Spence, why do you think the NASW has not done this? And what thoughts might you have about how to start this conversation with them?
In my experience there is a shocking lack of knowledge in the NYC human services community about the “value-added” in hiring a licensed social worker. In my role as a consultant I often help agencies design a new program in response to an RFP. When it comes time to create the budget, the first thing to go is the LMSW or LCSW if it is not required by the funder. For years I have felt that NASW is partly to blame for this because they do not engage in a robust public education campaign that shows why a licensed social worker is better than an untrained person. Also, in all my years working with small human service organizations I have never come across any education or advocacy from NASW. I feel quite alone in my one-on-one advocacy for the hiring of professional social workers.