Social Work’s Visibility Problem
By Rachel L. West, MSW, LMSW
The Political Social Worker
It is March, which means it is Social Work Month. To celebrate I will be writing a series of post celebrating the occasion. This is the second of such articles.
A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article for Social Work Helper Magazine on New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to make licensure exemptions permanent for state agencies or programs that receive funding from state agencies.
New York State has only had social work licensing since 2004. At that time state agencies such as the Office of Mental Health (OMH) and the Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) became concerned about their staff that was performing job functions that now fell under the practice scope of the newly formed LMSW and LCSW. To prevent mass layoffs the state created a short-term exemption for these agencies. They would have until July 2013 to make sure that all their staff where appropriately licensed in accordance with their job duties and the state licensing laws.
The agencies in question now claim that the cost of appropriately licensing their service providers is too high and that there is a shortage of qualified social workers to replace the staff that is currently performing those tasks. As a result Governor Cuomo included a plan to make the exemptions permanent in his 2013 executive budget proposal.
As you can imagine this has caused an uproar among New York social workers. The thing is, the only people talking about it are the providers. Not a single newspaper or local news station has covered this topic, which is astonishing considering the implications this proposal has for the general public.
Over the past few weeks I have followed discussions on Linked In about the proposal. The NASW and a handful of other associations such as the New York Art Therapy Association have issued public statements against the Governors proposal. The NASW New York State chapter has sent out action alerts to members encouraging them to contact their state representatives and advocate against passing permanent licensure exemptions. Not a single news outlet picked up their press releases on the matter.
For the longest time I have been having a discussion with Deona Hooper at socialworkhelper.com about the social work voice missing from important national conversations. Think about it. How often do you see a social worker on news programs providing analysis? How often have you read an article in the paper in which a social worker was quoted as an expert? How often does the mainstream media cover issues related to professional social work?
A few weeks ago The Social Work Podcast had an interview with journalist Maiken Scott in which they discussed social works invisibility in media and entertainment. Scott also gave tips to social workers on how to get journalist to cover issues important to the profession and how to deal with social work being misrepresented in new stories.
Scott mentions in the interview that she never hears from social workers. She says that journalist really don’t know what social work is because social workers are not reaching out to the media.
This is a huge problem. We spend a lot of time complaining about problems in the profession, how we are misrepresented by the media, how issues important to us such as poverty are being ignored. But what are we doing as a profession to draw attention to these issues?
March is social work month. You will see a lot of posts from social workers asking how you are celebrating. Instead of doing that, I am going to challenge you to do one or all of the following:
- Reach out to a journalist. Introduce yourself as a social worker and offer your services as an expert.
- Send a letter to the editor on a social work issue.
- If you read a story in your local newspaper, magazine or blog that misrepresents social work write to the author and explain why it is inaccurate.