Friday, December 22, 2006

Many of the cabinet's social services employees are unqualified and not licensed

Many lack credentials to be social workers -
Cabinet puts its most needy in unqualified hands
Hazlette, Margaret. Lexington Herald-Leader, Aug. 7, 2006, pg. A8.

At issue
June 22 Herald-Leader article by Valarie Honeycutt Spears, "Adoption hearing points finger at state cabinet agencies accused of taking children from biological families"

There is certainly no shortage of articles that focus on the many problems in our country's system of care for abused children. The Herald-Leader is to be complimented for its dedication in addressing the subject of families' and children's needs and services.

However, the June 22 article mistakenly refers to the Cabinet of Health and Family Services workers as social workers. Many of the cabinet's social service employees do not possess degrees in social work or hold licenses to practice social work in Kentucky.

Therefore, they are traditionally not social workers and most likely have never been in the past. The correct term and state personnel classification for these professionals is social service workers.

The term "social worker" is title protected. What this implies is that a person cannot be described as a social worker unless he has a degree in social work from an accredited educational program and possesses a social work license issued by the state.

Generally speaking, if one engages in the practice of social work absent the proper credentials, he is in violation of state law and regulations. These statutes and regulations have been promulgated to protect consumers, particularly people who are often the most vulnerable in our society, in need of social work services.

However, the cabinet is one of the few agencies that still possess what is referred to as "exempt status." Such status allows the cabinet to hire people without social work degrees to assist families and children who are referred to the Department of Community Based Services.

This exemption allows unlicensed individuals to provide service to the most compromised citizens in Kentucky. It is incumbent on the state legislature and the leaders of the executive branch to investigate this issue to ensure that the services rendered to our citizens are of the highest quality and accountability.

Occupations with a lesser impact on the quality of life for our citizens are generally regulated by a required licensure. Social services should deserve no less.

To acquire a bachelor's degree in social work, one must successfully complete 54 credit hours of social work classes. The coursework emphasizes the requisite social work knowledge, skills and values necessary to effectively serve individuals, families, groups and communities.

The curriculum is demanding. It includes 500 hours of supervised field placement during the last two semesters of school. Moreover, all social workers and social work students must adhere to the National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics. In Kentucky, members of the profession are governed by and must abide by the "Laws and Regulations Relating to the Practice of Social Work" published by the Kentucky Board of Social Work.

As a social work practitioner for many years, I have worked collaboratively with people in a variety of venues who described themselves as social workers, only to discover that they had earned bachelor's degrees in another discipline such as English, physical education, biology, psychology, geography, sociology, home economics, chemistry, education or mathematics.

These are not professional social workers, and 33 credit hours of classes in any of these discipline areas do not adequately prepare graduates for the challenging duties common to the field of social work. While knowledge in these disciplines is valuable and commendable, it is not the preparation typically required for those who earn bachelor's or master's degrees in social work.

Those who wish to engage themselves as professional social workers must be encouraged to complete the degree requirements for social work, acquire the appropriate credentials and subscribe to the Code of Ethics established for the profession and acquire licensure for their appropriate level of competence.

MARGARET A. HAZLETTE of Nicholasville is chairwoman of the Kentucky Board of Social Work.


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