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NASW asks Oregonian to correct article that demeans Social Work Profession

Oregonianlogo2The National Association of Social Workers is disappointed the Oregonian  has tarnished the image of the social work profession by incorrectly using the social work title in a recent article on child welfare.

We have asked the daily newspaper, which is based in Portland, OR, to correct the article.

The March 28 article, “Children left in unsafe homes by Oregon social workers nearly half the time, report says,” is based on an internal report from the Oregon Department of Human Services. That report said caseworkers leave children in danger because they routinely miss or disregard threats to children’s safety.

However, the Oregonian article identified these caseworkers as “social workers.” Oregon law stipulates only people who have degrees in social work can carry that title. Often, few caseworkers in state agencies are in fact social workers.

NASW called the newspaper and talked to Molly Young, who reported the article, and her editor Therese Bottomly. They refused to issue a correction, saying they used the term social workers because the public generally uses the term to refer to people who work in child welfare agencies. We disagreed.

The NASW Oregon Chapter has followed up on the issue by sending this letter to the newspaper from long-term member Gretchen Thiel, MSW:

Hello, Molly:

As a retired social worker in Oregon, with years of practice in both public child welfare and in social work education, I was saddened to see in your article of March 28th the attribution of these failures in Oregon’s child welfare system to social workers.

The internal analysis of Oregon DHS child welfare cases referred to in your article inaccurately identified child welfare staff as “social workers”.  In fact, the actual report referred to their staff as “caseworkers” which is more accurate (although some caseworkers may also be social workers).

Gretchen Thiel, MSW

Gretchen Thiel, MSW

I think it is important for the public (as well as the press) to know the difference.  Oregon’s SB177, passed in 2009 and enacted in 2011, reformed social work regulation in Oregon and provided for title protection of the title “social worker.”

As of 2011, any person who uses the title “social worker” must possess a degree in social work from a school or program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).  They must also be licensed by the State of Oregon (or be a school social worker employed in a school with the title “school social worker”).   Licenses include RBSW (Registered Bachelor of Social Work), LMSW (Licensed Master’s of Social Work), CSWA (Clinical Social Work Associate), or LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker).

Social work practice consists of the professional application of social work values, principles, and techniques to helping people, communities, and society solve social problems.  It requires knowledge of human development and behavior; of social, economic, and cultural institutions; and of the interaction of all these factors.

While the caseworkers in Oregon’s DHS child welfare offices are usually well-trained to do the difficult work they do, unless they have social work degrees they are not social workers.   Studies indicate that social work degrees are the most appropriate degrees for child welfare practice (Child Welfare League of America, 2002) and have been directly linked to better outcomes for children and families and retention of staff.

The National Association of Social Workers has set standards for the practice of social work in child welfare (2013) which includes public child welfare programs as well as community programs which serve vulnerable children and their families.

As a retired social worker who worked in public child welfare in Oregon, I know the dedication and the challenges of the caseworkers employed by Oregon’s DHS.  They do a very difficult and stressful job, usually with few resources of support.  However, it is important that the public not be misled to believe that a “caseworker” is synonymous to “social worker” as there is a big difference, both in educational preparation and in accountability to licensing boards.

My hope is that you will correct this inaccurate depiction of social workers as being responsible for these failures in the child welfare system and accurately report the difference between a “caseworker” and a “social worker”.

Thank you.

Gretchen Thiel, MSW

Ashland, OR

NASW urges social workers to continue to contact the newspaper to register their complaint. Therese Bottomly, the director of news, can be reached a



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  1. Ms. Thiel is entirely on target. Sloppy journalism like this hurts efforts to improve a complex and under-resourced system. It is demoralizing to the underpaid professionals who choose to work in the system, and perpetuates public and legislative misperceptions of how to make the system work. Is the “Oregonian” a small publication unable to employ professional journalists? The newspaper could at least state what percentage of caseworkers were social workers, but it sounds like they are not interested in checking their facts.

  2. That mistake is often made between social services, caseworkers and social workers.
    I find that “social workers” are often dumped on as well.
    I am sure there were other department heads involved but we will never know because it is easier to cover up their actions or lack thereof to ensure these childrens’ safety. Unfortunately, these children perished due to a systemic faIlure to act.
    I know of an administrator who failed to file a self report on a physical altercation between 2 dementwd room mates.
    When questioned by the state surveyors, he claimed that when he worked in Virginia, he never reported these incidents if both parties were demented. By the way, this guy is licensed in MD so you would think he would know the laws in whch he practices. When he was asked the same question in front of HR, he said he didn’t know about the incident.
    The facility received an Immediate Jeopardy and 2 Actual Harm tags. The social worker was never made aware of the incident because the administrator sent emails informing the staff that all complaints were to go through him. He would then decide what was and was not reportable to the state and social work would no longer be involved in state reports.

  3. Sloppy journalism…and the media is wondering why no one trusts them anymore.

  4. The article is open for comments on the Oregonian website.


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