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Ohio reporter says his newspaper will continue to misuse social work title

Ted Diadiun. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Ted Diadiun. Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

A big jeer to Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter Ted Diadiun for this column that dismisses social workers’ complaints about misuse of the professional title.

Social workers were upset by an April 27 headline that said: 2 Cuyahoga social workers accused of gaining illegal benefits for lovers.” The two employees worked for the Cuyahoga County Department of Job and Family Services but were not educated and licensed social workers.

In fact, one was a health and nutrition specialist and the other a mail clerk messenger.

But Diadiun said that since Cuyahoga County calls employees who work for the agency social workers his newspaper will continue to use that title to refer to people who may not be educated or trained in the profession. Here’s what he wrote:

It’s easy to understand the dismay of someone who has worked hard to earn a degree and acquire a license, only to see someone come in off the street and get the same job title. But if “social worker” is what the county calls them, and that’s what the people they serve know them as, then it’s also easy to understand why the newspaper would call them that.

We urge the Cleveland Plain Dealer to be fair, ignore county job definitions, and use the social work title correctly.

UPDATE: The National Association of Social Workers Ohio Chapter has launched a campaign to protest the newspaper’s policy. To get involved go here. You can also follow the campaign on Twitter at #respectsocialworkers.

The National Association of Social Workers is building a campaign to educate the media to clarify use of the social worker title and prevent social workers from being misidentified in the media. To learn more click here to read an NASW News blog on the campaign.



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  1. Mr. Diadium, A thank you for your straight talk. I appreciate how it must be hard to figure out the differences and similarities among staff in a large humans services workforce you must have in your city. I have worked in small and large communities for over 30 years as a professional social worker. It has been an ongoing task to help people understand that I do not “hand out welfare checks”, “keep books”, “certify individuals for nutrition programs” “steal children from their families” and the like. All honorable work except “stealing children”, I say.

    I am glad people such as yourself will be in coversation about the lack of clarity of our roles. I’ve had many opportunities to explain what we social workers do. I even remember one time when my 90 year old father asked me what I did in my work. He was an 8th grade educated laborer all his life so I thought a minute to decide on a few concise words to explain my work. Before I could speak he said, “Oh, I know you are there in case something comes up!”

    After I took a minute to digest his words, I smiled and complimented him on getting to the heart of what social workers often do. The fact is usually there are many “things coming up” in a day’s time, a week’s time and throughout our careers. Nowhere in my Dad’s and my exchange did I tell him about the struggles I had getting my degrees, the challenges I faced in those “things coming up” – and how much I value being an educated and experienced social worker to follow in the footsteps of many who have gone ahead of me. Truthfully, it is hard being mislabeled – wishing that I did not get labeled, having to explain after all these years, but “so it is”. And hopefully, “not will be” as more and more individuals, families, groups, communities and organizations seek the services of professional social workers during these complex and challenging times.

    Again, thank you for your “straight talk” in relation to our title.

    Sincerely, Dana C.

    Ms. Dana N. Courtney, MSW, ACSW
    Graham, NC 27253
    Thanks for

  2. As a social worker, it is upsetting to be lumped in with others who have not the degree of licensure to be called a social worker…it is the same as referring to a medical receptionist and doctor as the same just because both work at the hospital.

  3. OK, I’m commenting from a distance and really don’t know all the details. On first blush, this guy is a jerk, defending his use of terminology and unwilling to change. But on calm reflection I wonder at the real problem here: and that appears to me anyway, to be the states refusal to recognize the professional qualifications of social workers and to differentiate between those who are professionally educated and prepared to perform the work and anyone who just happens to be employed by the agency. The state seems stuck in the 1920s. I suggest that the social work professionals, NASW, and the states professional regulatory board (if they have one) may be well served to use this opportunity to advance some great measure of public education and perhaps even title protection.

    What concerns me about the reporters style, is that there are citizens who will read the original article and upon whom the details of professional responsibility & identity are lost, who will use this apparent condemnation of social workers as a rallying point to further diminish essential services.

    Gary Bachman MSSW, LSCSW

  4. I guess we can’t feel too bad for Mr. Diadium. Apparently, he’s got the worst job of 2013:

    This job is so hard, covering basic facts is just too hard.

  5. this will change at the same time people stop calling everyone in a library a librarian (from a page to a degreed professional).
    that is, never (unfortunately)

  6. I am astounded by the lack of knowledge or even common sense in this instance. Yes, I am proud of the education I have received, but that is not the reason I am upset about the use of these titles.

    First of all, it is antiquated in the use of county workers.

    Second, a mail clerk messenger doesn’t even do “social work”.

    And third, in the state of Alabama, (a) After November 24, 1978, no person may represent himself or herself as a social worker by using the title “social worker,” “licensed bachelor social worker,” “licensed graduate social worker,” or “licensed certified social worker,” or any other title that includes such words, or by adding the letters “SW,” “LBSW,” “LGSW,” or “LCSW,” unless licensed under this chapter or excluded according to its provisions. This is considered a misdemeanor.

    I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case with journalists Mr. Diadium. However, I would definitely think a “journalist” would be more informed.

    By the way, Ohio Code 4757.02 also states No person shall use the title “social worker,” “independent social worker,” “social work assistant,” or any other title or description incorporating the words “social worker” or any initials used to identify persons acting in those capacities unless the person is currently authorized by licensure or registration under this chapter to act in the capacity indicated by the title or initials.

    So, no, it is not “easy to understand” why someone would refer to someone as a social worker if they are not one. It’s not about working hard to earn a degree, it’s about following the law that was designed to protect communities.

    Rebecca Land, LCSW

  7. In 2014 Ohio House Bill 232 finally passed which provides title protection in most, but not all, instances. There are still loopholes, and we can’t always fault newspapers when broad exceptions exist. I was one of the people who asked the Plain Dealer to choose their wording more carefully, but I also realized more of my attention had to be devoted to the weak Ohio Revised Code that allowed newspapers their latitude. Educate the media, but also advocate at the state legislative level.

  8. I’m surprised at at the reactions to Mr. Diadiun’s comment. Unless I’m missing something (and I read his whole piece) I’ll harken back to another era, “what we have here is a failure to communicate.”

    I also get to say I understand both sides. My first career was as a journalist (though I preferred reporter, re-write, photographer, as well. even though I had one of those fancy degrees from a “Journalism School”) . I came of age in the Watergate era, not the Celebrity times. I wanted to help change the world through insightful stories and meaningful investigations. But the world changed in ways I couldn’t have imagined and what I thought was a “change” profession became more and more a joke with a side of “new media” taking over the craft. After marriage and children I returned to school to become a Social Worker with a new fancy degree from a fancy school. Advocacy and organizing was what I thought I really wanted to do but there didn’t seem to be a living wage involved and so I now work with the homeless and those suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders. I also work two jobs to stretch the pay.

    Different papers or medium use different style books. The idea of calling people social workers because that’s what the government office that pays them, calls them, seems perfectly reasonable to me, even though I know it’s “wrong.”

    But that’s not the end of it. What I really don’t understand is why you aren’t going after the county who employes these non licensed social workers and ask THEM to stop using the title the way they do. They are the ones who should know better. It also seems if that were to happen the newspaper would have to fall into line as well.

  9. The Cleveland Plain Dealer is not the only publication to make this mistake. In the article, ‘Misuse of Term “Social Worker” Perpetuates Misunderstanding,’ I addressed concerns regarding the blanket use of the professional title.

    I believe that state agencies use the term to provide credibility to workers who, in many instances, lack training and experience in the social work method.

    Unfortunately, caseworkers are trained to complete paperwork, count numbers, and meet response times while little focus is given to interview skills, assessment, relationship building and process.

    If you are interested in reading the article above, please follow this link

    Take Good Care

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