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Newspaper Series Underscores Importance of Protecting Social Work Title

Tiffany Zander, who appears in the Cleveland Plain Dealer series on social work, said she “fell into” the profession. Zander studied sociology and criminal science at Bowling Green State University. Photo courtesy of the Plain Dealer.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer is doing a series of articles on why people choose the social work profession and the difficulties of their work.

Ironically, the series points out the need to protect the social work title.

Reporter Laura Johnston has included several people in the series who are not educated and licensed social workers. However, an exemption in the state licensing law allows these workers to use the social work title.

The National Association of Social Workers Ohio Chapter has a bill in the General Assembly that would remove the exemption. Officials there hope to have the bill passed by the end of the year.

If passed, the bill would require only people who are licensed social workers to use the title.

NASW member Jonathan Singer, PhD, LCSW, an assistant professor of social work at Temple University, already put a comment on the Nov. 25 article in the series that highlights the title protection problem.

Singer wrote:

“This is a great intro to the lives of child welfare workers. It is not an article about social workers. The case workers profiled in this article chose child welfare, not social work, as a job. In order to be a social worker you need to have a social work degree. There is nothing in this article that states that the individuals profiled had degrees in social work. Many child welfare agencies in the USA mislead the public by giving their case workers the job title ‘social worker.’ While there are some social workers who have jobs in child welfare, social work is much broader and has a more extensive mission than child welfare. Writing a piece about child welfare workers and calling it a piece about social work perpetuates the public myth that social work is primarily about taking kids from parents. Humanizing child welfare is a worthy goal of journalism and I am glad that the author took her mission seriously. I would hope that in future articles she clarifies the difference between social work and child welfare.”

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. Educating the media: I sent this letter to a local TV station:

    “You led this evening’s news with the piece “SOCIAL WORKER ARRESTED.”
    In a 90 second piece you described the alleged perpetrator in this case as a “social worker” at least 6 times. You seemed quite certain of the accuracy of your information. But the information was wrong, and the report misleading, and improper.

    The individual in question IS NOT a social worker. He’s not licensed as such, is not titled or employed as such, cannot legally identify himself as such, and is not even enrolled in an accredited social work education program to become such. After seeing your report, it took me 10 minutes of internet search to pretty much confirm all this.

    To work as a “social worker” in Kansas you must be licensed by the state’s Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board. This is to protect the vulnerable client populations that social workers frequently work with. You may check the registry on-line. The minimum requirements for licensure includes graduation an accredited social work program and the passage of a state licensing exam. Social Workers must also complete 60 hours of continuing education credit every 2 years, including courses in Ethics. (More than what is expected of nurses, lawyers and even physicians!)

    In labeling this person as a social worker you are not just insulting the thousands of licensed social workers in Kansas who work every day to make a positive difference in people’s lives, but you are missing a bigger news story about how did this happen.

    Maybe you could do a piece on how privatization of services may be compromising client and public welfare. Or maybe how agencies may feel compelled in the face of budget constraints, to place greater responsibilities upon workers without degrees, adequate training, or supervision.

    Or how in the world did anyone think that it was a reasonable idea to assign a 21 year old male college student to supervise a dorm of thirteen to seventeen year old girls with behavioral problems?”

    A year later when a local “case manager” (also a social work student) was killed by a client during a home visit, the same reporter actually called me as well as the state NASW office as sources for information on an in depth piece he was working on about the valuable, overlooked, and often dangerous role that social workers perform in society. We CAN work with the media.

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