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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Social Work the Protected Title

As a social worker I feel a great amount of pride about what I do, but that doesn't make me a social worker. I often hear people describe the profession of social work with a job description. That's like saying a doctor is someone who listens to your lungs and looks down your throat. Though those are things a doctor may do as part of an exam, those things do not make one a doctor. In the same thought a social worker is not someone who assists with food stamps, or works at CPS. Though social workers can hold positions doing those things that is just the job.
Let me explain. Social work is a protected title much like a doctor, nurse, or attorney. To call oneself a social worker requires a license in social work, to get a license in social work you must have a degree in social work from an accredited university. So if you work at the food stamp office and have a degree in English you are a person who works in the social services industry but NOT a social worker. See this from the State Board of Social Work Examiners
   Licensure is required if you identify yourself as a social worker by using titles initials that create the impression that you are qualified or authorized to practice social work. This includes using any title containing the words "Social Worker" or initials such as LSW, or LMSW. The board may impose a civil or administrative penalty of not less then $250.00 or more then $5000.00 per day for each day an unlicensed individual holds them selves out to be a social worker.
 You are exempt from licensure if you do not represent yourself to the public - directly or indirectly - as a social worker and do not use any name, title, or designation indicating authorization to practice social work. More Here
There was once a time when many of the social services jobs that now employee those without social work licenses, required that employees be social workers. I believe this has something to do with the public belief that those are "social work" jobs. When I tell people that I am a social worker I often here "So you help people apply for food stamps/Medicaid/Medicare/TANF?" or " Oh so you are mean and make people fill out forms" or  "Oh  you take people's children away?". These are jobs that social worker's can do but not things we are necessarily taught to do in our degree programs. I believe I spent one or two days in undergrad on how to assist people with applications for public assistance. That was several years ago before everything was computerized, when I help clients with forms now I simply read the application and assist the client in answering what is asked. I also was not taught how to take people's children away. I was taught how to assess family functioning, to acknowledge child development including warning signs of delay, I was taught the etiology of mental illness and who this affects, I was also taught the demographics of which people abuse their children, I was taught methods of rebuilding families, ways to navigate systems, ways to pull communities together, how to affect change and assess for a client's willingness to do so, I was taught about chemical dependency, empathy, grief, therapy, and so many other things.
So forgive me if I stand up for my profession.
I am a social worker because I have the education, training, experience, and ethics to call myself a social worker. As a licensed social worker my clients can rest assured that if I do not follow my ethical code and for example talk about their situation to others without their express consent, I could face severe repercussions. If I fail to follow the Values and Ethics of my profession I could be fined, lose my license, be put on probation, or a combination of those three, as well as other sanctions. I am forbidden from having dual relationships with my clients or in having a personal relationship with them following our work together under many circumstances.  Ethical Code
I am also required by my licensure to maintain a certain degree of education as long as I am a practicing social worker. This means I must continue to learn and grow professionally so that I can use the most up to date knowledge in helping my clients. This includes ongoing training in ethics which helps protect clients.
Though I did work at CPS that did not make me a social worker, in fact many things I did at CPS were not in line with what my social worker brain would have had me do. I am a case manager now, but I am a social work case manager. I function out of a social work framework, I pull upon theories and evidence when I work with my clients. In a few years when I am done with clinical supervision I will work as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Meaning that I have the professional skill to offer psychotherapy to my chosen client population.
A part of being a social worker is advocacy: for human rights, clients, and the social worker profession. For that reason I felt it was necessary to clarify these things here. I am a proud social worker and I want others to know what a social worker is and what they can do.

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