Don’t Drop Standards In Social Work Programs

Editorial outlining current issues related to social work programs or having a degree in social work, including how long does it take to become a social worker, etc:

House Study Bill 138, proposed by Gov. Terry Branstad was defeated in subcommittee recently. This study bill would have done away with licensure requirements not only for mental health professionals but for other licensed professionals. Mental health professionals across the state were pleased with the defeat of this bill. However, now we are concerned again because the governor stated he still believes the state should remove professional licensing requirements for social workers, mental health therapists and other licensed professionals.

I am a licensed independent social worker. I served as the chair of the Iowa Board of Social Work in the mid-1990s. I also served as the president of the Association of Social Work Boards for the United States and Canada. State boards across the country license more than 400,000 social workers. The association maintains four levels of exams for social work licensure in all of the states. These exams assure the public that social workers have passed a national exam to document their ability to practice competent social work. This is important, as social workers provide more than 60 percent of all mental health treatment in the United States.

Social workers provide hospital treatment, treatment for the physically disabled, intellectually disabled and the list goes on and on. Every state licenses social workers at the highest level of licensure. If Iowa drops licensure, it would be the only state to just have a registry at the highest level of clinical practice.

This creates huge problems because there are numerous federal programs that require licensure in order to reimburse for mental health services. This would also create problems for private insurance companies, including the MCOs that run Iowa’s Medicaid services, which require licensure to reimburse for mental health treatment.

In Iowa there are 3,990 actively licensed social workers at all levels of practice. There are 1,667 actively licensed mental health counselors and marriage and family therapists, as well. Therefore, it is critically important that this group of care providers complies with the highest possible competency standards in order to assure that vulnerable persons with mental health conditions receive the optimal care they deserve and need. The very reason for licensure is to protect public health by ensuring standards and oversight for practitioners.

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