Demand for Social Workers in California

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1 Demand for Social Workers in California By Prof. Eileen Mayers Pasztor, DSW Department of Social Work Prof. Michelle Saint-Germain, Ph.D. Chair, Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration Prof. Teresa DeCrescenzo, MSW Department of Social Work California State University, Long Beach 1250 Bellflower Blvd. Long Beach, CA April 2002 This report was produced with the help of a contract from the California State University Faculty Research Fellows Program for the California Assembly. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the California Assembly. The Coordinator of the Faculty Research Fellows Program is Professor Jim Cox, Center for California Studies, California State University, Sacramento. For information on the Faculty Research Fellow Program and a list of all previous reports, visit

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3 TABLE OF CONTENTS LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES...v ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS...vi EXECUTIVE SUMMARY...1 I. INTRODUCTION A. Purpose of the Study...3 B. Rationale for the Study...3 II. METHODOLOGY A. Literature Review...5 B. Statute Review...5 C. Operational Definition of Social Worker...5 D. Numerical Estimates of Need...5 E. Education and/or Training Requirements...7 III. FINDINGS A. Literature Review...9 B. Statute Review...13 C. Operational Definitions...14 D. Numerical Estimates of Need...16 E. Education and/or Training Requirements...31 F. Conclusions...36 IV. RECOMMENDATIONS A. Creating a Positive Public Image for Social Workers...40 B. Enhancing Career Opportunities...41 C. Improving Working Conditions...42 D. Providing Compensation and Benefits Commensurate with the Work...43 E. Creating Diverse Opportunities for Social Work Education...44 F. Reclassifying and Renaming Social Work Positions...46 G. Crafting Public Policy...47 APPENDIX A. - Request for Information Distributed to Jurisdictions...49 APPENDIX B. - Geographical Location of Reporting Jurisdictions...52 APPENDIX C. - Population of Reporting Jurisdictions...54 APPENDIX D. - Statutes and Codes...56

4 APPENDIX E. - Factors Affecting the Social Worker Shortage: Historical Perspective and Studies...68 BIBLIOGRAPHY...86

5 LIST OF TABLES AND FIGURES Table 1. Nationwide Vacancy Rates for Social Workers...10 Table 2. Demand for Child Welfare Social Workers in 39 Counties...23 Table 3. Demand for Child Welfare Social Workers in 58 Counties...25 Table 4. Demand for All Social Workers in 39 Counties...27 Table 5. Demand for All Social Workers in 58 Counties...28 Table 6. Distribution of Social Workers by Position...31 Figure 1. Educational Requirements for Case Workers Using Merit Systems Service (MSS) Definitions...32 v

6 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Many individuals and organizations provided essential support for this endeavor. First, we acknowledge the concern and responsibility of the California Assembly Human Services Committee, under the leadership of Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley), for addressing the issue of the shortage of social workers through roundtables, hearings, and research. We appreciate the diligent work of Kirsten Deichert, MSW, Senior Consultant for the Assembly Human Services Committee. At the California Research Fellows Program at the Center for California Studies, California State University, Sacramento, we thank the Fellows Program director, James Cox, Ph. D. for his technical assistance and timely responses. We also appreciate the efforts of Shela Schubin at the Center who graciously provided explanations to help us with all the paperwork. We appreciate the cooperation of the California Welfare Directors Association and especially the support of John Cullen, Vice President at Large, Contra Costa, and Frank Mecca, Executive Director, for helping us contact county agencies. Our findings would not be possible without the willingness and ability of the responding agencies, and we especially thank the directors and staff who thoughtfully and kindly attended to our persistent requests for immediate information. We thank David Kopperud with the California Department of Education, Safe Schools & Violence Prevention Office for his timely response to our request for information regarding school social workers. We thank the staff of GLASS (Gay and Lesbian Adolescent Social Services) in Los Angeles for their dedication to this project. Special recognition is due to Khush Cooper, MSW (Ph.D. candidate, 2003), a social work supervisor at GLASS, for her invaluable assistance with the literature review. Special thanks also to Frances Hammond, BSW who organized the mailing of the survey instruments to every county in the state, as well as personally contacted 30 counties with professionalism. At the Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration at California State University, Long Beach we thank Rebecca Bennett (MPA candidate, September 2002) for diligently conducting our review of the statutes and codes. At California State University, Long Beach, Department of Social Work we have many supportive colleagues to acknowledge. First, we thank Dr. John Oliver, Director, for his commitment to this initiative and for arranging an immediate connection between the Department of Social Work and the Graduate Center for Public Policy and Administration. We thank Prof. Julie O Donnell, Ph.D. for guiding us to information about school social workers, and we thank Prof. Barbara Cohen, MSW, Director of Field Instruction, who helped us obtain information about social workers at Regional Centers. Special thanks to Prof. Tessie Cleveland, DSW, former director of King/Drew Medical Center Department of Social vi

7 Services, for her perspectives. We appreciate James Ferreira, MSW, Director, Child Welfare Training Center, for facilitating our paperwork through the University. Special thanks to Akilah Runnels, (MSW candidate, May 2002) for organizing the time to work on our project, for her professional and personable contacts with 28 counties in the State, and for her technical assistance in producing our written materials. We appreciate the work of Aura Lair (MSW candidate, May 2002) who also assisted with the literature review as part of a project for her child welfare class with Prof. DeCrescenzo. The combined efforts and commitment of these individuals enabled us to complete this project within the limited time and budget allowed. vii

8 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Purpose This project was commissioned by the California Assembly through the California State University Faculty Research Fellows Program to: (1) review the literature describing the need for increased numbers of social workers; (2) review California statutes requiring social workers to provide state-supported services; (3) develop a clear operational definition of social worker; (4) develop a systematic description of the statewide demand for social workers; and (5) describe the education and/or training level required of social workers to fill identified needs. Methodology Numerical estimates of need for social workers in California were developed using data collected from county social service agencies, which included: (1) the total number of social worker positions in the agency; (2) the distribution of these positions across programs, e.g. child welfare, aging, mental health, disabilities; (3) the educational requirements for these positions; (4) the number of current positions filled by waivers of the educational requirements; (5) the number of current vacant positions; (6) increases or decreases in the number of these positions expected in the next few years; and (7) the jurisdiction s operational definition of "social worker." Limitations include the short time frame for the research and the collection of data during the holiday period of November 2001 to January 2002; as well as the absence of data on the need for social workers in the private and/or non-profit sectors. Findings 1) The literature points to social work as one of the faster growing sectors of employment, and documents the increasing need for social workers in general. 2) There are a few California statutes requiring social workers to provide state-supported services, most notably in child welfare services; there are also some regulations concerning the training that staff must have to perform certain duties. 3) There is wide variation among counties on the definition of what constitutes a social worker position, but the critical skill is the ability to assess a situation to determine whether there is a need for services and, if so, which ones. 4) Numerical estimates of need were calculated based on data from two-thirds of the counties, covering 85% of the population of California. Currently there are an estimated 12,221 social workers positions at the county level in all 58 counties in California. The current vacancy rate is estimated at 9.5% (which is very close to national figures), which translates to a current need for 1,171.5 new social workers (although needs vary widely between urban and rural counties). If turnover rates are taken into account, this becomes an annual rather than a one-time need. If, in addition, Assembly Bill 364 passes, most counties would double the number of child welfare workers within five years. This 1

9 would increase the need for new social workers from a low of 9,248.5 (with zero turnover) to a high of 22,196.4 (with 20% per year turnover) over the next five years. If all types of social workers are considered, the need for new social workers over the next five years could climb as high as 25,279.2 (with 20% turnover), even if no new positions are created other than the ones in conformance with AB ) The education and training requirements for social worker positions vary widely. a. At the entry level (10% of all jobs), even through they carry the job title of social worker, these positions do not require college-level coursework in social work. Educational requirements can be filled by training programs. b. At the advanced entry level (one-third of all jobs), most positions do not require a college degree in social work. Educational needs can be filled by coursework at a community college or unaccredited social work program. c. At the lead social worker level (half of all jobs), undergraduate courses in social work are generally required. Any increase in the number of these positions will require an increase in the number of persons enrolled in accredited BA programs of social work in California each year. d. At the supervisory level (15% of all jobs), a masters degree in social work is usually required. Any increase in the number of these positions will require an increase in the number of persons enrolled in accredited MSW programs in California each year. Conclusions The level of demand for social workers will continue to escalate across the program areas of child welfare, disabilities, mental health, and school social work, as the population grows, diversified, and ages. The shortage is of concern because necessary services may go unprovided, or may be provided by staff with lesser qualifications, or may be assigned to qualified staff already carrying full caseloads (exacerbating turnover). California s schools of social work, which currently graduate a combined total of 1,500 BAs and MSWs per year, will be unable to meet the annual demand for new social workers from the public sector alone, not to mention the private and not-for-profit sectors. Recommendations Positions that do not require formal coursework in social work should not have a social work job title. Candidates for jobs requiring a social worker can be increased by expanded opportunities for social work education, including distance education; accelerated BSW MSW degrees; internships; tuition assistance; and certificates or associate degrees to help entry level staff advance in the field. Recruitment and retention of social workers can be enhanced by creating a more positive public image for social workers; and improving working conditions, including smaller caseloads, flexible work schedules, and increased support staff. Compensation and benefits should be commensurate with the demands of the job. Policymakers will need to provide the increased levels of support necessary to comprehensively and effectively address the long-standing problem of the shortage of social workers in California. 2

10 I. INTRODUCTION A. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study was to provide more accurate and specific information about the demand for social workers in California. The objectives were to: 1. Review the literature that described the need for increased numbers of social workers; 2. Review current California statutes requiring social workers to provide state-supported services; 3. Develop a clear operational definition of social worker; 4. Develop a systematic description of the statewide demand for social workers; and 5. Describe the education and/or training level required of social workers to fill needs identified above. In addition to the above information, this report also includes a section on recommendations. B. Rationale for the Study The study was commissioned by the California Assembly through the California State University Faculty Research Fellows Program. The request for proposals disseminated on August 28, 2001, noted that California has a critical shortage of social workers, and specifically that although the precise scope and severity of the statewide shortage are not yet known, several sources have reported a large number of vacancies in social work positions (Cox, 2001, p. 2). The demand for social workers in California is of concern as unmet needs for social workers have several consequences. Necessary services may go unprovided or be provided with staff with lesser qualifications, or may be assigned to qualified staff already carrying full caseloads. These measures can create problems for the agency providing the services. 3

11 Clients may be overlooked, or receive lesser quality services, exacerbating their problems. Current staff may feel overloaded by the demands placed on them, and leave their jobs, increasing the number of vacancies and perpetuating the problem. Thus it is essential that state policy makers, their constituents, advocacy groups, social work educators, recipients of social services, and the individuals and agencies and organizations responsible for delivering those services have information about this problem. 4

12 II. METHODOLOGY A. Literature Review Project staff conducted a literature review describing the need for social workers in California, as well as from a national and historical perspective. The review included the standard academic literature, as well as reports generated by government agencies, professional councils, and non-profit groups. The researchers made use of the holdings of the California State University, Long Beach Library and, through its inter-library loan system, the contents of many other academic libraries as well. Information was also obtained through internet searches and from materials sent to project staff by colleagues with similar interests. B. Statute Review Project staff undertook a comprehensive review of current California statutes that require "social workers" to provide state-administered services. Staff used University Library holdings as well as information from internet services. C. Operational Definition Project staff asked all participating agencies to report their working definition of a "social worker position." In addition, project staff obtained numerous job descriptions from both state and county agencies which have social worker in the title. To establish its accuracy and usefulness, the operational definition was then circulated to a number of state and county agencies that employ social workers for comment. D. Numerical Estimates of Need Project staff identified the public agencies that use social workers to be included in the study. Contact persons for each agency were mailed or faxed a cover letter explaining the project, and a two-page instrument designed to collect the necessary data (Appendix A). 5

13 Follow-up contact was made within a week. As indicated in Appendix A, contact persons were asked for: 1) The total number of social worker positions in the agency; 2) The distribution of these positions across programs, e.g. child welfare, aging, mental health, disabilities, etc.; 3) The educational requirements for these positions; 4) The number of current positions filled by waivers of the educational requirements; 5) The number of current vacant positions; 6) Increases or decreases in the number of these positions expected in the next few years; and 7) The jurisdiction s operational definition of "social worker." A number of limitations in the methodology were discovered. First, the study was conducted during the months of November and December 2001, and January As might be expected, personal leaves, vacations, and holiday closures affected the response rate. However, reporting jurisdictions were as cooperative as possible given the rapid response needed and the regular and extra workload responsibilities during that time of year. A second problem emerged when data were solicited from a wide range of agencies in each county that provide social work services for children and adults. In some counties, all services were provided by one centralized agency. In other counties, however, there are several different agencies, differentiated by the population they primarily serve. The need to contact multiple agencies in a single county complicated the data collection process. In the short time frame allotted, Child Welfare Services (CWS) personnel were able to provide the most consistent and detailed information, whereas data from the other program areas were less complete. The analysis that follows is thus based mainly on the data for social work positions in CWS (except where noted otherwise). The data from CWS has been used to 6

14 estimate the demand for social workers both in the program areas in which data were missing and for counties which did not report data. A third limitation was discovered during the course of the research, involving the definition of "social worker." In addition to "traditional" uses of social workers, many new categories of positions for social workers have evolved. This trend also reflects the practice of contracting out services previously performed by employees on the government payroll. School social workers, Employee Assistance Program staff, and private not-for-profit and for-profit social service agencies are illustrative of these new types of jobs. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Services lists 11 areas of social work practice: Child welfare or family services; Child or adult protective services; Clinical; Criminal Justice; Gerontology; Health care; Mental health; Occupational; Schools; Social work administration; and Social work planning and policy making. A report on the job market for social workers adds the fields of supervision, management, research, community organizing, and education and training as well (Barth, 2001, p.35). Thus it was not possible in the short time period given for this project to identify all existing social work jobs, or to count the actual number of vacancies, in order to paint a complete picture of the need for social workers in California. Nevertheless, based on the data received, it was possible to make some estimates of the demand for social workers, both immediate and short-range. The data were collected and coded for entry into a statistical analysis program. The data were analyzed to characterize the overall need for social workers, as well as breakdowns by agency and program type. E. Education and/or Training Requirements This information was collected from both the state and the county agencies in the 7

15 steps outlined above, as well as from the review of current California statutes. The data were analyzed to show the education and/or training requirements of the various positions identified in the need analysis. The results were used to project the needs for social workers in terms of existing types of education and training (e.g., certificates, concentrations, minors, majors, baccalaureates, and graduate degrees). Currently, accredited schools of social work in California graduate about 1,500 students per year, counting both bachelors and masters degree graduates. There have been a number of different estimates of the annual productivity of schools of social work in California. However, this estimate, produced at the third in the series of hearings conducted by Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley), November 14, 2001, and reported in the online publication of the National Association of Social Workers entitled will be used in this report. 8

16 III. FINDINGS A. Literature Review The prevalence and persistence of unmet demands for social workers have led to a number of state and national studies over the past several years. 1. National Demand The findings of a study of the national labor market for social workers addressed several recent, important developments. The most striking is the distribution of social work positions between the public, private, and not-for profit sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the year 2000, 57% of social work positions were found in the public sector, and 43% were found in the private or non-profit sectors. The total of the government positions was distributed among federal (3.5%), state (47.4%), and local (49.1%) agencies (Barth, 2001, p.36). According to the U. S. Census Bureau (2001), jobs for social workers are expected to increase by 36% between now and 2008, a rate that is much faster than the average job increase. A large number of additional social work jobs (218,000) is also expected in the same period, increasing the national total from 604,000 to 822,000. The growth in the number of social work positions will be fueled both by demands from the government sector and by the creation of new social work jobs in the private sector, e.g., as part of Employee Assistance Programs, as well as by the increasing tendency of public agencies to contract with private and non-profit agencies to provide services formerly delivered directly by government employees (Barth 2001, p.37). While the present study only addressed the demand for social workers by public agencies, it should be recognized that there are also demands from other sectors. Thus, the public sector will face increasing competition from the 9

17 private sector for social workers in future years. A recent study of the national demand for social workers by the Alliance for Children and Families, the American Public Human Services Association, and the Child Welfare League of America also compared public and private sector agencies (Table 1). This report further noted vacancy rates of about 10%-40% in child protective services agencies nationwide (Alliance for Children and Families et al., 2001). Table 1: Nationwide Vacancy Rates for Social Workers RATES PUBLIC SECTOR PRIVATE SECTOR Social Worker Vacancy 9-11% 9-11% SW Supervisor Vacancy 7% 27% Social Worker Turnover/Year 19-20% 40-41% SW Supervisor Turnover/Year 8% 28% SW Average Tenure on Job 7-8 years 3-4 years SW Supervisor Average Tenure on Job 13 years 6 years Source: Alliance for Children and Families et al., Another recent survey conducted by the Child Welfare League of America looked at 250 child welfare organizations nationwide and found a 10% average vacancy rate. The survey also found a 20% turnover rate in public agencies and a 40% turnover rate in private agencies. An administrator interviewed in the article stated, a career in child welfare is not very attractive when other, better-paying jobs may be less challenging and more rewarding (Mack, 2001). 2. Demand in California According to a study funded by California Senate Bill 2030, workload standards for child welfare social workers had not been changed substantially since 1984, when there were 10

18 fewer families and children to be served and fewer programs and mandates with which to comply. Since then, dozens of new statutes have been enacted on the state level, in additional to federal legislation such as the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (P.L ). These legislative changes place additional burdens on social workers in terms of time and documentation. While the report's primary focus was on adjusting caseload standards, it also recommended that current social work staff with tenure of less than six months (about 10% of all staff) be given an additional 27 hours of time for training and supervision per month. The report concluded that to meet minimum standards for child welfare caseloads, the 6,449 current social workers would have to be doubled to 13,762, and tripled to 19,984 to achieve optimal standards (California Department of Social Services, 2000; O Neill, 2001). A series of hearings on the shortage of social workers in California was initiated in 2001 by Assemblywoman Dion Aroner (D-Berkeley). The first, "Planning the Future of Social Work in California: Dealing with the Crisis in the Social Worker Shortage," was held on February 19 th, before the Assembly Human Services Committee. This was followed by two more hearings, "Developing an Action Plan to Solve California's Human Services Workforce Shortage" on July 17 th, and Social Work Education and the Social Work Shortage on November 14 th. Summaries of the hearings (O Neill, 2001) detailed the current shortage of social workers in California, which can be measured partly by the number of unfilled vacancies. According to John Cullen, Vice President at Large of the California Welfare Directors Association, the ten biggest county welfare offices alone needed about 3,400 social workers immediately. The Child Welfare Stakeholders Group echoed this assessment, citing the need for at least 3,000 social workers for the state's foster care system. Other sectors of social 11

19 work in California are experiencing similar problems, with reports of vacancy rates from 20 to 80 percent for certain job categories (e.g., Licensed Clinical Social Workers). The demand for social workers varies by the type of client population served and by the region of the state. A California State Department of Mental Health study (2001) reported that the mental health system in California had 2,500 vacant social work positions. John Ryan, Director of Riverside County Department of Mental Health, reported a vacancy rate for social workers of about 20% in mental health agencies in his region, which was slightly lower than the average statewide rate of 25%. The developmental disability sector that contains the state s 21 Regional Centers also reported a vacancy rate of 25%. Similarly, the aging and long-term care sectors reported a 20-30% vacancy rate, with 75% of aging care facility administrators stating it was difficult to recruit and hire MSWs (Assembly Human Services Committee, 2001; O Neill, 2001). The one public sector field in which the supply of potential staff exceeds demand is school social work. Until recently, there has been little use of school social workers in California. While nationally there are 12,000 15,000 school social workers, and this number is expected to rise, California has only 223 school social workers (California Department of Education, 2000). This is because in California, unlike other states, little attention has been given to the changing roles that school personnel are being asked to assume (Dear, 2000). Until recently, relatively few school social work positions existed, and only nine educational programs in California offer the necessary training. With few jobs, few students chose to undertake studies in that field; with only a small labor pool available, schools were reluctant to create school social work positions. However, this may soon change. Federal and state legislation as well as major court decisions have increasingly 12

20 recognized the importance of school social work services and provided an opportunity to broaden these services (Monkman, 1999). Recent examples include the inclusion of school social work in the Educate America Act (Allen - Meares, 1999) and the Elementary School Counseling Act, as well as recent changes to the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Hare and Rome, 1999). Programs in school social work now have all available student openings routinely filled, often with a waiting list for applicants into the program. This is positive, considering California s current ratio of one school social worker for every 27,134 students (California Department of Education, 2000). B. Statute Review There are only a few statutes in California which specify the educational requirements for specific social work positions. There are many more regulations which concern the training which individuals must have to perform certain duties (see Appendix B). Regulation of the Manual of Policies and Procedures, Child Welfare Services State of California (May 1999), requires that at least 50% of professional staff providing emergency response services, and at least 50% of the professional staff providing maintenance services shall possess a Master s Degree in Social Work, or its equivalent in education and/or experience as certified by the State Personnel Board or a county civil service board. The regulation further requires that 100% of the supervisors of staff providing emergency response and family maintenance services shall possess a Master s Degree in Social Work, or its equivalent in education and/or experience as certified by the State Personnel Board or a county civil service board. The remaining emergency response and family maintenance services professional staff shall possess a bachelor s degree in social 13

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