Author: Jennifer Connor-Godbey, President, KSCSW Board of Directors
Social work is a highly skilled profession that requires rigorous training, extensive practice, thorough supervision, demanding certification and ongoing education. In light of this fact, the KSCSW Board of Directors has significant concerns about the family and social services apprenticeship program Gov. Matt Bevin announced last week. While we agree that the deficit in social worker resources facing the state demands addressing, we are not convinced that the governor’s proposed solution is the answer.
While social work had humble beginnings, it has grown into a profession with a comprehensive and holistic educational structure that supports multiple practice levels and a range of interventions that are effective at helping a wide array of individuals, families, groups and communities. Despite having multiple accredited social work schools across the commonwealth, Kentucky currently struggles to train and support the number of family and social service workers needed to fill front-line jobs. Far too many front-line workers receive inadequate training, preparation and support for the demanding jobs they fill. As Gov. Bevin mentioned when he announced the apprenticeship program, the state’s social service programs are hampered by high turnover, low pay and packed caseloads. And these caseloads are full of children and families living at high risk and in complex situations.
The pilot program Gov. Bevin has launched to meet these needs places high school graduates as apprentices serving in entry-level social service jobs in local offices of the Department for Community Services (DCBS). According to news reports at wfpl.org, apprentices are required to complete 2,000 to 3,000 work hours per year, along with 144 hours of instruction. The apprentices can choose jobs in three areas: office management, social services, and family services.
KSCSW respects the program’s goal of expanding resources to meet the state’s social and family service needs. We also applaud its objective to provide an entry point into social work careers for Kentucky citizens who have not had access to a college education or who have been impacted by generational poverty. However, KSCSW is concerned about the program’s ability to properly train and prepare its workers to meet the needs of the individuals, children and families served by DCBS. These concerns were heightened when Gov. Bevin, while announcing the program, stated, “These are not highly skilled jobs, but they are critical jobs.”
Unfortunately, Gov. Bevin’s statement is consistent with his administration’s apparent lack of respect for the social work profession, as previously demonstrated by its support of House Bill 465. That bill would have merged the Social Work Board with those of several other professions. Fortunately, the legislature did not pass it into law during this year’s legislative session.
As far as KSCSW is concerned, any job that directly affects the wellbeing of DCBS clients is by definition “a highly skilled job.” Expanding the number of family and social service workers with individuals who are not licensed or trained adequately to work in this challenging environment puts both families and children at risk, as well as the workers themselves. Social service workers often highlight safety concerns as one of the top reasons they choose not to work in child protection/family services or decide to leave that line of work if they do give it a try.
Fully evaluating the state’s new apprenticeship program will require additional information about the specific jobs to be filled by the apprentices, the exact responsibilities assigned to them, and the level of supervision they are provided. KSCSW looks forward to learning more about the program and will be reaching out to the DCBS to do so.
In the meantime, we encourage Gov. Bevin and his administration to recognize that no apprenticeship program alone will address the state’s needs when it comes to family and social services staffing. Providing effective interventions for clients who are struggling with complex social issues—such as poverty, addiction, injustice, discrimination, immigration, unemployment and mental illness—requires social workers equipped with a breadth of knowledge, heightened compassion, and a high level of self-awareness. Building and maintaining such a work force will require expanding the state’s commitment to education and ongoing professional development to help Kentucky’s social service workers become fully prepared, supported and licensed social workers.
We invite you and all KSCSW members to contact the Bevin administration and your state legislators to share your concerns about this apprenticeship program. Speaking from your personal experience and advocating for the advancement of Kentucky social workers is the only way to stop the deterioration of the social work profession in this state.
KSCSW’s Advocacy Committee is seeking members who are interested in working together to address such concerns. Email email@example.com to get involved.