McClerklin-Motley: We need qualified, professional social workers in public child welfare

May 23, 2014 

Shirley McClerkin-Motley

— South Carolina must seek answers to the question “Who are the best people to be our state’s front-line child welfare staff and supervisors?”

According to the Child Welfare League of America, child welfare is a field that the public most readily identifies as a social work domain. However, fewer than 30 percent of child-welfare workers have professional social work degrees. There are only 25-30 people with master’s degrees in social work employed statewide by the Department of Social Services. This agency requires that all new hires in children’s services attend a five-week training curriculum that is supposed to provide them with everything they need to work in child welfare. DSS does not use the term “social worker.” Instead, it hires case managers, often with degrees in psychology and human services.

The Child Welfare League says there is a great emotional toll on child welfare workers, who often are ill-prepared for the life-and-death decisions they have to make, who carry caseloads that are too high, and who lack adequate supervision and support. Turnover is highest among those with the least background in social work education and training. Yet our state has no consistent or broadly available strategies for recruiting licensed professional social workers. A 2003 review found that deficiencies in agencies’ ability to assess family and children’s needs reinforce the need for child-welfare workers to have the knowledge and skills offered through accredited colleges and universities that offer social work education.

DSS’ state director has pledged to hire additional workers, but there is a demand not only for more workers but also for professional social workers who have the knowledge, skills and values to perform high-quality assessments for both children and families, to make ethical decisions at multiple levels, to facilitate intra-and inter-system coordination and to understand and implement social welfare policy mandates where needed. The best trained professionals for this assignment are social workers whose academic preparation includes a holistic approach to the complex situations that face vulnerable families and lead to child maltreatment.

Shirley McClerklin-Motley

Associate Professor and bachelor of social work coordinator

Coker College

Hartsville

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