By: Deborah M. Murray, MSW, & George E. Hendricks, Ph.D.
The narrative that follows has two different, although related, purposes. First, it describes title protection for social workers. Second, in a vivid example of democracy at work, it describes how the students in a social work policy class, with the help of the Methodist University Social Work Department faculty, helped implement a new North Carolina law providing title protection for North Carolina generalist practice social workers. This is certainly an issue of extreme importance for new social workers in our profession.
The issue of social work title protection has received no attention in the peer-reviewed social work literature. Our search of Academic Search Premier, Westlaw Campus, SocIndex, and Google Scholar revealed no information. There are fact sheets and white papers from individual states available through state chapter Web sites of the National Association of Social Workers. The literature review indicated that the United Kingdom is committed to title protection. Under Chapter 14 (Part 1V) Section 61 of its Care Standards Act of 2000, no one can describe herself or himself as a social worker unless he or she is registered in the Social Care Registry maintained by the General Social Care Council.
The lack of information is surprising, given the importance of this topic to the profession. Social workers daily encounter complex issues as they serve vulnerable clients who are unable to evaluate the quality of service they need or are receiving. Also, historically, our profession has allowed anyone, without our protest, to call herself or himself a social worker. The absence of title protection has undermined the image and reputation of our profession. The professional image issue led the Methodist University Social Work Department, especially the upper-level majors in our policy class, to initiate a movement to establish title protection regulation in North Carolina. As a result, the North Carolina legislature, in its 2009 session, passed a bill providing title protection to individuals in North Carolina holding a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Degree from colleges or universities with an accredited social work major. Discovering the details of what title protection provides and experiencing the process that led to the adoption of title protection legislation was an informative and revealing experience in advocacy for the students in the policy class.
North Carolina House Bill 1168 provides that no individual in North Carolina may use the title of “social worker” or any variation thereof unless he or she meets one of the three following requirements:
Such individual is a certified, licensed, or provisionally licensed social worker in accordance with North Carolina law.
Such individual holds a doctorate in social work.
Such individual holds a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work from a college or university having a social work program that is accredited.
Qualifications of BSW educated social workers
In North Carolina, there are 22 colleges and universities that offer a BSW degree accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Class research compared the specific courses and focus of the various North Carolina social work programs to the course requirements of other human service programs, most often psychology and sociology. Although these academic disciplines are important in their own right and often make positive contributions to social work as a whole, they lack the focus on client-centered needs and problem solving skills that engage the social work professional day in and day out. The accreditation guidelines are quite clear that the focus of baccalaureate social work education should be on direct services to clients with the intent of development, provision, and evaluation of social services. The absence of this preparation illustrates why individuals who are educated in related human service fields are not prepared to fulfill the challenges of the practicing social worker. Would you want a dental hygienist to perform your root canal?
How did the legislation pass and why is it important?
The possibility of title protection for North Carolina BSW graduates was an idea that took root in the Methodist University social work policy class in the spring of 2007. As students compared the social work profession with numerous other human service professions, they came to realize that BSW graduates did not have the professional protection commonly accorded to many professionals.