March is the one time each year when America’s social workers are lauded and celebrated for their contributions to the social fabric of our communities – and rightly so. Nearly 1 million people across the nation are licensed social workers serving mental health, welfare and family, health, and aging needs.
You will find these highly skilled and dedicated folks working in hospitals, police departments, mental health clinics and corporations. On average a social worker holds a master’s level degree and is required to have a minimum of supervised hours to practice in a given field, as well as licensure by the Board of Behavioral Sciences.
There is an ever-growing need for social workers with the demand spreading to include adoption and hospice care. Nowhere is the need greater, however, than in the mental health area.
As the executive director of Intercommunity Child Guidance Center (ICGC), I have had the privilege of working with 50 extremely committed and professional mental health providers in the Greater Whittier Area. The organization has grown from a small store front office to the sole tenant of a two-story building in Whittier, as well as a satellite in Montebello.
50 years after it’s opening, ICGC, is faced with a dual-dilemma; and it’s not alone. With federal, state and county budget cuts reducing services offered by mental health clinics, and a growing client list, social workers’ case loads are expanding with less money to work with.
Social workers spread their workdays into three areas. A majority of the day is spent on providing direct client services, followed by consultation and evaluation services, with administrative and management duties included.
What they offer to our communities as an indirect result of their work is often overlooked. Social workers ensure a vital public safety net that keep families together, children on a healthy living path and criminal activity to a minimum.
A 2008 study by the National Association of Social Workers indicated that social workers provide more mental health services than psychologists, psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses combined.
This is important to note because as our economy continues to slide its affect on the emotional status of an individual or family can deteriorate leading to a need for treatment or therapy by a social worker.
By 2010, it is estimated that nearly 120,000 positions will need to be filled to meet the growing population demand. In order to properly facilitate demand, our political leaders must consider the cost to communities when social service budgets are cut. We need to properly equate the services rendered by these highly educated professionals and provide adequate pay for their talents.
In the long-term, we must re-educate society by removing the notion that social workers in the mental health area only deal with mental disabilities and realize that what they offer is much more vast and complex. In the short-term, we should encourage more students to consider a field that helps people in their greatest time of need. And, in March we should extend a thank you to all those practicing and providing their care as a social worker.
Charlene Dimas-Peinado is the executive director of Intercommunity Child Guidance Center in Whittier, California and is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) who was recently awarded with the 2009 Women of the Year honoree in Community Service by the California State Assembly.