Friday, March 29, 2013

Social Work Problem #3: The Curriculum Discourages the Recruitment of Men and Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The third major problem with the social work profession is that the curriculum discourages the recruitment of men and racial/ethnic minorities. Social work, like most helping professions, is less ethnically and racially diverse than the U.S. population. According to the NASW Center for Workforce Studies, the majority of licensed social workers are Non-Hispanic White women (86%) whose client population fall within the broad category of disenfranchised populations, including a disproportionate number of people of color (i.e., Black/African American, Hispanic/Latino, Asian and Pacific Islander American, and American Indian/Alaskan Native). The remainder of the social work workforce is Black/African American (8%), Hispanic/Latino (3%), or "Other" (3%). The majority of male social workers are increasingly near retirement age and represent less than one in ten social workers. Fewer younger men perceive social work as a viable career option. The steady decline of men in the profession since the 1970s may inadvertently affect access to decision makers (e.g., elected officials) and reinforce outdated beliefs that social services is a natural field for women.

The growing homogeneity of the social work workforce presents three problems. First, the NASW Code of Ethics insists that social workers "obtain education about and seek to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to race, ethnicity, national origin, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, political belief, religion, and mental or physical disability." Social workers are trained in cultural competence, yet the profession as a whole doesn't reflect what it preaches. Second, professions that are perceived as pink-collar occupations (predominately female) in American society are typically stressful, marginalized, and underpaid. These careers are also seen as less demanding and prestigious by the general public. Third, a combination of social and political factors (judicial and legislative limitations to affirmative action, changing immigration patterns, welfare reform, restrictions on federal financial aid, etc.) can hinder access to higher education for disadvantaged groups. This can result in social work enrollments that remain radically different from the actual racial-ethnic distribution of society (Schilling et al., 2008). Given these realities, social work educators and practitioners must develop strategies to attract more men and students of color into the profession.

The lack of diversity in the profession is a major concern for the future of social work. In order to fully address this problem, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which handles accreditation and curricular guidelines for BSW and MSW programs, and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB), which handles the design and distribution of social work exams for state licensure, should consider these three recommendations.  
  1. Decrease the number of hours students must complete in field instruction. Social work is the only profession that requires students to achieve a high numerical minimum (at least 900 hours) in the field before graduation. I believe this hurts recruitment because other more prestigious professions don't require such rigorous standards. Social work should return to its previous minimum of 500 hours so that more prospective students become interested in the field.  
  2. Permit social work programs to offer part-time or extended degree options to accommodate working professionals. Most MSW programs require students to enroll full-time. This leaves little flexibility for students to choose a program that is the best fit for their circumstances. A part-time option could be attractive to prospective and current students who are raising families or need to rely on employer-sponsored health insurance.  
  3. Request ASWB to redesign the Master's exam to cover both clinical and macro content. The current Master's exam format is clincally-oriented. This is a disservice to macro-practice social workers who want to apply for state licensure. A redesign of the Master's exam could eventually encourage CSWE to emphasize more macro content in advanced coursework and force more state boards of social work to offer a macro practice license.
By increasing the number of licensed macro-practice social workers, these recommendations could eventually increase the number of macro-practice field placements in social work schools. This would then raise the visibility and status (both its importance and value) of macro practice within social work schools, prospective students, and the general public.

Bottom line: Since 1980, social work has become a predominately white female profession whose client population is predominately disadvantaged people of color.  These demographics show that social work is not meeting its social justice mission in recruitment and outreach. Accrediting bodies, such as CSWE and ASWB, must undergo curricular and administrative changes that will enhance this outreach and recruitment. This will help social work schools expand their macro-practice content and recruit more men and racial and ethnic minorities into the profession.

Source: Schilling, R.F., Morrish, J.N. & Liu, G (2008). Demographic trends in social work over a quarter-century in an increasingly female profession. Social Work, 53 (2) 103-114.

The NASW Center for Workforce Studies and Social Work Practice contains the latest demographic data on social workers by gender, race, and ethnicity.

Read the rest of the posts in this series:


Anonymous said...

This is an important issue and I appreciate your raising it. I would suggest that while social work could (SHOULD!) do better with recruitment, part of the issue is an UNDERGRADUATE COLLEGE recuritment issue. (And I will admit that I'm just thinking out loud here: consider it, expanding the discussion..)I teach in a BSW program in a small liberal arts university. We have a significant ly large number of minority, (African American, Hispanic, and male, and international /refugee) students in our "open" courses. (the number often exceeds 50-60%) But most of those students are pursuing business or other professsional degrees of some sort.

In my experience, many African American students in college active seek to distance themselves from sterotypes, thus pursuing business, or medical or other careers that establish some distance from anything associated with "social welfare."

Many social work programs though, do reflect the numbers you describe. Particularly at the graduate level.

My particular passion is undergraduate social work education: this is the foundation of the profession. We require one internship of 450 hours. Student with the BSW are often able to enter MSW progams with advance standing and thus only have to complete an additional 500-550 hours in field. Personally, I would hate to see these hours reduced.

I beleive that the real issue in reaching out to and successfully recruiting minority students (including men) is to do so at the undergraduate level rather than the masters level. The funny thing is that in schools, various majors often COMPETE for students: often by perpetuating sterotypes and denegrating other disciplines. "You'll never make money doing that..."

That said, the numbers in our BSW social work program are more reflective of national demographic averages - except with regards to males. In our current senior SW classes, 20% are African American which is almost double the demographic rate in this state and greater than the national rate. Our senior class is also 25% male which is significantly higher than the national average for social work programs, but no-where near reflecting the national demographic. (But next years senior class males will be below average again.) This years class includes 20% military veterans. (mostly but not exclusively male) and next years senior class is 20% military veterans, 1/2 of whom are female. Our BSW students are also older than average. (range 22-54,average age is 32, most common age is 29. Most are married and 50% have children. 2/3 of our graduating seniors are going on directly into MSW programs. Gary

Michigan Girl said...

Thank you for your response. I appreciate the insights that you share about undergraduate social work programs. My undergraduate alma mater did not provide a social work program (in fact, I think most selective colleges and universities do not provide undergraduate social work majors). But I was able to major in a related major (social policy) and enroll in coursework that exposed me to social welfare issues.

The 900 hours of field instruction is extraneous because other social change professions (that have less academic requirements yet pay a higher starting salary after graduation!) do not require such rigorous internship requirements. While 500 hours sounds doable at the BSW level, many incoming MSW students (such as my case) are expected to obtain at least 900 hours within their graduate program. This sends the message that social workers are expected to do more with less (and for free with little to no reward). Why would a prospective student want to endure that kind of field experience when other similar fields (i.e. public policy, public health, law, etc.) offer placements and internships that can be completed in 1-2 semesters? If CSWE addresses this issue by reducing the number of required hours in the field, it will positively affect recruitment and outreach by sending the message that social work is not an under-appreciated profession. Many low- and middle-income students are sensitive to finances. Graduate and professional students can no longer rely on subsidized loans to financially pay for their education. If these students have to rely on food stamps just to get through an MSW program (field placements are often unpaid), then this profession is in deep trouble.

Anonymous said...

There are 483 accredited BSW programs and only 223 accredited MSW programs. The opportunity for “advance standing” in a MSW program is very is very attractive. But the profession has done a generally poor job of presenting itself as based upon professional education and the CSWE and universities have generally done a pitiful job of promoting undergraduate social work education. (The MSW as a “fast track” to clinical practice however is a tremendous marketing scheme of its own!)
I often teach freshman level “liberal education “courses (aka freshman seminar) and I formally survey students about career interests and general knowledge about career issues. Very few incoming freshman have any accurate knowledge about what social workers do and the range of practice opportunities. And quite often their knowledge of social work is based upon hostile stereotypes: “socialists taking children away from families practicing conservative values and giving money to support welfare moms.” Many of our own graduates only learned about the opportunities in the social work profession as 2nd and 3rd year students taking elective courses or from the occasionally sympathetic and attentive psychology or sociology faculty who actually recognizes a misinformed / misdirected students interest, beyond their own discipline. (Actually, at our university where class sizes are rarely greater than 15, psychology is the second largest major after business. We work very close with our psychology faculty: about 50% of our students started out in psychology.)

I often meet transfer students from larger universities or junior colleges who in two years of schooling never once met with an academic or career advisor.

I sincerely appreciate the perspective you are offering and the transitions you are suggesting: but from my practice experience that spans 30 years, my logic suggests we should be strengthening our academic requirements (including field requirements) rather than lowering them to meet the competition from other academic disciplines and modalities. I mean, there are accredited social work degrees now being offered almost entirely online! Look, we are often dealing with peoples very lives here!

One observation about field education though, is that we could and should strengthen our field experiences: our field instructors are often unappreciated and poorly supported (by the schools)for the amount of (VOLUNTARY) effort they contribute to the educational process. And in some programs, many filed instructors are NOT even social workers themselves. Field education is a remarkable paradox: in some programs it is the heart and soul of their educational process. In other programs it is that annoying requirement that is tolerated as an opportunity to charge students for academic credit with minimal faculty effort.

But I don’t even remotely expect to see increasing standards happening. Academia (and the real world) is an increasingly competitive environment; it seems to me that quality education is suffering in this realm. (“You can get a degree from us in 3 semesters while wearing your pajamas.”) As a matter of fact the new Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS) from the CSWE have in some ways LOWERED the standards of social work education: for example allowing schools to determine lesser standards for faculty qualifications-particularly at the BSW level.
OK, enough for now. Gary