Councilmember Robert White Introduces bill to Increase Number of Social Workers of Color and Fill Gaps in Social Worker Pipeline

For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON, DC (April 20, 2023) – Today Councilmember Robert White introduced the Social Work License Modernization Amendment Act of 2023 to tackle the District’s social worker shortage and remove unnecessary barriers to licensure. This bill would end the exam requirement for Licensed Social Work Associates and Licensed Graduate Social Workers and create a task force to recommend a new assessment for Licensed Independent Clinical Social Workers and Licensed Clinical Social Workers.

DC’s shortage of social workers is preventing service providers from hiring case workers who help people living in tent encampments get into housing. This problem was clear when the National Park Service and the Bowser administration cleared the McPherson Square encampment where many of the residents had been approved for vouchers years ago but were stuck in the housing process as they waited for case workers. DC is failing to get people into housing in part because we do not have enough case workers.

The District is also experiencing a social worker shortage in DC Public Schools and public charter schools. As of March 1, there were 95 vacancies in the school-based behavioral health program. Without these positions filled, students are missing out on a resource that will help them deal with trauma, exposure to violence, challenges they might be experiencing at home, or behavioral issues, not to mention another trusted adult in the school building.

“This is a common-sense step that the District can take to make a real, immediate impact on our shortage of social workers,” said White. “I will work with my colleagues to move this bill so we can work through the backlog in housing vouchers, break cycles of trauma and violence with culturally competent mental health care, and get more social workers in schools, community-based organizations, and District agencies.”

Will Doyle, a social worker at Pathways to Housing DC explained, “Many of our direct service positions in DC don’t require a social work degree or license, but these are often the source of the best candidates. For the Permanent Supportive Housing Program alone, since March 2020, we have had 79 unlicensed social workers apply to be Case Managers. We could not consider any of them for these positions since they are not legally able to perform social work unlicensed in DC.”

Several states have never required applicants at similar levels of licensure to take an exam to become licensed. 14 states do not require an exam at the bachelor’s level and six states do not require an exam at the master’s level. Most recently, Illinois, Utah, and Rhode Island have recently changed their laws to end the practice.

At the two lower levels of licensure, the exam is unnecessary. Applicants for licensure will have recently completed extensive training, and work directly under experienced social workers, and are regulated by the Board of Social Work.

Importantly, the licensing exam has large disparities in exam outcomes based on race, gender, age, and whether English is an exam taker’s primary language. We should not continue to use a test that offers little practical utility and acts as a racially biased gate keeper to a profession in desperate need of Black and Latine social workers and bilingual social workers.

Councilmembers Kenyan McDuffie, Anita Bonds, Brianne Nadeau, Charles Allen, Vincent Gray, Trayon White, Janeese Lewis George, Christina Henderson, and Matthew Frumin co-introduced this bill.

Media Contact:

Devon Haynes, Communications Director


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