Let's Not Go Backwards on Paying Social Workers
Last week, the State Senate passed a bill (SB 559) that would except DHHR social workers from the requirement to be licensed by the West Virginia Board of Social Work. According to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Services, this bill aims to get more people to apply for positions within Child Protective Services (CPS). While CPS has suffered from retention problems and high levels of caseloads, eliminating licensure could put vulnerable children at risk and remove important accountability standards. Furthermore, this proposal neglects to deal with one of the central underlying problems, which is low pay. As former State Senator Donald Cook pointed out about CPS workers: "They're underpaid. They're overworked."
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (OES), social workers in West Virginia are paid less than their counterparts in almost every state. In 2013, the average salary for child social workers that worked with children was just $31,700 - ranking last in the country. Mental health and substance abuse social workers where paid even less in West Virginia on average, just $30,300 per year - also ranking last in the nation. While the average salary of healthcare social workers was $42,780 in 2013, this was lower than all but two states.
While it's good that DHHR is concerned about staffing shortages, eliminating accountability standards for social workers is not going to solve the problem and could make employee turnover worse. Let's hope the House makes major changes to the bill and that we take concrete steps in the future to ensure that all DHHR social workers get paid a decent wage for their hard and important work. Instead of a race to the bottom, we need a race to the top. Our children deserve no less.