I consider social work to be undergoing a renaissance period. There is great energy, activity, and discourse within and across the profession. I know that the following statement may sound like a hyperbole. It appears that the profession is on the precipice of making a much-needed transition in defining itself and exploring new substantive areas for research, training, and education. There continues to be growth in our research enterprise. The seminal 1991 report of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Task Force on social work research provided strong justification for the investment in research resources within the field of social work (Austin, 1999; Task Force on Social Work Research, 1991). In addition to this investment other national development initiatives, dissemination, publications, conferences, and research development in social work education programs were established. Significant research domains are identified, the status of doctoral education is analyzed, and major sources of current funding for social work research are identified (Austin, 1999; Task Force on Social Work Research, 1991). Since 1993, there has been a precipitous growth in social work research. The profession has seen an increase in both the number of articles published and the number of social work journals (Perron et al., 2017; Victor, Hodge, Perron, Vaughn, & Salas-Wright, 2017). Shortly after the release of the NIMH Task Force report in 1993, the Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) was founded. SSWR is committed to the advancement of social work research. The taskforce report, the increase in infrastructure, having visionary leaders in the profession, the improvement in doctoral education, and the founding of SSWR are just a few of the antecedents that have energized the overall growth in the social work research enterprise. In addition to the growth in research, publications, and social work journals, there has also been growth in social work education. The profession has witnessed steady growth in the number of BSW, MSW, and PhD programs. As of 2017, there are 518 accredited BSW programs, 255 accredited MSW programs, and 17 BSW and 23 MSW programs in candidacy (Council on Social Work Education [CSWE], 2017). There has been a significant increase in offering both BSW and MSW degrees in the online format. We have seen the reemergence of offering the practice doctorate in both face-to-face and online formats. Over the five-year period of 2011 to 2015, the full-time enrollment for BSW students and MSW students increased by 5.2% and 25.7%, respectively, whereas the full-time enrollment for doctoral (practice doctorate and PhD) students decreased by 1.4%. During the same time period, the part-time enrollment for BSW students and MSW students increased by 9.1% and 16.1%, respectively, whereas the part-time enrollment of doctoral (practice doctorate and PhD) students decreased by 37.9% (CSWE, 2015). We should take some satisfaction in the growth of our profession. The growth in research, knowledge development, and education can be remarkable foundations for our continued efforts to define and refine the profession. The growth in research has prompted discourse regarding evidence-based practice and the function of science in social work. The profession is attentively exploring better methods for addressing the perceived disconnect between research and practice. There are members of the academy and practice community acknowledging concerns regarding the research agenda of the profession. Overall, are we asking the right research questions, are we using the methods, and is our research having the expected impact for the communities we serve and society? These are big questions our profession will continue to grapple with moving forward. Our growth in social work education is necessitating that the profession become more knowledgeable about curriculum, practice behaviors, skills and competencies, better gatekeeping, educational outcomes, and alternative educational delivery formats. There is great momentum in social work to stake our claim in the core areas of our professional turf in the national social, psychological, and health services development and delivery agenda. The increased collaborative partnerships between national social work organizations on research, education, and policy advocacy support this momentum. There continue to be gaps in our knowledge base about the social work workforce. Having quality comprehensive knowledge about the social work workforce would strengthen this momentum. Given this growth, strong organizational collaborations, and national initiatives for social work, our profession has been harmed by the deprofessionalization of the sectors in which we traditionally have been leaders (for example, medical social work, child welfare, criminal justice, and juvenile delinquency). Although social work research and education have expanded positively in size and scope, some would argue that we are still frighteningly disengaged from current events and have ceded our voice to other professions in the realms of policy and management. This is a stark contrast to the Progressive Era 100 years ago, when our profession came together for the first time to stake our claim, draw our boundaries, and speak out on the very relevant issues affecting our fellow citizens. At the conclusion of the 2018 SSWR Annual Scientific Meeting, I attended a symposium addressing social work in its second century. The symposium was sponsored by the Social Service Review in collaboration with SSWR and the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare (AASWSW). This symposium, “Social Service Review Symposium: Whither American Social Work in its Second Century?” invited social work scholars to reflect on the state of scholarship and the profession (for example, social welfare policy, administration, macro practice, and direct practice). The symposium acknowledged the 100th anniversary of the inaugural meeting of the National Conference of Social Work in 1917. Building on the profession’s accomplishments, scholars examined promising directions for the profession as we enter the second century and the kinds of scholarship necessary to sustain our profession. Given the overall changes occurring in our profession, this symposium is absolutely timely. As we move into the second century of our profession, it is timely for the profession to consider the state of the profession and how we are managing across the very diverse fields of practice. The 1917 National Conference was described as the greatest gathering of social workers on the continent. Attendees included a very broad range of practitioners (for example, public relief officials, institution officers, parish workers, charity organization secretaries, probation officers, nurses, settlement workers, medical social services workers, prison heads, truant officers, teachers of special groups, tenement inspectors, public welfare directors, social investigators, and executives of agencies for social legislation) and many others (Courtney, 2017). Defining fields of practice for the profession continues to challenge social work. This symposium sought to answer questions related to the current state of scholarship in core areas of social work, what social work brings to these areas that is unique or essential that other professions do not, and what are promising directions for social work moving forward? Social work has made tremendous progress in defining itself as a profession internally; however, defining the profession to external audiences and delineating the boundaries of our profession continues to require our endeavors. I find that other applied professions (for example, nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and medicine) collect greater amounts of comprehensive data on their profession. These professions understand that regular workforce studies are critical for informing future directions, needs, and capacity of the profession. Currently, the annual report from CSWE is about the extent of our knowledge about the social work workforce. Recognizing this deficiency, CSWE in collaboration with the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors, SSWR, AASWSW, Association of Social Work Boards, Group for the Advancement of Doctoral Education, National Association of Deans and Directors of Schools of Social Work, and National Association of Social Workers contracted with the George Washington University Health Workforce Institute to conduct a preliminary workforce study. Results from this preliminary study reinforced the woeful lack of data we have on our profession (Salsberg et al., 2017). Here are three examples of how allied professions collect and use data to plan and improve their workforce: (1) The Association of American Medical colleges (AAMC) commits to publish annual updates of national physician workforce projections and assess the capacity of the nation’s future health care workforce in general and physician workforce in particular. AAMC believes these data to be important for both the public and the private sector. Up-to-date data are needed to guide investments in health care systems and to develop physicians to transform the system (AAMC, 2017). The overall focus of AAMC’s workforce studies is to have a better understanding of how clinicians and care settings will respond to economic and other trends and to understand how the growth in nonphysician personnel (for example, hospitalists, physician assistants, and advanced practice registered nurses) will affect demand for physicians and improve workforce projections (AAMC, 2017). (2) Physical therapists conducted a workforce study to develop a strategy for modeling future workforce projections to serve as a basis for analyzing annual supply of and demand for physical therapists across the United States into 2020 (Landry et al., 2016). (3) Every two years, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) partners with the National Forum of State Nursing Workforce Centers to conduct the only national-level survey specifically focused on the U.S. nursing workforce. This survey generates information on the supply of nurses. These data are critical to planning for sufficient numbers of adequately trained nurses for a safe and effective health care system (NCSBN, 2015). We do not have a systematic approach to scan the environment and look toward the future. We lag behind other professions in our ability to analyze trends (Lein, Uehara, Lightfoot, Lawlor, & Williams, 2017). Workforce studies in social work are practically nonexistent. In 2004, NASW conducted a benchmark national survey of licensed social workers. The survey used licensed social workers because they represent frontline practitioners and because state licensing lists provided an opportunity to reach social workers who may not have had any other identifiable professional affiliation (Center for Health Workforce Studies [CHWS], 2006). This study followed similar methods as workforce studies conducted in other professions: collection of demographic characteristics, practice settings, job tasks, and compensation and benefits (CHWS, 2006). As mentioned earlier, CSWE in collaboration with other social work organizations has conducted a preliminary workforce study (Salsberg et al., 2017). The scope of the data from this preliminary study was not at a scale for defining our profession to external audiences and delineating our boundaries. Over the years, several federal agencies and foundations have invested in social work workforce development. These investments were not based on data from a workforce study. Two noticeable examples have been in the areas of child welfare and gerontology. Historically, child welfare is a practice area in which social workers have been leaders. Protecting children from abuse and neglect means addressing the complex needs of families who experience poverty, cope with trauma, and struggle with substance use. The stakes are high and the work is hard: Social workers in child welfare carry demanding caseloads and may face threats to their safety, while making critical decisions regarding the removal and reunification of children. When workers burn out, turnover creates costly vacancies in agencies struggling to meet the demand for services at a time that multiple issues strain the child welfare system (Lachman, 2017; Pecora, Whittaker, Maluccio, Barth, & DePanfilis, 2009; Wulczyn, Orlebeke, & Haight, 2009). During a crisis in the child welfare system, the response from policymakers and practitioners is often to expand services to children and families. Less attention is paid to who is best positioned to provide those services and how they should be trained and supported in delivering those services. Although partnerships between child welfare agencies and universities have made strides in professionalizing the child welfare workforce, fewer than 40% hold degrees in social work (Barth, Lloyd, Christ, Chapman, & Dickinson, 2008). Relevant education and training alone will not ensure a qualified child welfare workforce without also addressing the complex structural, organizational, and financial challenges that also affect social services systems. In the context of a rapidly changing practice environment, some child welfare agencies are implementing comprehensive workforce strategies focused on recruiting, training, and retaining workers. But assessing the workforce also requires dialogue with collaborating disciplines to better forecast and understand emerging service needs of families that the next generation of social workers will need to be prepared to address. The John A. Hartford Foundation (JAHF) invested in social work by launching the Geriatric Social Work Initiative (GSWI). GSWI had three major components. One component was intended to transform social work curricula with aging and gerontological content. More than 1,500 social work faculty members participated in gerontological competency-based training, and 250 social work programs infused aging and gerontological competencies into their curricula and program structure (Hooyman & Lubben, 2009; JAHF, 2012; Lubben, 2009). The second component of the GSWI was the Geriatric Social Work Faculty Scholars program. This program’s focus was to increase the number of social work faculty members committed to research and teaching about the needs of older adults. The third component was to cultivate outstanding social work students to pursue an academic career in gerontology. The Hartford Doctoral Fellows in Geriatric Social Work program supported research, mentoring, and professional development (JAHF, 2012; Lubben, 2009). Many social work students were introduced to a range of settings and practice opportunities in gerontology through coursework and an innovative practicum model. The workforce investments in both child welfare and gerontology have been instrumental in influencing the practice areas of social work. The continued success of social work is contingent on being able to better define the profession to external audiences, delineate the boundaries of our profession, and meticulously explore new areas of practice. The ongoing assessment of social work is needed to understand trends and adequately prepare a workforce to address the changing social, economic, psychological, health, and environmental needs of society. Social work carefully examines the methods our colleagues from nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and medicine use to systematically collect workforce data and use those data to inform curriculum, practice, and policy. The current social work workforce data are limited and not adequate for the profession to successfully plan for the future. A concerted effort is required from social work organizations, schools, and programs to collect quality workforce data as we move into the second century. We need both workforce investment and workforce data. I think it is clear that we need a seminal workforce study now to make the same bold decisions our profession made 100 years ago. James Herbert Williams, PhD, is director and Arizona Centennial Professor of Social Welfare Services, and Miguel Joseph Vieyra, MSW, is associate director for community engagement and strategic initiatives and clinical associate professor, School of Social Work, Arizona State University, Phoenix. References Association of American Medical Colleges. ( 2017). The complexities of physician supply and demand: Projections from 2015 to 2030. Retrieved from https://aamc-black.global.ssl.fastly.net/production/media/filer_public/c9/db/c9dbe9de-aabf-457f-aee7-1d3d554ff281/aamc_projections_update_2017_final_-_june_12.pdf Austin, D. M. ( 1999). A report on progress in the development of research resources in social work. Research on Social Work Practice, 9, 673– 707. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Barth, R. P., Lloyd, E. C., Christ, S. L., Chapman, M. V., & Dickinson, N. S. ( 2008). Child welfare worker characteristics and job satisfaction: A national study. Social Work, 53, 199– 209. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Center for Health Workforce Studies. ( 2006). Licensed social workers in the United States, 2004 . Washington, DC: National Association of Social Workers, Center for Workforce Studies. Retrieved from https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=mV_QzN0aDzc%3d&portalid=0 Council on Social Work Education. ( 2015). Annual statistics on social work education in the United States . Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from https://www.cswe.org/getattachment/992f629c-57cf-4a74-8201-1db7a6fa4667/2015-Statistics-on-Social-Work-Education.aspx Council on Social Work Education. ( 2017). About CSWE accreditation . Alexandria, VA: Author. Retrieved from https://www.cswe.org/Accreditation PubMed PubMed Courtney, M. ( 2017). Letter from the editor. Social Service Review, 91, 1– 5. Hooyman, N. R., & Lubben, J. E. ( 2009). The need for gerontological social workers. In N. R. Hooyman (Ed.), Transforming social work education: The first decade of the Hartford Geriatric Social Work Initiative (pp. 3– 20). Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education Press. John A. Hartford Foundation. ( 2012). Celebrating thirty years of aging and health: 2012 annual report . New York: Author. Retrieved from https://www.johnahartford.org/ar2012/JAHF_2012AR.pdf Lachman, S. ( 2017, December 29). The opioid plague’s youngest victims. New York Times , p. A23. Landry, M. D., Hack, L. M., Coulson, E., Freburger, J., Johnson, M. P., Katz, R., et al. . ( 2016). Workforce projections 2010–2020: Annual supply and demand forecasting models for physical therapists across the United States. Physical Therapy, 96, 71– 80. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Lein, L., Uehara, E. S., Lightfoot, E., Lawlor, E. F., & Williams, J. H. ( 2017). A collaborative framework for envisioning the future of social work research and education [Editorial]. Social Work Research, 41, 67– 71. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Lubben, J. E. ( 2009). Cultivating a new generation of scholars: The Hartford Doctoral Fellows Program. In N. R. Hooyman (Ed.), Transforming social work education: The first decade of the Hartford Geriatric Social Work Initiative (pp. 79– 97). Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education Press. National Council of State Boards of Nursing. ( 2015). The 2015 National Nursing Workforce Survey: Executive summary . Chicago: Author. Retrieved from https://www.ncsbn.org/2015ExecutiveSummary.pdf Pecora, P. J., Whittaker, J. K., Maluccio, A. N., Barth, R. P., & DePanfilis, D. ( 2009). The child welfare challenge ( 3rd ed.). Piscataway, NJ: Aldine-Transaction Books. Perron, B. E., Victor, B. G., Hodge, D. R., Salas-Wright, C. P., Vaughn, M. G., & Taylor, R. J. ( 2017). Laying the foundations for scientometric research: A data science approach. Research on Social Work Practice, 27, 802– 812. Google Scholar CrossRef Search ADS Salsberg, E., Quigley, L., Mehfoud, N., Acquaviva, K., Wyche, K., & Sliwa, S. ( 2017). Profile of the social work workforce: A report to Council on Social Work Education and National Workforce Initiative Steering Committee . Retrieved from https://www.cswe.org/Centers-Initiatives/Initiatives/National-Workforce-Initiative/SW-Workforce-Book-FINAL-11-08-2017.aspx Task Force on Social Work Research. ( 1991). Building social work knowledge for effective services and policies—A plan for development . Austin: University of Texas, School of Social Work. Victor, B. G., Hodge, D. R., Perron, B. E., Vaughn, M. G., & Salas-Wright, C. P. ( 2017). The rise of co-authorship in social work scholarship: A longitudinal study of collaboration and article quality, 1989–2013. British Journal of Social Work, 47, 2201– 2216. Wulczyn, F. H., Orlebeke, B., & Haight, J. ( 2009). Finding the return on investment: A framework for monitoring local child welfare agencies . Chicago: Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago. © 2018 National Association of Social Workers
Social Work Research – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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