Caldwell bill would help address social worker shortage
STATE HOUSE – Rep. Justine Caldwell is sponsoring legislation that would help address Rhode Island’s urgent need for more social workers by allowing those who’ve recently received their master’s in social work to practice in the field prior to obtaining their licenses, under specific conditions.
The purpose of the legislation is to help bring all qualified individuals into the field as soon as possible, as the state faces a shortage of social workers that has been crippling social programs in the state. At one point in late 2021, due to a workforce shortage, all nine Early Intervention providers in the state stopped accepting new referrals, leaving hundreds of toddlers without the developmental supports they needed. The workforce shortage, driven in part by low wages and reimbursement rates for providers and exacerbated by the pandemic, has also affected services to children served by the Department of Children, Youth and Families and other areas of social services.
Earlier this week, the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Rhode Island Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Bradley Hospital declared a state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health in Rhode Island. Among its recommendations is accelerating strategies to address longstanding workforce challenges in child mental health.
“Rhode Island is definitely in an all-hands-on-deck situation when it comes to social workers. If we have people who are trained, qualified and willing to work, we need the flexibility to let them. Some of the most vulnerable individuals in our state, including many children, are suffering from their inability to access the services they need because our community providers simply don’t have the staff they need to help them,” said Representative Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich). “This bill will provide ample oversight and protections to put recent graduates to work quickly in social services.”
The legislation (2022-H 7269) would allow those who have received their masters of social work from an accredited college or university within the past two years to practice social work prior to obtaining their social work license, as long as they have not failed the examination for licensing more than once, work directly under the supervision of an individual who is licensed as an independent clinical social worker in Rhode Island, are designated as an intern or trainee, and refrain from portraying to the public that they are licensed to practice social work in Rhode Island.
Representative Caldwell says the bill will address one facet of the social worker shortage, and hopes that it helps advance discussion of the urgent need for workforce development in this critical sector.
The bill is before the House Corporation Committee, which held a hearing on it Feb. 16. Companion legislation (2022-S 2764) has been introduced in the Senate by Sen. Bridget Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown).