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Opioid crisis leads to social work workforce shortage

By Paul R. Pace, News staff

The nation’s opioid crisis is creating a new threat in some of the hardest hit states: a social work workforce shortage in child welfare and addiction treatment.

Opioid epidemic and drug abuse concept“The demand for social workers has always been high, but it is particularly true now,” says Michael Patchner, university dean at Indiana University School of Social Work.

The need for social workers led to a remarkable record at the school of social work in May.

One-hundred percent of social work undergraduate students who responded to a university survey asking about their plans after graduation said they either had a job or were furthering their education.

“We were the only unit with a 100 percent placement rate of the whole campus, which has around 30,000 students,” Patchner said.

The dean issued a press release about the statistic, which included his theories of why the workforce had reached new heights.

The Associated Press picked up on the news and it was published nationwide, including U.S. News and World Report. It noted the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that social worker employment will grow by 19 percent between 2014 and 2024.

According to Patchner, addiction to opioids is just one facet of the problem. Those suffering from addiction often cannot take care of their children properly, so their children are at risk.

That spills over to the child welfare system, he said.

“There aren’t as many treatment facilities as are needed in Indiana,” Patchner said. “Therefore, we have a lot of outpatient work providing treatment. There is just a need to address all of these social problems.”

He said he produced the press release in hopes of demonstrating that, nationally, social work is a very viable career.

“Often students in high school will not think about social work as a career,” Patchner said. “They enjoy helping their friends with their problems. They would like to have a career to do this kind of work.”

From the October 2017 NASW News. Read the full story here



  1. Unfortunately, the pay does not equal the need or the importance of social work. I have been one for 10+ years and the pay is far from what it should be. A lot of burnout with little pay leads to an ongoing shortage of SW’s.

    • Andrea K. Wiley, LCSW,MAC

      Hello my fellow social worker! Agreed, burnout is a potential and real hazzard of our profession and it is sensed that you may be heading for it. You do not have to risk having our profession losing you! There are solutions…sometimes a temporary break from what your regular job is may help to ultimately sustain your presence and action as a credible and appreciated social worker. Ongoing Self-care is a real need among those of us who are professional helpers. Self-care is probably one of the most responsible actions one can take as a competent and longlasting social work professional. I’ve been a professional social worker for 35 yrs and because of my passion for providing MH and SUD’s services throughout that entire time my mentors insisted that I observe that principle to help avoid/reduce compassion fatigue just as passionately. Now, as a clinical supervisor in those very fields I pass on that information and encouragement to my younger colleages because there will always be a need for you and what you do as a professional social worker!

  2. The organization I work for, Thompson Social Services, Inc. provides Representative Payee services by a licensed social worker. In my opinion, if this service was used more for people with addiction problems of all sorts, children and people with addiction would still have the shelter, food, clothing, etc. needed to live. A Rep Payee can be assigned for an adult and/or for the children receiving benefits. In order to utilize this service, a physician must fill out and submit a form SSA-787 stating that the person is unable to manage their social security benefits and needs a Rep Payee. The local Social Security Office can offer names and contact information for Organizations across the country that provide this service.
    The social security payments then go to the Rep Payee Organization and that organization is held accountable for how that money is spent. PLEASE BE AWARE. In my experiences as an addictions certified specialist, case workers that have little to no understanding of addiction. Both Rep Payee Organizations and County agency case managers in agencies such as Children and Youth are easily manipulated and triangulated against the agency providing rep payee services. A client can REQUEST a new Rep Payee, but the Social Security Administration DOES NOT have to reassign the person’s case, if it is not deemed necessary. The courts could also benefit from participating with these services. Feel free to contact me at if you are interested in further information.

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