Balancing “Essential” With Safe and Ethical During COVID-19

April 3, 2020

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About Social Work Responds

The Association of Social Work Boards, the Council on Social Work Education, and the National Association of Social Workers are committed to collaborating on the range of issues affecting the social work profession and the people and communities we serve in this ever-changing and unsettling environment created by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.

Follow Up 

Based on the March 27 post and calls to action, our organizations want to share critical follow up information.

  • ASWB’s regulatory provisions page was updated April 3.
  • CSWE supports the Students Assist America program, an interdisciplinary “safety net” in Ohio where social work, medical, and nursing students who have completed most of their education will relieve the burden on medical staff who must focus on the specialized treatment for acute respiratory illness associated with COVID-19.
  • NASW continues to work to expand telehealth flexibilities and promote workplace safety for social workers (including personal protective equipment).

Balancing “Essential” With Safe and Ethical During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, social workers have been designated “essential workers” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Notably:

  • HHS Secretary Alex Azar asked governors to extend the capacity of the health care workforce to address the pandemic and provided guidance recommending a lifting of restrictions on licensure, scope of practice, certification, and recertification/relicensure for health care workers. (March 24)
  • The DHS Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency published an advisory list of essential, critical infrastructure workers. The list is inclusive of health care/public health services and non-health care settings including community- and government-based operations and residential/shelter facilities and services. Within these sectors, the full scope of social work practice is embraced, including clinical, policy, education, and regulation. (March 28)

With this guidance, the federal government is 1) recognizing that the services social workers provide in hospitals, child protective services, nursing homes, and other community-based settings have been ongoing and must continue throughout this pandemic and 2) recommending that states do all they can to temporarily reduce/eliminate barriers to allow the workforce to be deployed expeditiously.

Although the federal government is making recommendations to help states during this time of crisis, the states ultimately maintain the authority to protect the public. Whether these temporary measures continue after the crisis will be determined. ASWB is encouraging regulatory boards to make needed adjustments to their laws and regulations if they are able. As regulatory changes and emergency orders are issued, organizations must explore the impact on their social work workforce and adjust their policies to meet community needs.

In order to safeguard the health and well-being of students and educators, social work educational programs are, at their discretion, reducing the field hours required for social work degree requirements at the recommendation of CSWE. Earning real-world experience is essential for students to have a well-rounded education. The rigors of social work education have not changed, but rather programs are empowered to work with students and teachers to find ways to earn that experience so that students are ready to practice within the full scope of their license, education, and experience upon graduation.

When calling for the temporary reduction of barriers to expand services to those in need and defining “essential workers,” the federal government has an obligation to provide needed resources and support to states. States have an obligation to their constituents to ensure that much-needed services are made available and are provided safely; employers are responsible to ensure staff safety (among other things); educational institutions have an obligation to ensure a safe environment for students and educators; and social workers are responsible for acting safely and ethically in service provision.

How We Can Help

ASWB is publishing policy actions from regulatory boards to help social workers quickly access information about: waiving of in-state licensing requirements for out-of-state social workers licensed in another jurisdiction; lifting of restrictions on the provision of telehealth services; modifications to license requirements for current licensees, including CE requirements for license renewal and requirements for obtaining clinical supervised experience; and extension of exam approval dates. ASWB is updating this information regularly as we become aware of changes.

CSWE continues to support efforts from federal agencies, including HHS, that enable social workers, students, and educators to positively impact their communities. It also fully expects that being designated an “essential workforce” raises the value of the knowledge, values, and skills integrated into the current EPAS competencies and heightens the need to ensure that the next iteration, EPAS 2022, addresses the competencies necessary for this workforce.

NASW works to ensure that social workers are aware of the recent flexibilities in telehealth at the federal and state level, and how they can effectively deploy technologies such as smartphones in addition to video conferencing to provide services during this public health emergency. NASW is also offering a variety of opportunities for social workers to learn about and discuss the policy, ethical, legal and other issues that are arising in the context of practice during the pandemic. In addition, NASW is advocating that social workers—who are on the front lines of providing care in hospitals and other settings—are provided with personal protective equipment.

Related Posts:

August 7 – Ensuring All Levels of Self-Care

July 24 – Will the Pandemic Cause Mental Trauma?

July 10 – Interprofessional Health Care Model Responds to Both Pandemics

June 19 – This Is Who We Are

June 5 – Two Pandemics

May 15 – Let’s Call It What It Is…Telesocialwork

May 1 – What’s the Meaning of This?

April 24 – Social Worker COVID-19 Survey

April 17 – COVID-19 and Social Justice

April 10 – Reinforcing the Essential Nature of Social Work

March 27 – COVID-19 Telehealth: Providing Mental Health Support Safely, Ethically and Competently

March 20 – Social Work in this Unprecedented Time

6 comments

  1. What about people’s who’s jobs are at risk due to not having availability to the license exam. So out of state licensure are exempt but what about us who are in state trying to obtain it in NYS.
    Please advise
    Thank you

  2. In addition to PPE, social workers on the front lines of health care delivery should receive guaranteed expanded paid sick leave and hazard pay. Many essential businesses (like grocery stores) have put these policies in place for their employees. What is being done to advocate for additional protections/compensation for social workers?

    • Thanks for your comments Ms. Murphey. Great suggestions. NASW is advocating for the profession on this issue and will pushing for more assistance in upcoming stimulus bills that Congress is considering. To learn more about our advocacy and get updates visit this page on the NASW website: https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy/Policy-Issues/COVID-19-Advocacy
      Thank you for the life-changing work you do as a social worker and please do what you need to do to stay safe.

      Greg Wright
      NASW Public Relations Manager

  3. Mary Ellen McCurley

    Great work!

  4. Any advocacy towards the EXEMPTION of health care personnel (including social workers) in the COVID-19 FMLA regulations that were edited for this horrific time? We don’t get paid if sick.

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