The National Association of Social Workers Ohio Chapter (NASW Ohio) is demanding the state legislature not pass legislation that could seriously harm thousands of Ohioans who are experiencing mental health struggles.
The Ohio Senate on Nov. 30 amended Substitute HB 509 to allow people with degrees other than social work to be a licensed social workers, an action that will erode the quality of mental health care in the state.
“This is an egregious mistake that would cause damage that could last generations,” said Danielle Smith, executive director of NASW Ohio. “If the bill passes, Ohio faces a future where someone who has no training in mental health can diagnose a mental illness. This could hamper a person living with a mental illness from getting comprehensive and compassionate care.”
Social workers account for the largest group of mental health services providers in the United States.
Social work is a specific profession with regulated standards for education, field practicums, and licensure. The proposed change would devalue the social work profession by eroding professional education, values, practice standards, and reputation. A degree from a related field likely carries no requirements for an internship, meaning that a licensed social worker would have no practical experience before becoming licensed. Furthermore, it devalues and creates disincentives for earning a social work degree as a baccalaureate program requires 400 hours of field education and a master program requires 900 hours.
Passage of the bill would mean Ohioans would no longer be able to trust that a “licensed social worker” is someone with a degree in social work. Clients and communities must be able to trust that the people they work with are trained and prepared for the difficult work that social workers are called to do. This is a particularly important issue in Ohio where licensed social workers have a significant scope of practice with the ability to diagnose and assess mental health disorders under supervision.
“This legislation is ridiculous,” Smith said. “It would be like allowing someone with a degree in physical therapy to be a medical doctor or a dentist. All those professionals are in the field of medicine but they provide vastly different types of care. The same standards apply to this case.”