Reinforcing the Essential Nature of Social Work

Apr 10, 2020

April 10, 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 previous Social Work Responds emails and calls to action, our organizations want to share critical follow up information.

  •  Effective April 7, Pearson VUE added ASWB candidates to the list of essential workers who are allowed to test in a subset of test centers that have been opened on a limited schedule for testing essential service providers. Availability is first come, first served. ASWB candidates must schedule their appointments online on ASWB’s exam program homepage on the Pearson VUE website.
  • “It flipped my world upside down.” CSWE’s Educator Resource of the Month addresses students’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and what research shows about how young people process distress and what they need. Selected resources to inform responsive teaching are provided. 
  • NASW participated in a meeting on April 9 convened by the White House with the leaders of major national mental health organizations, to discuss the urgent need to address the mental and behavioral challenges that are arising due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on April 6 issued an interim final rule allowing use of audio-only devices (e.g. landlines) under limited conditions. NASW continues to vigorously advocate for further flexibility. More details are at

Reinforcing the Essential Nature of Social Work During and Post-Pandemic

As we shared last week, federal agencies and states are recognizing the essential nature of social work during this coronavirus pandemic.

The health of every American is shaped by many factors beyond their medical care. In fact, nonmedical factors (or “social determinants”) such as secure housing, access to nutritious food, and reliable transportation play an equally great role in health outcomes as medical services.  Beginning with core competencies developed in social work education programs, social workers apply the profession’s distinctive “person in the environment” framework, first conceived more than a century ago. Social workers have long played a crucial role in hospitals, community clinics, and other health care settings by ensuring that these settings attend to the social needs of patients.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) in its 2019 consensus study, “Integrating Social Care into the Delivery of Health Care: Moving Upstream to Improve the Nation’s Health,” makes numerous recommendations to promote the application of this framework. Among other things, it recognizes social workers as “specialists” in social care. NASW, CSWE, and more than 60 schools of social work sponsored the study and continue to work to leverage the study findings to broaden awareness of the need for social care and drive improvements in health.

Attending to social needs is all the more important during a public health emergency. Social workers are on the front lines serving patients with COVID-19 at thousands of the nation’s hospitals. Patients hospitalized due to COVID-19 often need assistance to address nonmedical but crucially important issues such as employment leave, child or elder care for family members, and financial stressors. To ensure a smooth recovery, they may need ongoing support such as resources to ensure transportation to follow-up medical appointments and adjustments in their home environment. Patients who have preexisting mental health or physical conditions may need additional supports in order to promote their recovery and safety.

Social workers play a critical role in bridging clinical care and social services, while moving away from a system that has traditionally operated in silos. Social workers can help meet the holistic needs of a diverse patient population and in turn improve health outcomes and eliminate health disparities across the nation.

The NASEM study calls on states to standardize scopes of practice for all social workers. ASWB’s Model Social Work Practice Act supports NASEM’s recommendations. The model act provides a sample statute and regulations for use by legislators and regulators when drafting their laws. In addition to increasing standardization of terminology and regulation, the sample statue establishes three licensing categories with discrete scopes of practice (Bachelors, Masters, Clinical).

As defined by the model act, all three scopes include assessment, planning, intervention, evaluation, case management, information and referral, counseling, supervision, consultation, education, advocacy, community organization, research, and the development, implementation, and administration of policies, programs, and activities.

Our current public health crisis has illuminated the value of regulatory boards working toward consistent licensing and scopes of practice across jurisdictions. When scopes and licensing align, temporary measures to provide increased access to mental health practitioners and services can be implemented with greater confidence that public protection is maintained. ASWB encourages all U.S. jurisdictions to incorporate the model act in their laws as a way to promote increased public understanding of social work and increased mobility for social workers.

Congress and the White House, as well as state governments, have provided substantial relief to help the nation cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes provisions such as telehealth flexibility, which increase the ability of health care professionals, including social workers, to meet new and emerging needs. To further maximize the social work workforce, policy makers need to take additional action to promote social needs care.

How We Can Help

Join conversations on how educators and students are adjusting education in light of coronavirus response conditions on CSWE Spark, a community for social workers and social work educators to connect with each other, support each other, and share resources. Check out the many different conversations going on today.

ASWB’s vision is “All social workers are licensed in order to protect clients and client systems.” As we pursue that goal, we will continue to encourage state and provincial social work regulatory boards to embrace the model act in their laws. Through our work to date, we have learned that more similarities than differences exist throughout social work regulation in North America–including scopes of practice. With the boards’ adoption of licensure by endorsement as the mechanism to achieve full practice mobility, we are coming closer to NASEM’s goal of building a workforce to integrate social care into health care delivery.

NASW continues to advocate for reimbursement for social needs care. This includes the Improving Access to Mental Health Act, which broadens the types of services that clinical social workers can provide to Medicare beneficiaries. To learn more about these efforts, go to


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