9 March 2006
Good News for Social Work Majors
Landmark Study Warns of Impending Labor Force Shortages
Social Work Profession
Services to Millions
[Washington, DC] [March 8, 2006] - At a news conference
today, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) released the results
of a national study of licensed social workers. The findings warn of
an impending shortage of social workers that threaten future services
for all Americans, especially the most vulnerable among us, children
and older adults.
"From adoption to geriatrics, hundreds of thousands
of social workers in the United States play a critical role in the lives of
millions of Americans," says Tracy Whitaker, director of the NASW Center
for Workforce Studies. "The findings of this study emphasize the need
to assure a qualified social work labor force for the future.
Predicted changes in the country's demographics over the next years are
expected to increase the demand for social work services."
conducted the study, "Assuring the Sufficiency of a Frontline Workforce: A
National Study of Licensed Social Workers" in response to a sense of urgency
to plan for future needs for the social work profession. The study was
conducted with the Center for Health Workforce Studies, University at Albany.
Funding for this research was made< possible by the generosity of The
Atlantic Philanthropies, the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Annie E. Casey
Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The number of new social workers providing services to older
adults is decreasing, despite projected increases in the number of older
adults who will need social work services. Social workers provide valuable
services to older adults and their families. They help clients to negotiate
the healthcare and social welfare systems, to provide resources essential to
living and to address the challenges that come with aging. With the aging of
the baby boom generation and breakthroughs in medicine contributing to longer
life spans, the number and percentage of Americans 60 years of age and
older will surge. The need and demand for social work services for the
aging will increase dramatically. Linda Harootyan, deputy director of
the Gerontological Society of America, spoke about the challenges
social workers face in aging-related practice.
"For older adults with
complex care needs, social workers are often the linchpins helping
individuals and their families coordinate and navigate a care plan involving
multiple providers and support systems," says Brian Hofland, director of the
Aging Program at the Atlantic Philanthropies. "With the aging of the huge
baby boom cohort, it is critical that we have adequate numbers of trained and
active geriatric social workers to meet the tremendous needs; the results of
the NASW study underscore how far we have to go in meeting that
The supply of licensed social workers is insufficient to meet the
needs of organizations serving children and families. Social workers fill
a vital role in serving children and their families through an array of
services, such as counseling, case management, information and referral, and
crisis intervention in diverse settings. The NASW study points out that the
social work profession has maintained its historical commitment to providing
services to children and families, yet social workers face serious challenges
that hinder their retention in the field. William Bell, president and CEO of
Casey Family Programs, spoke about issues social workers face related to
Workload expansion plus fewer resources impedes social
worker retention. Social workers in a variety of settings described
increased workloads and diminished supports. In health care settings, social
workers see clients with a broad range of diagnoses, especially chronic
medical conditions, psychosocial stressors, acute medical
conditions, co-occurring disorders and physical disabilities.
are also the largest providers of mental health services in the
country. However, steady increases in client caseloads, the severity of
client problems, in addition to diminishing resources make meeting the needs
of clients more difficult.
Ellen Stovall, president and CEO of
the National Coalition for Cancer Survivorship, spoke about the
critical role of social workers with oncology patients. Agencies
struggle to fill social work vacancies. In all areas of social work practice,
unfilled vacancies were an issue. Agencies have resorted to outsourcing and
hiring non-professional staff to fill empty slots, an indicator of current
labor market supply deficits. Because more than half of health care social
workers work in hospitals in metropolitan areas, an additional challenge is
to provide comprehensive services to people living in rural
"Social workers are one of the largest and most diverse
health professions in the United States," says Dr. Elizabeth Clark,
executive director of NASW. "They have the education and training to look at
how all factors in a person's life—family, work, health and mental
This study highlights the need to find new
and innovative ways for the social work profession to retain the
current workforce and recruit new social workers to accommodate the
This compelling study calls into question the
sufficiency of the critical frontline workforce, particularly to serve the
increasing needs of aging baby boomers. The findings of this research are
driving future activities in the social work profession.
information about NASW's Center for Workforce Studies and the national survey
of licensed social workers in the United States, please visit
About the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), in Washington, D.C.—it is the largest
membership organization of professional social workers in the world. NASW
seeks to enhance the well-being of individuals, families, and communities
through its advocacy.
For more information or to schedule interviews, contact
Allison Nadelhaft at 202-336-8228 or Dan Rene at 202-347-1952.
for news releases by using the request form at www.jsu.edu/newswire/request.