Low pay, challenging work and years of declining state funding have made it difficult to hire and keep qualified social workers in Kansas. Making matters worse, advocates say, is the state’s unusually high certification and work experience requirements.
In a move to address the shortage, Kansas lawmakers are now considering legislation that would bring Kansas closer to certification requirements in other states. KCUR reports that the state Senate unanimously approved the bill last month. It now awaits a vote from the House of Representatives.
The state now requires people seeking to become licensed clinical social workers to pay for 4,000 hours of supervised
Advocates contend the bill will motivate more social workers to seek jobs or clinical certification in Kansas while at the same time making it easier for state agencies, nonprofit groups and others to recruit workers.
“Currently there’s a chronic shortage in rural medical care, in mental health and in child welfare,” said Becky Fast, executive director of the Kansas chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.
Kansas now requires aspiring licensed clinical social workers to pay for 4,000 hours of supervised experience with clients and 150 hours of direct contact with a supervisor. Most other states require between 3,000 and 4,000 hours of client experience and less than 110 hours of supervisor contact.
Kansas employers often lose out to neighboring states with lower standards because the cost of paying a clinician to oversee training can be as much as $70 an hour.
Fast told legislators that it took her two years to get her clinical license in Missouri, while her colleagues working in Kansas needed three or four years to complete the required hours.
She also called the requirements “a primary barrier” to recruiting social workers from nearby states.
The state also requires social workers, counselors and other professionals who were licensed outside of Kansas to have worked at least 60 out of the last 66 months before applying for a license in Kansas.
The proposed bill would require 48 months of work experience out of the preceding 54 months. It would also reduce the work requirement for licensed clinical social workers from 4,000 to 3,000 hours.
Laura Howard, the newly appointed secretary of the Kansas Department for Children and Families, told KCUR that she wants to make hiring social workers a priority for the department. She said agency has been able to fill more vacancies since Gov. Laura Kelly came into office, and that recent interns have expressed interest in staying with the department.
“This is the hardest work that someone can do,” Howard said. “We have some aggressive recruitment campaigns with the schools of social work across the state.”
The shortage reduces social workers’ ability to manage their caseloads and help their clients, said Christie Appelhanz, executive director of the Children’s Alliance for Kansas
“It’s really about fulfilling the needs that each individual has on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “Social workers are definitely feeling the stress.”