Victoria Brewster, MSW

Victoria Brewster, MSW

Social Justice Solutions | Staff Writer
Facebook web

Social Work Month Series: Social Workers Advocating for Change

I find it very disheartening to know there are so many social workers voicing dissatisfaction with the profession. We have all chosen social work for a reason and have worked hard along with spending significant amounts of money to become a social worker. Whether we have a BSW, MSW, are certified, licensed, or registered, social work has reached a point where unification must be its prime imperative.

I am a member of the Network and Discussion Forum for Social Workers on LinkedIn. A recent discussion topic that has led to many comments is ‘Fair Pay in the Profession.’ Due to the types of comments I have come across, I felt it necessary to address the dissatisfaction that social workers are voicing as an attempt to promote positive change. I am a strong believer in one of the core competencies of social work: advocacy. So often we advocate for our clients, and yet fail to do so for ourselves.

Many members feel that NASW is not doing enough to represent social workers as they continue to pay their yearly dues and get little in return. Where is the advocacy for social work salaries? Where is the advocacy for the social worker who is not in private practice, instead chosing to work in local, public and macro level organizations? Why is it that more and more are letting their NASW memberships lapse?

Included below are some comments that SW’s have made on the LinkedIn group to give you an idea of the level of dissatisfaction. The following members have graciously given SJS permission to publish their comments:

Milinda Houlette, MA, LSW: We are providing assistance that people need and just like the nurses in the 1970s, we are underappreciated, overworked and underpaid, along with being misunderstood by society in general.Why is it that I have to explain to everyone what my job is? Why is it that many in society have such a negative perspective of us? Many employers are making demands of social workers that almost go beyond their job descriptions. BSWs are now being asked to do much of the work of MSWs, while MSWs are being expected to be independent, unsupervised and billable as LCSWs.

Dorothy Burr, MSW, LICSW:  I have 8 years MSW experience, have obtained the highest licensure available and have to work a second job to make ends meet. I LOVE my job! And I have made it work so I can continue to do what I love and stay above the poverty line, BUT I do deserve better wages. Perhaps we need to be Unionized. It’s true. Look what it did for nurses. I am proud of being a Social Worker and am willing to advocate for the profession.We do awesome work!

Susan Emminger, MSW, LSW: I also have to work two jobs to make ends meet. I have my LMSW and have been looking for someone to provide me with the 1500 hours of additional supervision needed to earn my LCSW. I am working as a Substance Abuse Counselor at an inpatient facility and doing crisis assessments at the emergency department for inpatient mental health. I looked on the NASW website to see if I could get into the specialties section and they are not able to help me because you have to have a LCSW license. I phoned National and spoke with a NASW representative. She confirmed that I needed a LCSW and told me that my problem is that I am in a rural community and that it is not a progressive area. I also contacted the NW division of NASW to ask for assistance with LCSW supervision and my e-mail was never answered. I am so glad I was able to be involved in this discussion, as I thought I was the only one having issues like this. I don’t want to make a lot of money, but I want to make enough. I think a union is a GREAT idea! After all the money we spent to get our MSWs and now being at a stand still, it’s a form of social injustice. How about student loan forgiveness.

Robert Engel, LISW-S, ACSW: I have been echoing similar words here in Northern Ohio and have not gotten anywhere with NASW on the local, regional or national level. In my view, enhancing social work compensation should be part of NASW’s mission statement.

In response to CEO Elizabeth Clark’s social work month message to members highlighting how “advocacy amplifies resilience,” with all due respect, NASW needs to do a better job at listening and responding to its membership. While the Social Work Initiative is one step, NASW must make improved compensation part of its mission statement. On the local, regional and national levels, NASW members must begin to feel that the organization will step into this arena much more actively than it has done up to this point and employers of social workers must begin to feel the impact of NASW supporting its membership on this front.

Terry Wilson, LCSW: How would you want a union or guild or assocation to work for SW? What would you want it to do and not do? How would you go about see it supported, advocated, education for SW? I think it would help if there was a program to help, encourage, assist MSWs to get the LCSW. I would want this organization to help SWs ban together to receive better pay, obtain CEU’s, and lobby for standards for the profession.

Let’s talk about what we want in an organization for social workers. Let’s try to create what we want and will serve us. We need an organization, association, guild or union which would help MSWs to do their practicum, help to study for the test and arrange supervision. The organization needs to help raise the status and the pay of LCSWs, MSWs and BSWs. I would like to see a vote within the membership each year of what the leadership will work on. The question, is anyone ready to start a new organization?

To summarize, social workers are asking for:

  • NASW to assist with compensation (salaries)
  • NASW to assist with study groups for licensure exams
  • NASW to assist with licensure supervision
  • NASW to address ‘student loan forgiveness’
  • NASW to focus on continued promotion of the social work profession
  • NASW to provide assistance with Continued Education units, advertising, promoting and advocating for affordable courses.
  • A yearly vote by members for what NASW will focus on each year
  • A  new association, organization or union to be created for social workers if NASW or other social work organizations/associations continue on their current path.

Do you feel these are issues that need to be addressed? What suggestions do other social workers have to offer? Are you willing to approach your local, regional, or national NASW and/or other social work organizations to advocate for change? Are you willing to reach out to other social workers and begin a conversation, post on social media and/or blogs, on this topic to get more social workers involved?

SJS is open to ideas and suggestions. As SJS is based in NY, we will be reaching out to NASW-NYS in the hope that a meaningful dialogue might emerge that gives social workers a greater understand of NASW-NYS position on these matters.

Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer in Canada

Our authors want to hear from you! Click to leave a comment

Related Posts

Subscribe to the SJS Weekly Newsletter


  1. Burned Out Social Worker April 23, 2013
  2. Marsha Shakur November 2, 2013

Leave a Reply