SD9 - Social Work in the Commonwealth of Virginia: An Assessment of Compensation, Licensure, and the Labor Market (SJ49, 2020)

Executive Summary:

*The cover page of this report was replaced on November 9, 2021 to correctly reflect the Author as Department of Health Professions.

As required by Senate Joint Resolution 49 (2020) and in partnership with a VCU Wilder School Master of Public Administration Capstone team, the Virginia Department of Health Professions (DHP) examined social work in the Commonwealth of Virginia by assessing compensation, licensure, and labor market data. Findings suggest that compensation in Virginia is competitive compared to neighboring states. The regulatory processes and subsequent potential barriers that exist are also similar to adjacent state regulations. Data gathered from the Virginia Employment Commission (2019) indicates that the demand for social workers within Virginia will grow 23% in the coming years.

The social work field is generally divided into three categories: macro, mezzo, and micro-level practitioners. Social work is a title-protected profession that requires obtaining an accredited Bachelor of Social Work or Master of Social Work to claim the title professionally. Licensure is within the Virginia Board of Social work. Licensure prerequisites, in addition to the university degree, include official supervision, and successful completion of the Association of Social Work Board Examination. An out-of-state social worker may also secure Virginia licensure through endorsement.

A significant complicating issue this study faced is that not all social workers are required to be licensed by the Virginia Board of Social Work. Exemptions from licensure in Virginia code§ 54.1-3701 include salaried employees or volunteers of the federal government, the Commonwealth, a locality, or a private, nonprofit organization or agency sponsored or funded, in whole or part, by a community-based citizen group or organization, and the clergy. At this time, it is not possible to quantify the number of unlicensed social workers or the work they do.

Once a social worker enters the field, retention becomes a priority. The literature suggests that the inherent stress of a social worker's scope of practice contributes to turnover within the profession. Senate Joint 49 suggested that more competitive salaries could support retention. The study employed a web-crawler (i.e., automated data collection) to gather secondary salary data and demand data. The most in-demand social work areas within Virginia were Mental Health and Healthcare Social Workers. The average salary for social work jobs collected by the web-crawler was $69,964 compared to the 2019 average of $56,858 (Virginia Employment Commission, 2019).

The Virginia Board of Social work has already done much to streamline application requirements and minimize licensure fees. In the past year, a 3000 hour supervisory requirement for licensure at the bachelor's level has been eliminated. Regulations to support ease of licensure by endorsement are at the notice of intended regulatory action (NOIRA) phase.

DHP and the VCU Capstone Team recommend additional study of this issue. Funded studies, especially targeting data capture of unlicensed social workers, can address the data gap and provide more complete understanding about what actions could be taken by public organizations and private firms to support the social work profession in the Commonwealth. Additional recommendations include pay band increases for public-sector social workers, reviewing current licensure requirements to ensure they are not overly restrictive, sponsored scholarships, and service loan forgiveness. These actions work toward ensuring a robust workforce with a steady stream of new entrants and a low rate of current practitioners leaving the profession.

Summary of Recommendations

1. Per § 54.1-3701 many public and private sector social workers are not licensed. The number, duties, need for accountability, and potential burdens of licensure on unlicensed social workers should be included in a funded study of the social work workforce conducted by a professional firm or educational institution.

2. Social work compensation should be adjusted to be commensurate with average salaries in Virginia.

3. The Board of Social Work has developed a pathway for the over 900 Licensed Master of Social Work (LMSW) licensees to work clinically under supervision if desired. The General Assembly will need to pass legislation to license these individuals as "Licensed Resident in Social Work" practitioners.

4. The Board of Social Work should work with professional organizations and other stakeholders to assess regulation around licensure.

5. The Board of Social work should pursue both reciprocal licensure with Virginia's contiguous states and engage in discussions with the Council of State Governments concerning a Social Work Compact.

6. The General Assembly, healthcare and community organizations, and educational institutions should consider avenues to attract new practitioners such as loan forgiveness or scholarships.