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Illinois Social Workers Need Support, Too

Illinois social workers are facing increasing caseloads. (emmarie24/Twenty20)
Illinois social workers are facing increasing caseloads. (emmarie24/Twenty20)
March 4, 2019

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – Those who provide comfort and protection for Illinoisans in crisis say they need more support in their efforts.

March is National Professional Social Work Month, and in Illinois, more than 14,000 licensed social workers provide assistance in schools, hospitals, mental health facilities and social service agencies.

Joel Rubin, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers in Illinois, says social workers often go unrecognized and under-compensated for their work.

And he maintains government funding is inadequate for the increasing number of caseloads.

"It's virtually impossible for a school social worker to be covering and providing the attention and enough service if they're stretched that much in having to have such a huge caseload,” he states. “We see this in child welfare practice and in community mental health centers."

It takes years of education to become a professional social worker, and Rubin explains salaries are typically far below similar professions, including registered nurses, psychologists and teachers. Social workers on average earn about $65,000 annually in Illinois.

Angelo McClain, the CEO of the National Association of Social Workers, notes social workers are the largest providers of mental health services and also on the front lines of the opioid crisis.

"Social workers are providing the mental health and substance abuse services and also child protective services for those families as well,” he points out. “This one social problem has a ripple effect and social workers are front and center on helping address those issues."

Despite expected growth in social work professions in coming years, Rubin says there is still a very high turnover rate. He explains it can be dangerous work, and about one-third of social workers have been assaulted.

"Many times social workers will be going into harm's way,” he stresses. “When a social worker walks into a home, sometimes there's a lot of different things and a lot of different scenarios that could occur. And so there needs to be a variety of safety protections for them."

Congress is considering measures to better support the profession, including HR 1289 that would offer resources to recruit more social workers and HR 1309, which calls for workplace violence prevention plans at social service agencies.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL