Social Work Advocates Efforts Stave off Social Work Job Loss
Reinaldo Cardona MSSW, LCSW-R,
Executive Director, NASW-NYS Chapter
Marsha Wineburgh, PhD, DSW, LCSW,
President, NYS Society for Clinical Social Work
A recent Op-Ed in the NY Daily News, “When social work is a felony” and news accounts by NY1 paint a fearful and distorted picture of an issue NASW-NYS and the NYS Society for Clinical Social Work have dedicated a considerable amount of energy and resources, in conjunction with the NYS Education Department- Office of the Professions, allied social work organizations, and executives of agencies impacted by the corporate practice statute to resolve the issue. The resulting waiver process, due in large part to our legislative work, was agreed upon by all participants in this Social Work Alliance as an acceptable solution to this unintended consequence of implementing the social work statute (and that of other mental health professionals). To date nearly 1,000 agencies have applied for a waiver, including that of the Op-Ed’s author. The primary objection voiced by many agencies to the 4 page, no cost waiver application process has been related to the required submittal of a moral character attestation by directors, trustees and officers. It is important to note that the waiver process is far less stringent than what is required by any other licensing or regulatory body.
To provide a brief history of the issue, as of September 1, 2004, the practice of licensed master social work and licensed clinical social work became restricted to licensed persons (or those exempt from licensure under the law); however, NYS “corporate practice” law specifically prohibits the practice of licensed professions by a business or corporation. This is problematic because many community based providers who have a long history of providing social work and mental health services, are (in many instances, unknowingly) in violation of corporate practice statute. As a consequence of the agencies inadvertent violation of law, the State Education Department could not accept clinical experience obtained in, or issue permits to practice in such settings, impacting the ability of new practitioners to enter the workforce and preventing others from attaining their clinical license.
With such a significant amount of the workforce unknowingly providing services illegally, taking punitive actions such as the consequent alternative of layoffs would have created a huge disruption in the availability of services across the state and would not have been in the best interest of the individuals, families and communities being served nor that of affected providers. Therefore NASW-NYS worked in conjunction with the Social Work Licensure Alliance (social work and agency provider groups as well as other relevant stakeholders) and the NYS Education Department to address the situation.
The possibility of seeking an exemption to the corporate practice law like that which a few select professions have been granted was explored. However it was clear that there would be opposition from certain stakeholder groups that would make the fight for such legislation lengthy and given the enormity of the potential impact of this situation on consumers and social workers, a more immediate remedy was needed. To that end, a bill was drafted at the end of the regular 2009 session (S. 5921 and A.8897). The bill proposed amending Title VIII of the Education Law to allow the State Education Department to register entities that do not possess operating certificates or authorization to employ licensed individuals. However this was an unacceptable resolution to the legislature. It was in June of 2010 that the NYS Legislature passed the law addressing the practice of clinical social work and other scope protected tasks including the provision of mental health counseling and psychotherapy in currently unauthorized corporate settings. The law also allowed the Education Department to issue a waiver from corporate practice prohibitions to qualified not-for-profit and education corporations.
The Board of Regents approved permanent regulations to implement the law, and as such, the Department began accepting waiver applications beginning February 2, 2011 with an initial deadline of June 16, 2011 which did not in our opinion provide a sufficient timeframe. NASW-NYS went back to the legislature and successfully worked on an extension bill that pushed the deadline to February 1, 2012.
NASW-NYS in conjunction with the NYS Association of Deans of Schools of Social Work produced an informational video regarding this issue to clarify who the law pertains to, which corporate entities might require a waiver and the application process. We collectively engaged in extensive outreach to field agencies of the schools of social work, members of the Social Work Alliance, members the NY Council of Nonprofits (who hosted the video on their YouTube channel) as well as our respective members to promote awareness of the waiver and prompt affected agencies to complete the brief (4 page no-cost application) prior to the February 1, 2012 deadline.