We need lawmakers and the administration to get this money out the door to ease the financial burdens assumed by caregivers studying to join the behavioral health workforce.
Executive director, Massachusetts chapter
National Association of Social Workers
Against tide of challenges, social work remains growing profession
The Globe, perhaps by accident, celebrated March as Social Work Month with Felice J. Freyer’s “Burnout can sap a desire to help: Amid mental health crisis, financial stresses bedevil counselors-in-training.” It is common that social work students are carrying one or two jobs while completing rigorous courses and intensive internships of 16 to 24 hours weekly. Yet the Bureau of Labor Statistics outlook for the current decade shows social work growing 12 percent from 2020 to 2030, faster than the average for all occupations, with an average of 78,300 openings projected each year.
Given the lower salary of social workers, compared with other health care professionals, it always amazes me that there is not a reduction in applications each year. The Council on Social Work Education, the accrediting body for social work schools, reports that tuition in both bachelor’s and master’s programs is much higher than 10 years ago. Master’s program loan debt averaged $46,591 in 2019, up from $30,789 in 2009.
Social workers have very mobile licenses and provide critical services to all ages in diverse settings. Perhaps that accounts for the resilience and draw to the profession. Social workers right now are providing relief and relocation services with nonprofits on the borderlands of Ukraine, and they are busy in all Boston neighborhoods daily, in all settings, serving all ages.
So, thank you for recognizing the importance of the profession and the need to make social work a top priority in student loan forgiveness initiatives and in salary compensation.
The writer is an associate professor emerita at the School of Social Work at Salem State University.
Staff leave the field for more lucrative, better-supported jobs
It is long overdue that we shine a light on the failure to support mental health and social services providers. As a clinical social worker with more than 30 years of experience, I understand difficult choices workers face to remain in the profession. Would I choose a different career if I were starting over? Unlikely. Nor would I hesitate to encourage students to pursue a career that can take you anywhere in the world that you choose to work and make a difference. At the same time, secondary trauma, burnout, and workplace safety are constant realities for people in the field.
There is a two-tiered system within the profession, and a significant gap in compensation for public vs. privately employed social workers, that adds to the challenges that agencies face to recruit and retain experienced providers. Many need to move on to for-profit companies or private practice, and that limits access for those people who cannot pay high deductibles, copays, or privately.
Social workers facing retirement do so with minimal savings. Ironically, the same edition of the Globe featured a story in the Business section with the headline “Debt relief from the boss,” reporting that nearly one-third of large employers plan to offer student loan repayment. Student debt is another reason that social workers leave the profession for more lucrative positions.
Barbara St. Pierre
‘I never finished my master’s in social work’
I appreciated Felice J. Freyer’s article. I never finished my master’s in social work, since I had children at home and felt it was important to spend more time with them. I have always considered the number of internship hours required for the degree to be ridiculous. What other master’s program requires so many hours in addition to coursework and lots of important reading?
Many students I knew while in the program said, “I don’t do the reading, I don’t have any time for it.” My attitude was that if I was to get the degree, I wanted to learn all I could and not skip out on parts of it.
As the article clearly indicates, showing more care for the people who will be caring for others is very important.