Promoting Social Work Practice in a Difficult Political Environment

by Marc Herstand, MSW, CISW

In my 22 years with NASW WI I have rarely seen so many challenges to our professional status. Over the last two years we have had to fight 1) A proposal to require social workers to wear body cameras in Rock County ; 2) A rules change that would completely undermine clinical social work licensure standards; 3) Department of Health Services rules that seemingly violate our Vendorship bill by limiting reimbursement at school setting and in homes to state certified clinics; 4) The elimination of the requirement that Initial Assessment Workers with the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare be certified social workers; 5) HMO’s refusing to reimburse the work of CAPSW’s and for in-home family services (for state certified clinics) contrary to state policy.   6) Continued problems with Prior Authorization for providing psychotherapy to Medical Assistance clients.  And there are many other challenges occurring in the various areas of social work practice.

With an anti-regulatory environment (resulting in the clinical social work licensure standards issue) and total one party control in Madison, the political environment is difficult, to say the least.  However it is not impossible.   I have found in Madison that if an issue is not considered partisan, then there is a chance for success.  We received bi-partisan support on our efforts to stop the rules change that would have undermined clinical social work licensure.  The support came after six of our clinical social work members spoke eloquently at a hearing about the work that they do and why proper preparation is critical.  Although the Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare situation seemed hopeless and insurmountable at times, strong advocacy, persistence and media contacts, particularly by Mike Wallace have led to some hopeful signs of changes ahead.  While we have not yet succeeded in reversing DHS rules on reimbursement for licensed clinical social workers in private practice, we have raised the visibility of this issue with the Assembly committee on Mental Health Reform and are exploring other avenues for taking on this issue.

We are also working to pro-actively promote our profession.  Every time there is an opportunity to testify at a hearing in Madison, I use the opportunity to provide some education to legislators on what social workers do.  At the beginning of the session I met with many new legislators to introduce myself and our profession.  Our lobby day was the largest in our history and many Republican and Democratic legislators learned more about our profession and concerns.  We are currently meeting with legislators promoting the Higher Education Lower Debt bill and in the summer we will be meeting with legislators promoting our Social Work Safety bill.  Every time one of our members contacts her/his legislator or I meet with a legislator as the NASW WI lobbyist, we are promoting our profession and educating legislators who may know nothing about our profession and what we do. 

Finally our NASW WI Task Force on Jobs and Salaries is working to promote the profession among potential employers.  We are currently finishing the development of a Face Sheet on Hospital/Medical Social Work that promotes the hiring of social workers in medical settings.  We plan on widely circulating this Fact Sheet when it is completed.  We also plan on developing other Fact Sheets on other aspects of social work practice.

Even in a very difficult environment there are many ways we can promote our profession and practice.  With your help and support we hope to greatly raise the visibility and support for our profession in the years to come.