Community Conversations report published

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ASWB to use qualitative research findings to inform current and future initiatives

The Association of Social Work Boards published a new report today sharing research findings from the Community Conversations initiative.

The Human Resources Research Organization (HumRRO), with support from The CODE Group, facilitated the qualitative research earlier this year to gain insights from social workers around the United States and Canada about their experiences with the licensure process and the licensing examinations.

ASWB recognizes that candidates have varied lived experiences that can affect their licensure journey and funded this research to Cover to the Community Conversations research report. The subtitle is "Social Work Journeys".better understand the range of test-takers’ strengths and challenges. As a result, ASWB is using the Community Conversations research findings reported by HumRRO to inform the continued development of fair, reliable, and valid competence assessments and to determine future initiatives aimed at closing pass rate gaps among demographic groups.

In an effort to collect perspectives from as many social workers as possible, HumRRO offered three ways for individuals to participate in the research initiative. The Community Conversations consisted of in-person and virtual focus groups held between January and May 2023, as well as a self-paced online survey available to anyone unable to attend a live session. The sessions prompted rich peer discussions that enabled more than 600 participants to share information on the phases of their social work journeys, including:

  • Becoming a social worker
  • Pursuing their education
  • Taking the licensing exam
  • Present circumstances and their ideas about reenvisioning the licensure process

HumRRO then analyzed the input from the social work field and developed recommendations that seek to engage the social work community in the licensure process and help address the structural challenges facing candidates seeking licensure.

Every facet of the social work community can do its part to effect positive change on society and our profession.
— ASWB CEO Stacey Hardy-Chandler

Recommendations to the education community include focusing on financial support and exam readiness for students. Recommendations of interest to professional organizations include identifying and implementing strategies that advocate on behalf of the social work profession to increase its visibility and recognition and to reduce financial challenges to those choosing the profession. The report also had recommendations for the regulatory community, made up of ASWB and its membership. More information about the recommendations for social work regulators, along with corresponding initiatives, can be found below.

“Many of the research findings, which come directly from social workers in the field across the United States and Canada, are being integrated into ASWB’s short- and long-term plans to continue our commitment to equity and justice,” said Senior Director of Examination Services Lavina Harless, MSW, LCSW. “We anticipated many of the observations that social workers shared, and we look forward to discussing how ASWB and our partner organizations across the social work profession can work together to act on recommendations.”

Initiatives already undertaken that align with the research findings include:

Longer term initiatives include:

  • Exploring changes to the exam structure such as implementing a module-based exam structure that would allow test-takers who are unsuccessful to retake only part of the exam
  • Seeking options to reduce financial impact for repeat test-takers by developing a scholarship program in collaboration with its exam administration partner, PSI
  • Considering expanding competence assessments to include question types other than multiple-choice with support from psychometricians at HumRRO

The Social Work Workforce Coalition, a diverse group of social work organizations brought together by the Association of Social Work Boards, will launch the Social Work Census in March 2024. The census will serve as a comprehensive workforce study that will create the most inclusive picture to date of who today’s social workers are. It will gather important demographic information about social workers for use by researchers and others to help them understand the value of professional practice, build awareness of workforce issues, and suggest the best solutions for workforce challenges.

The Social Work Census will also include an analysis of the practice of social work, a process ASWB undertakes regularly to keep its competence assessments current and relevant. Because of its greater outreach through the promotional efforts of the coalition, this reenvisioned practice analysis promises to provide a better, more inclusive understanding of the knowledge, skills, and abilities that social workers need to perform competently and safely at entry to practice. That enhanced information will guide the content of the next iteration of social work licensing assessment measures, slated for 2026.

“Every facet of the social work community can do its part to effect positive change on society and our profession,” said ASWB CEO Stacey Hardy-Chandler, Ph.D., J.D., MSW, LCSW. “In our role as regulators, ASWB and its members are committed to profession-wide collaboration toward more informed and inclusive decisions about the future of the social work profession.