Having just completed serving as facilitator at the first of three annual Association of Social Work Boards New Board Member Training sessions, I am writing this column to reflect on the enthusiasm shared by the participants and identify anticipated issues for social work boards. As self-serving as this article may seem, NBMT breathes life into the participants, facilitators, ASWB staff, and me. These fresh participants bring new perspectives to the table and challenge themselves and us as facilitators of the sessions. I use the word “participants” to describe the newest crop of attendees based upon the formatting of the program. Attendees are expected to, and indeed do, fully engage in contemplation and articulation of a wide variety of subject matter. To say the least, let’s hope that the participants were not “bored” as the reader-attracting title of this article suggests.
First, hats off to ASWB for continuing to fund the program and provide newly appointed and elected board members with learning and networking opportunities. Attendees have included virtually every ASWB president since 1992. The program not only provides knowledge exchange and discussions on issues relevant to the regulatory community, it also allows participants to explore what ASWB has to offer. ASWB NBMT has been a staple of the educational offerings since the early 1990s. NBMT participants are provided with exposure to the fact that ASWB is “their” (your) organization and that member programs and services promote uniformity and efficiencies of state and provincial government in the licensure and enforcement processes. Enthusiasm of the attendees stretches well beyond the subject matter and topics discussed. It helps forge relationships among peers, allows attendees to explore the benefits of collective action, and generates interest in ASWB.
Next is a hearty thanks to the participants, who have taken time away from their families and employment to travel and be subjected to challenging topics and scenarios. Volunteerism at all member board levels is inspiring and forms the basis for continuing to provide substantive NBMT content in an adult-learning environment. Many thanks to the participants. It is hoped that you feel better-prepared to engage in your duties and responsibilities as persons placed in a position of carrying out the intent of the legislation that creates and delegates authority to you as regulators.
Without adequate disclosure of relevant board actions, how are social work boards assessed?
Turning now to anticipated issues for boards: As readers of this newsletter and column know, the legal column usually covers recent judicial opinions relevant to the regulation of social work practice. Cases range from boundary violations to moral character issues to procedural challenges. By the time they are ripe for a newsletter article, these cases have been administratively prosecuted and appealed into and decided by the judiciary. Judicial opinions are a public record and can be accessed by any interested party. What is interesting of late is that there are no recent decisions reported in the massive search engines that provide me with access to virtually all cases. Where are all the judicial opinions addressing licensees and others found to have violated the relevant social work regulatory laws?
There are several potential answers to this question. Perhaps licensees are better behaved, more knowledgeable, and better able to understand and comply with practice standards. Perhaps the board licensure process effectively screens out the applicants most likely to fail following applicable laws. Perhaps the consuming public is unaware of and/or less likely to file administrative complaints against practitioners. An additional argument may be that the social work boards are not pursuing complaints. This lack of pursuit can be based upon several reasons related to resources, severity of the allegations, anonymous complaints, and additional reasons too numerous to mention.
One argument that will likely be propounded by proponents of deregulation or less government involvement in regulation of the occupations and professions will be that the social workers serving on licensing boards are merely protecting their fellow social workers and the domain in which they work. How often do regulators refer to social work as “our” profession? Separation of professional promotion from regulatory obligations can be difficult but is a necessity. The lack of trust of a government regulatory structure that results in populating social work boards with licensed social workers is prompting libertarian groups to challenge the status quo. Statistical arguments related to the “low” or nonexistent number of denied applications for licensure and renewal and few final administrative adverse actions will prompt cries for less government and more consumer choice. Of course, there is much more to this debate.
However, and as mentioned above, as I scour the databanks of judicial decisions addressing recent opinions related to social work licensure, there are few (or none) to be found. Although illogical, some people will draw conclusions about the lack of judicial opinions related to adverse actions against licensees and surmise that social work boards are not fulfilling their public protection obligations. Another response may be that the adverse actions were taken at the administrative level and did not involve judicial appeals. But, as I have experienced, it is very difficult to find final administrative decisions made at the board level.
Social work board websites either do not publish final adverse actions or, alternatively, they are very hard to find. This lack of public availability of board actions will also stimulate arguments in favor of diminishing or eliminating the need for government regulation. Without adequate disclosure of relevant board actions, how are social work boards assessed? By no means is this article intended to promote boards simply denying licensure or renewal applications or rendering adverse actions merely to provide a statistical basis for existence. Actually, the intent is quite the opposite. Boards are encouraged to understand their roles and fulfill their mandate of enforcing the laws in the interest of the public, which includes timely disclosures.
To substantiate the need for government regulation of the occupations and professions, state and provincial board members are encouraged to be informed about regulatory issues and to learn to place their positions of trust on behalf of the public ahead of their interests in promoting the profession. I have a healthy respect for state and provincial rights to regulate the professions and determine eligibility for licensure and renewal. But, board members must discuss and be prepared to articulate the need for government involvement. Board retreats and strategic planning sessions are vital to developing a unified voice of the agency and allow for board members to discuss and learn to articulate these mission-driven values.
By the time this newsletter article is disseminated, we will be well on the way to preparing for the next ASWB NBMT. Come join us and participate in the fun-filled knowledge exchange and exploration of the evolution of the regulation of the occupations and professions.