What it means to be an ASWB member board

Dale Atkinson is a partner with the Illinois law firm that is counsel to ASWB.
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Counsel's column

The collective wisdom of its member boards is the strength of ASWB.

The Association of Social Work Boards was incorporated in 1979 as a not-for-profit organization.  This tax-exempt status is premised upon the ASWB mission, which is to provide programs and services to its member boards — government entities — that lessen burdens on government. More specifically, the ASWB mission is to provide support and services to the social work regulatory community to advance safe, competent, and ethical practices to strengthen public protection. In addition to its examination program, ASWB offers many other services designed to lessen burdens on government while respecting the rights of each jurisdiction to make licensure decisions.

Mission and membership

First and foremost, ASWB is a membership organization. Simply stated, the member boards are ASWB. Like other similar organizations, the association depends on active and meaningful participation by member boards. To participate, member boards must understand the purpose of ASWB and the important role played by the membership. Equally important is an understanding of what member boards are and who populates and administers these boards. That is, it is easy to identify the government “boards” that make up the ASWB membership but much more difficult to identify the individual members of these member boards. How much do these individuals know about their organization, ASWB, and the programs and services designed to assist with effective and efficient regulation of the profession? For purposes of this article, “member boards” refers to the state and provincial government entities created and delegated with the authority to enforce the laws in the interest of public protection while “membership” and “individual board members” refer to both the individuals who serve in volunteer regulatory positions and personnel who are hired to administer day-to-day operations.

ASWB governance and more membership

ASWB’s Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Secretary of State in Virginia, the commonwealth where the association was incorporated. These articles formally establish the legal existence of an entity and recognize its ability to operate. Thereafter, bylaws were drafted, adopted, and amended by the membership. Bylaws set forth the governance structure of ASWB and establish membership, admission prerequisites, and process; create the Board of Directors and standing committees; establish meeting requirements; set forth the bylaws amendment process; and indemnify elected leaders, participants, and volunteers.

The ASWB bylaws define “Boards” and “Member Boards” as follows:

Section 3.  Board.  “Board” shall mean the governing body empowered to credential and regulate the practice of social work in any of the States of the United States of America, the District of Columbia, territories and insular possessions of the United States of America, individual provinces of Canada, and comparable entities.

Section 8.  Member Board.  “Member Board” shall mean any Board as defined above which is duly accepted into the Association pursuant to these Bylaws, and to the extent that examinations are used in the licensure process, uses the Association’s examinations for purposes of determining entry-level competence at the licensure category validated by ASWB and under policies and procedures determined from time to time by the Board of Directors.

These important sections of the bylaws identify the qualifications for entry and maintenance of ASWB’s membership. Limiting membership to government entities not only provides a basis for the tax status of the association but also recognizes the authority of the member boards. As composed only of government agencies and assuming the membership understands and maintains their public protection mission, this membership limitation ensures adherence to the ASWB mission. Conversely, trade associations are composed of professionals, typically licensees, and have a mission driven by promotion of the profession. While regulation and trade will consistently communicate, a healthy recognition of their differences is essential to maintaining their respective legal bases for existence.

What is participation?

Without diminishing the importance of the legal existence and tax status referenced above, the heart of any organization is the participation of its membership. Although all United States and Canadian social work regulatory boards are members of ASWB, we should question how much the individual board members know about their organization. Let me be clear, this knowledge of ASWB is not necessarily intended to recruit volunteers, it is intended to ensure that individual board members understand and can meaningfully participate in discussion about essential regulatory issues from a public perspective.

ASWB Annual Meeting of the Delegate Assembly

Each member board designates a delegate to attend ASWB’s annual meeting and vote on issues brought before the body. Many years ago, the ASWB Board of Directors voted to fund the attendance of one delegate from each member board. Funding is intended to encourage attendance at the annual meeting in spite of any financial constraints or other travel restrictions.

ASWB member boards can take the steps to place their regulatory association on the agendas of each of their meetings and can strive to ensure that all individual board members know about the opportunities that exist.

The best way for a member board to send a delegate to the annual meeting with guidance on how to vote in elections and other matters is to discuss ASWB issues within its jurisdiction. To enable and encourage this process, ASWB provides member boards with information in advance of the annual meeting, including the slate of candidates for the Board of Directors and Nominating Committee, resolutions, bylaws amendments, and other matters in need of discussion and vote.

This year, 49 delegates will attend the association’s annual meeting in Memphis, Tennessee. Increased attendance means increased participation, more robust discussions, and enhanced decision-making. Attendees are encouraged to speak up, engage, network, and create take-home points to allow for the continued exchange of information with other board members. This collective wisdom is the strength of ASWB.