Legislative Advocacy-Licensure Exemption

Social Work Licensure Exemption – To many of our longtime members, this topic area may play like a broken record, however, I beg your indulgence and ask you to keep reading (perhaps with new eyes), because for better or worse, it is, one of the most important issues related to the practice of social work. It encompasses how you, as a licensed professional practice, the integrity of the practice of social work, where you practice, the worth of your social work education and ultimately the worth of your license and your livelihood.

For decades, the profession battled to obtain licensure recognition. In 2002, such legislation was finally passed and enacted in 2004. Similar to that of other licensed professions, the statute carved out a scope of practice for the profession and iterated specific educational and experiential requirements to sit for the LMSW and LCSW exams. Unfortunately, in a last minute alteration, the statute also allowed for a temporary exemption from licensure requirements for specific state agencies and entities contracting with such state agencies such as OMH, OASAS, OCFS, OPWDD and eventually DOCS, DOH and SOFA. In the following years this provision would proven to have set the stage for what has now become a triennial battle with many stakeholders (most of whom fought alongside NASW in the quest for licensure) who have since taken the position that compliance is too costly and essentially, denounced the need (in many settings) for individuals with a formal social work education and experience; instead pointing to the sufficiency of paraprofessionals (at best) and/or peers to do the work of diagnosing and treating mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders.

In 2013, efforts to continue such a practice was ramped up considerably when the governor included language to allow the temporary exemption to be rendered permanent.   Essentially, had it come to fruition, untrained, uneducated individuals would be forever authorized to provide social work services, including diagnosis and treatment of serious mental and emotional disorders in a broad array of settings across the state. The human impact of such a measure should result in an outcry for our most vulnerable populations receiving mental health care and a demand that such care be provided by appropriately trained, educated and regulated professionals. The impact to the profession of social work could have been so detrimental, we could have faced extinction. The nuts and bolts of such a provision meant that no state agencies (named above) nor any county agency or non for profit organization contracting with such named state agencies would ever be required to comply with social work licensure. NASW-NYS stood with legislative allies and fought (successfully) around the clock to thwart such an attempt and maintain our position that, the diagnosis and treatment of a mental illness should only be provided by qualified individuals, and standards of care, and professional enforcement mechanisms are embedded in New York State Education Law for the protection of those we serve. Wholesale exemption from licensure of individuals in certain settings not only risks the quality of care for many of our most vulnerable citizens, but also exempts certain providers from compliance with the Rules of the Board of Regents which oversees the licensed professions and holds the ability to enforce professional standards in this state.

The result of such a fierce battle with opponents, was the prevention of a permanent exemption, securing a reporting requirement, and clarifying terms and tasks requiring a license (specifically focused on unlicensed multi disciplinary team member tasks), and, make no mistake, securing the license and scope of practice for LMSW’s and LCSW’s. Unfortunately, we expect this issue to be front and center again in 2016 when all currently exempt agencies are expected to comply.