March celebrates National Social Work Month, honoring a profession that has been around for more than 100 years. The pioneer of social work in the United States, Jane Addams (a native Midwesterner), is best known for her establishment of settlement houses in the 1900s, work that led Addams to be one of the first women to receive a Nobel Peace Prize. This edition of A Kansas Twist discusses the role social workers play in mental health, and health overall, in Kansas.
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What is Social Work?
Social workers focus on helping individuals, families, and communities to enhance their well-being and achieve their full potential. They are trained professionals who work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, schools, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private practices. A key aspect of social work is the focus on the person-in-environment perspective, which acknowledges that individuals are shaped by the social, economic, and cultural context in which they live.
Social workers aim to understand how social systems and structures impact individuals and work to empower them to make positive changes in their lives and communities. They use a range of interventions and techniques to support individuals and communities, such as counseling, advocacy, education, and community organizing. They collaborate with other professionals, including psychologists, doctors, nurses, and educators to provide comprehensive care and support.
Social work is a diverse and dynamic field, with many different areas of practice, including mental health, child welfare, healthcare, criminal justice, and policy. Social workers may specialize in working with specific populations, such as veterans, refugees, or people with disabilities. They provide a vital support system for those in need and work to ensure that all individuals have access to the resources and care they need to thrive.
Social Work in Kansas
While social workers do not just provide mental health services, they are the largest group of mental health service providers in Kansas and are often the only mental health providers in many rural and remote areas. The Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board (BSRB) regulates the profession in Kansas, with social work making up 58 percent of the Board’s licensees.
In 2021, Governor Kelly signed House Bill 2208, which enacted the Rural Emergency Hospital Act. The bill also established certification for certified community behavioral health clinics (CCBHCs) and modified licensure requirements and amended the rules for issuing temporary practice permits to various types of behavioral health professionals, including licensed specialist clinical social workers. These new requirements and rules will streamline the licensure process for these social workers and also increase the number of days that licensed professionals in other jurisdictions can practice in Kansas.
Stanley G. Remer, MSSW, is a social worker with Kansas ties that has been a pioneer in legislative advocacy for social work. He participated in the development and passage of some of the first social work licensure laws in the United States. He was inducted as a National Association of Social Work (NASW) Pioneer in 2020, after a long career in the U.S. Army Reserves, where he was a founding member and social work officer of the 55th Medical Detachment (Psychiatric) and served as the Chief of Social Work at both the Wichita, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, Veterans Administration Medical Centers.
Social Work in Public Health
Social work has long played a role in public health, but only recently has this partnership been brought to the forefront – both in research and education. Both professions work together to find ways to best benefit the communities they work with. They often have common goals of prevention, health promotion, safety, and community health.
Jane Addams’ work, even back in the early 1900s, involved social work and public health working together. In addition to her creation of the Hull House in Chicago, which lead to programs such as the Juvenile Protective Association (the first juvenile court in the United States) and the Immigrants’ Protective League, Addams was a big advocate for proper sanitation in cities and safe spaces for children to play. As American cities dealt with industrialization and urbanization, people lived in crowded spaces and often lived and worked in unsanitary conditions, Addams was active in public health efforts to encourage street cleaning, building inspections, and other sanitation efforts to combat disease.
Social workers play an important role in many arenas throughout Kansas and the United States and will continue to do so. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession is expected to grow 12 percent by 2030, while the need for mental health and other social work services continues to grow as well. If you know a social worker, make sure to thank them – not only during Social Work Month, but every day!