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6/21/2022 Bill to help address social worker shortage heads to governor
 Legislation sponsored by Rep. Caldwell, Sen. Valverde
STATE HOUSE – The General Assembly today approved legislation sponsored by Sen. Bridget Valverde and Rep. Justine A. Caldwell to help address Rhode Island’s urgent need for more social workers by allowing those who have recently received their master’s in social work to practice in the field prior to obtaining their licenses, under specific conditions.

Currently, students who are working on their master’s of social work are allowed to work in the field before they are licensed, provided they work directly under the supervision of an individual who is licensed as an independent clinical social worker in Rhode Island, they are designated as an intern or trainee, and they refrain from portraying to the public that they are licensed to practice social work in Rhode Island.

But once they receive their degree, they cannot continue to work in social work until they receive their license.

The legislation (2022-H 7269A, 2022-S 2764 B) would allow those who have received their master’s of social work from an accredited college or university within the past 18 months to practice social work prior to obtaining their social work license, as long as they have not failed the examination for licensing more than once, subject to the same oversight provisions as students.

The purpose of the legislation is to ensure all qualified individuals are working in the field as the state faces a shortage of social workers that has been crippling social programs in the state.

“Our state was already struggling to keep up with the demand for licensed social workers before the pandemic, and now that shortage has ballooned into a crisis that is hurting vulnerable Rhode Islanders. We need every qualified, trained social worker on the job right now. This bill will help by eliminating an unintended gap that prevents recent social work graduates from continuing the same sort of work they were allowed to do as students, so they are not forced out of the workforce while they apply for their license,” said Senator Valverde (D-Dist. 35, North Kingstown, East Greenwich, Narragansett, South Kingstown).

The bill now goes to the governor.

“Some of the most vulnerable individuals in our state, including many children, are suffering from their inability to access the services they need because our community providers simply don’t have the staff they need to serve them,” said Representative Caldwell (D-Dist. 30, East Greenwich, West Greenwich). “Rhode Island is definitely in an all-hands-on-deck situation when it comes to social workers, and this is one way we can help keep social services agencies staffed.”

At one point in late 2021, due to a workforce shortage, all nine Early Intervention providers in the state stopped accepting new referrals, leaving hundreds of toddlers without the developmental supports they needed. The workforce shortage, driven in part by low wages and reimbursement rates for providers and exacerbated by the pandemic, has also affected services to children served by the Department of Children, Youth and Families and other areas of social services.

In April, the Rhode Island Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Rhode Island Council of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, Hasbro Children’s Hospital and Bradley Hospital declared a state of emergency in child and adolescent mental health in Rhode Island. Among its recommendations is accelerating strategies to address longstanding workforce challenges in child mental health.

While the bill will address one facet of the social worker shortage, and the sponsors hope that it helps advance discussion of the urgent need for workforce development in this critical sector.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923