TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Those who provide comfort and protection for Floridians in crisis say they need more support.
March is National Professional Social Work Month, and in Florida, more than 21,000 social workers provide assistance in schools, hospitals, mental health facilities, and social service agencies.
Jim Akin, executive director of the National Association of Social Workers in Florida, says social workers often are unrecognized and under-compensated for their work, and that people often are surprised when they realize that social workers are everywhere.
“In Florida, you’ll find that social workers are licensed, so we do have social workers that are in private practice, entrepreneurial, self-employed,” he states. “Social workers work at hospitals, mental health centers. They contract with managed care, private insurance.”
Akin adds that nationally, social worker pay lags behind other professions that perform similar duties. However, in Florida, the median annual salary for social workers is around $50,000.
Angelo McClain, CEO of the National Association of Social Workers, says the group’s campaign this year is called Elevate Social Work, an attempt to help people realize how social workers help elevate society while trying to mitigate the risks that come with the job.
“People don’t realize it, but social work is one of the 10 most dangerous professions,” he points out. “Ninety-eight percent of our clients, we have good relationships with. We engage well with them. But there’s that percent of clients, given the right set of circumstances, can become violent. Some social workers have been murdered in the line of duty.”
Despite the risks, the social work profession is expected to see growth in the coming years, and Akin says the state is uniquely prepared to bring new career professionals into the fold.
“In Florida, we’re very fortunate because we have 14 schools of social work that offer accredited programs, and they’re scattered statewide so anyone who is really looking to get a bachelor’s degree in social work, a master’s degree in social work, schools are out there,” he explains.
Congress is considering measures to better support the profession, including HR 1289, that would offer resources to recruit more social workers, and HR 1309, which calls for workplace violence prevention plans at social service agencies.