In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Workforce Development of Social Workers Pre- and Post-Employment

  • Introduction
  • Specialized Organizations
  • Journals
  • Chapters and Books on Child Welfare Workforce Issues
  • Chapters and Books including Workforce Issues in Other Fields of Social Work
  • Special Issues of Journals on Workforce
  • Workforce Issues across Social Work Sectors
  • Specific Exposure to Traumatic Experiences and Violence
  • Workforce Issues in Behavioral Health Settings
  • Workforce Issues in Health Social Work and Integrated Care Settings
  • Workforce Issues in Gerontological Social Work Settings

Social Work Workforce Development of Social Workers Pre- and Post-Employment
Anita Barbee, Megan Paul
  • LAST REVIEWED: 22 April 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 April 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0285


The social work profession is facing many issues with regards to the workplace. In the United States and other countries, there is either a current or pending workforce shortage. While most solutions focus on how to best recruit, educate, and graduate a large group of culturally and economically diverse students who are dedicated to social justice as much as they are to directly serving needy populations such as children, the elderly, the poor, and those with mental health, health, or social challenges in many settings (e.g., schools, hospitals, community-based agencies, governmental agencies), another approach has been and will need to continue to be to ensure that social workers remain in their jobs and in the field itself. Thus, workforce studies tend to have a multipronged focus: (1) how to recruit diverse students with appropriate values into social work in general, and into specialized areas such as behavioral health, gerontology, and child welfare in particular, (2) how to best equip students through classroom and field education for the workplace and after graduation so that they remain and do high-quality work, and (3) what environmental, interactional, and individual factors such as minority status, personality, the necessity of interprofessional collaboration, actual and perceived stress, supervision, and organizational culture and climate affect outcomes such as worker thoughts and feelings about the job, worker behaviors on the job, turnover, and client outcomes. Workforce studies vary. Some effort has been made to assess and describe environmental and organizational conditions social workers work in; others seek to examine the impact of such organizational environments as well as interactions in the workplace and worker characteristics on worker thoughts and feelings such as satisfaction, secondary trauma symptoms, and behavior such as coping, turnover, and performance, as well as client outcomes. Very few interventions to affect outcomes have been developed or rigorously tested. The bulk of the research has focused on the child welfare workforce, but there is a growing literature examining workforce issues among social workers across sectors, in interdisciplinary settings, and, in particular, fields such as health, mental health, integrated care, and gerontology.

Specialized Organizations

Several organizations focus on preparing social workers to have successful careers in a number of settings. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) emphasizes the role social work education plays in recruiting, vetting, educating, and preparing bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level students for social work practice at all levels. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) ensures professional standards are met. Both CSWE and NASW put some emphasis on continuing education and in-service training to enhance social worker development over the course of their careers. Other organizations focus on specific areas of practice. The American Public Human Services Association focuses on state and local health and human services agency leaders and staff (including those working in child support enforcement, child welfare, juvenile justice, welfare, and workforce development). The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities focuses on private social service agencies serving children, adults, and families. The Child Welfare League of America focuses on professionals working primarily in private child welfare settings, while the Children’s Bureau focuses on public child welfare agencies. The Children’s Bureau has two centers focused on the child welfare workforce: the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute emphasizes the dissemination of workforce information, working with universities to prepare students for child welfare practice and giving technical assistance to jurisdictions, while the Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development conducts rigorous research on workforce interventions. The Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) has three initiatives related to the social work workforce: one to build more well-prepared professionals for behavioral health work in underserved settings (the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training Program), one to build a competent workforce in gerontology (the Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program), and another project in collaboration with the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to prepare the workforce for integrated health-care settings (the Center for Integrated Health Solutions). The Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work has continued much of the work begun by the John A. Hartford Foundation.

  • Alliance for Strong Families and Communities (The Alliance).

    1825 K St. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20006. This is a national network of social service agencies and leaders seeking children, adult, and family safety, health, equity, educational success, and economic opportunity. The Alliance conducts compensation studies annually with an emphasis on management level staff in even years and on professional, direct service, and support staff in odd years.

  • American Public Human Services Association (APHSA).

    1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22209. This is a professional organization focused on state and local health and human service agency leaders, managers, and staff. It includes three collaborative centers to influence policy and practices to enhance child and family well-being. Members network, learn, and grow through conferences, technical expertise, publications, and organizational effectiveness practice. Several affinity groups build workforce capacity, including the National Staff Training and Development Association (NSDTA) and the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administrators (NAPCWA).

  • Association for Gerontology Education in Social Work (AGESW).

    This virtual organization is a leader in gerontological social work education, policy, and research by creating a community of scholars committed to the field of gerontology. The association publishes the Journal of Gerontological Social Work and picked up where the John A. Hartford program left off to support the continuation of research on aging and education of social work students through a pre-dissertation Fellows program, scholar networks, and awards.

  • Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program.

    HRSA established the BHWET program to increase the number of professionals practicing in behavioral health serving those living in medically underserved areas by establishing or expanding internships or field placements for students and interns, faculty, and supervisors. Part of the US Department for Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

  • Center for Integrated Health Solutions (CIHS).

    This center “promotes the development of integrated primary and behavioral health services to better address the needs of individuals with mental health and substance use conditions,” whether seen in a specialty behavioral health setting or in primary care provider settings. CIHS is run by the National Council for Behavioral Health. There is an emphasis on developing the workforce to work in integrated health settings. Interagency collaboration: US Department for Health and Human Services, SAMHSA and HRSA.

  • Child Welfare League of America (CWLA).

    727 15th St. NW, 12th Floor, Washington, DC 20005. The Child Welfare League of America is the professional organization for professionals working primarily in private child welfare settings, but also sets the standards of practice for private and public practitioners including optimal caseload sizes. To that end, the association issues reports and conducts studies about the child welfare workforce and sponsors the journal Child Welfare.

  • Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

    1701 Duke St., Suite 200, Alexandria, VA 22314. CSWE is the national association that shapes and represents social work education in the United States. Members include over 750 accredited bachelor’s and master’s degree social work programs as well as individual social work educators, practitioners, and agencies that seek to advance quality in social work education.

  • Geriatric Workforce Enhancement Program (GWEP).

    HRSA established the GWEP program to increase the number of professionals practicing in health care with a focus on patient and family engagement by integrating geriatric care so as to improve health outcomes for older adults. Part of the US Department for Health and Human Services, HRSA.

  • National Association of Social Workers (NASW).

    750 First St. NE, Suite 700, Washington, DC. NASW is a professional organization of social workers dedicated to promoting development of members and to ensuring the maintenance of professional standards. NASW conducts workforce studies to detect trends in employment, to ensure that training needs are met, to determine barriers to delivering quality services, and to inform policy and advocacy. A national study examined the profile of the social work workforce (2017) and profiles of new social work graduates (2018, 2019) and graduates who completed in person versus online programs.

  • National Child Welfare Workforce Institute (NCWWI).

    The Children’s Bureau has funded NCWWI since 2008; the current contract will run through 2023. The Children’s Bureau created NCWWI in order to increase child welfare practice effectiveness with an emphasis on developing workforce systems and the workforce itself, as well as enacting organizational interventions and change leadership strategies to build capacity in child welfare agencies across the United States. Part of the US Department for Health and Human Services, Administration on Children and Families (ACF), Children’s Bureau.

  • Quality Improvement Center for Workforce Development (QIC-WD).

    The Children’s Bureau is funding the QIC-WD to conduct rigorous research on promising workforce interventions to understand which interventions work, for whom, and in what contexts. Eight sites are testing eight different interventions along the workforce continuum including a job redesign, employee selection, onboarding, supportive supervision, managing secondary traumatic stress, telework, technology innovations for workload management, and an organizational culture and climate intervention. The project includes a cross-site evaluation and several sub-studies. Part of the US Department for Health and Human Services, ACF, Children’s Bureau.

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