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New Mexico Has Severe Social Worker Shortage

Kevin Meerschaert
(L-R) Katharine Briar-Lawson, Ph.D., M.S.W., Dean Emeritus and Professor, State University of New York at Albany; Alvin L. Sallee, A.C.S.W., L.I.S.W., Chair, Social Work Task Force, Professor Emeritus, New Mexico State University; and Eli Fresquez, L.I.S.W., L.C.S.W., Ph.D., First Chair, Board of Social Work Examiners, Social Work Task Force address lawmakers on the need for New Mexico to find more social service professionals.

New Mexico is suffering a severe shortage of qualified social workers and it is nearing crisis levels for the state.   

A report by the Social Work Workforce Task Force was presented Monday to the Legislative Health & Human Services Committee.

It states that as late as 2010, almost all persons doing social work in the state were licensed and the vacancy rate was only six-percent.

But now, according to the Children, Youth and Families Department of 849 social work positions, only 179 are licensed and the retention rate is just 53-percent over the past five years.

Task Force members say the licensure exam pass rates are one of the lowest in the U.S. and things need to change dramatically.

Task Force member and First Chair of the Board of Social Work Examiners Dr. Eli Fresquez says it can be hard to track but it’s clear there is a major problem facing the state. 

“Do we have enough social workers in New Mexico? The answer is no. We have a lot of people who are practicing social work  who shouldn’t be practicing social work,” he said. “Every once in a while I read the newspaper and it says ‘Qualifications; LMSW, LCSW, LPPC, LCPC, whatever the acronyms are. We’re not those folks. We’re social workers. If they’re doing that and they are hiring for that position it must be a social work position.”             

The state has been trying to address the issue including appropriating $50-million for endowed teaching faculty that is expected to produce 400 more social work students per year along with paid tuition for Bachelor of Social Work degrees.

The task force says more needs to be done. Its recommendations include higher pay for social workers in New Mexico so fewer leave for other states or the private sector, paid tuition for Masters of Social Work degrees and a state match for CYFD to fund federal Title IV-E grants for university Social Work education and research.      

Kevin Meerschaert comes to Santa Fe from Jacksonville, Florida where he spent the past 20 years covering politics, government and pretty much everything else.