Kansas Professional Licensing Attorney Examines The Social Worker Turnover Problem At DCF

Kansas’ Department of Children and Families (DCF) serves children who are in need. Social workers employed by the agency are in great need. In 2015, the agency experienced a nearly 25% turnover of its social workers. The agency’s remaining social workers absorbed the departing social workers’ caseloads.  Social workers already suffer from tremendous stress and are overburdened by enormous caseloads. Losing one-quarter of the workforce in a calendar year causes an ethical dilemma. A social worker is not exempted from ethically performing her duties simply because a social worker has a large caseload. Kansas professional licensing attorney Danielle Sanger represents professional licensees, such as social workers, who face discipline.

The glut of social workers employed at DCF in Kansas created a very dangerous situation for children in need throughout the state. DCF claims that no child faced any danger because of the shortage. DCF recognizes that its failure to offer competitive salaries coupled with social workers working in potentially dangerous situations contributed to the loss of personnel. DCF proposed to fix these problems by providing social workers with mobile devices allowing social workers to complete reports remotely and to contact police if they find themselves in a hazardous situation while investigating cases in the field.

DCF also proposed expanding its ranks to include practitioners of other behavioral sciences. The expanded list includes licensed social workers with a bachelor’s degree, licensed psychologists with a master’s degree, licensed professional counselors, clinical psychotherapists, and certified marriage counselors. DCF workers lauded expanding the list because it alleviated some of the burdens upon existing social workers.

Some questioned the wisdom of expanding the list of behavior scientists beyond social workers. The idea received criticism because commentators questioned the methodology of other professions to perform social work. Psychotherapists and marriage counselors, for example, provide consumers with counseling and therapy, not social work. Social work entails asking tough, probing questions of frequently reticent and uncooperative clientele. Conversely, working for DCF requires social workers to remove children from homes, find placements, and deal with emergency situations. Additionally, social workers are specifically trained by DCF to write reports to be used in court. They are also trained to recognize and possibly diffuse dangerous situations while visiting residences. The other professionals have no training in these matters. Critics of the proposed expansion question whether counselors and therapists practice beyond what their licenses allow.

Kansas Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board (“the Board”) issues licenses for social workers, psychotherapists, and marriage counselors.  The Kansas Legislature authorized the Board to discipline social workers and other behavioral scientists for unprofessional conduct. Regarding social workers, the Board characterizes unprofessional conduct into approximately 56 different categories. Overburdened DCF social workers can unwittingly commit an act of unprofessional conduct as a result of attempting to juggle an overwhelming caseload. Overburdened social workers easily suffer fatigue leading to a lapse in judgment. Lapses in judgment can violate a social worker’s code of professional conduct.

The Board defines lapses in judgment as unprofessional conduct.  A social worker must recognize and seek treatment for their mental health and emotional problems that interfere with their practice as a social worker. Consequently, if an overburdened DCF social worker’s performance diminishes or their ability to function as a social worker decreases, then the social worker must address the problems. In other words, if a social worker is drowning in work that they cannot meet the needs of a particular client, they must act to rectify that situation. Failing to do so is unprofessional conduct. It is easy to see how a DCF social worker could fall into that trap unwittingly.

Help For Those Who Help Others

If you are a social worker and find yourself facing professional discipline, call Kansas Professional Licensing Attorney Danielle Sanger. Attorney Sanger prides herself on fighting for those people who fight for others. Call Attorney Danielle Sanger today at 785-979-4353 to schedule a free consultation.