It is no surprise that the pandemic exacerbated an already strained system of care in Maine resulting in a serious mental health emergency in our state. Our critical services are stretched beyond capacity, and positions for social workers remain unfilled. We know this has had a terrible impact on the people of Maine — those with mental health needs are suffering, and we have lost lives to overdose and suicide that could have been prevented.

We also know that in Maine and across our country we face another pandemic — racism. We see it in the growth of white supremacy, and central to our work as social workers is our commitment to fighting it both outside and within our profession. In August 2022, the Association of Social Work Boards, the private company that administers the only social work licensing exam, released long-requested data showing disparities in pass rates for social workers of color, social workers for whom English is not their primary language, and older adult social workers. We collectively now clearly understand what many social workers of color have known all along: that the exam has unfairly blocked access to the profession for social workers of color, those whose primary language was not English, and older adults.

While there are some important ideas being pursued in our state to remove barriers to becoming licensed as a social worker (e.g., social work education loan forgiveness), there is another approach, proven in other states to have a direct impact on increasing the number of available social workers, that Maine should adopt: L.D. 1990 An Act to Improve the Licensing Procedure for Certain Social Workers by Removing the Examination Requirement. This bill places a moratorium on the social work licensing exam for conditional licenses, and it makes the pathway to licensure much fairer for all social workers by removing a racist, ageist and xenophobic barrier from the social work licensing process.

In January 2022, the state of Illinois enacted a law removing the requirement for the exam for licensed social workers who don’t practice independently. The result: just under 3,000 new social workers came into the profession in the first six months of 2022 compared to 421 during the same time period the year before. Rhode Island has also removed the requirement of the test for clinical social workers, and a number of other states across the country are making similar statute changes. The National Association of Social Workers, the Council on Social Work Education, and the National Association of Deans and Directors have all called for removing the test as a requirement for licensure.

Our collective position as Maine Schools of Social Work is that Maine should pass L.D. 1990 to do the same.

L.D. 1990 is before our Legislature this week and would place a moratorium on the requirement of the exam to obtain a social work license for all but the independent clinical license. Those eligible to apply for the conditional licenses have fulfilled their degrees from accredited universities and colleges, which includes having demonstrated competency across comprehensive, established bachelor and master’s degree programs. With this bill, once they have their license, licensees will still have all the rigorous supervision and practice requirements that are proven reliable methods for ensuring quality care to those receiving services.

The Maine Board of Social Work Licensure will continue to ensure that the public is protected. The only change as a result of L.D. 1990 is the moratorium on the standardized test that is not a demonstrated indicator of social work competencies and has acted as a barrier to new graduates.

It is time to reduce barriers that have been proven racist, ageist and xenophobic. We need to stop blocking quality, would-be social workers from entering the profession. Maine is in desperate need to have competent social workers, and this bill would be a huge step in the right direction.

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