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Updated: Mar 1, 2023

Happy Social Work Month to all VA social workers from Exec. Dir. Debra Riggs!

When I heard that the theme of the 2023 Social Work Month in March is “Social Work Breaks Boundaries,” I thought, “Yes! Spot on!” While many commemorative months often focus on historical capstone achievements in an industry or profession, I’m glad that this year’s NASW theme has a more forward-looking ring while still tipping a hat to the pioneers of the past.

Although our profession is old—dating back several centuries--social workers are among the most resourceful, innovative professionals I know, always anticipating and adapting creatively to whatever the future throws at them (I’m looking at you, telehealth!).

They are used to identifying barriers—and then digging under them, climbing over them, or skirting them completely as they create new solutions to serve their diverse clients. They don’t see boundaries as walls that would stop them from achieving what needs to be done to protect and advance the interests of individuals, families, communities, and society as a whole.

Their courage, though, is often understated, even invisible in the larger healthcare arena where psychologists or emergency doctors are revered and highly paid for their expertise. Instead, despite advanced training and degrees, social workers are seriously underpaid, routinely underappreciated, and, frankly, committed more to quietly getting the job done right than in garnering any spotlight.

This discretion both hurts and helps them. While their clients trust them with their greatest vulnerabilities and private lives, social workers generally operate in a culture of such modesty and service to others that they are overlooked in policy and healthcare discussions around higher compensation and safer working conditions. As a result, although they are in high demand, social workers start their careers earning an average of $53,000 annually and carrying student loans of more than $130,000.

This is one reason why proposals such as that of DC's Council Member At Large, Robert White, proposed, "Pathways to Behavioral Health Degrees Act" to offer free master’s degrees in social work at the University of the District of Columbia would indeed “break boundaries” by unburdening future social workers from suffocating debt and inspiring other students passionate about helping people to seek a social work career.

The field is expected to grow 7%-9% in the next decade, and once such a degree is earned, it is highly flexible in the workforce. As providers of more than 60% of U.S. mental health services, social workers can find jobs in setting from schools to hospitals, prisons to corporations, and government agencies to the military. All 708,000 social workers nationwide are breaking boundaries in every one of these workplaces, and NASW and its 55 chapters such as in Virginia and Metro DC are helping them do so!

So I hope you’ll join me in thanking a social worker in March and any month, and perhaps learn more about working in this rewarding field. Happy Social Work Month and thank-you to all of the amazing professionals who set their own “boundaries” by changing lives for the better every day.


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