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MENTAL HEALTH CRISIS: COMMUNITY NEEDS CAN’T BE MET National Association of Social Workers - NJ poised to help

June 23, 2021 GMT

TRENTON, N.J., June 23, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- Across New Jersey, a mental health crisis is brewing with dire consequences approaching. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and racial unrest in our nation, the demand for mental health services has increased astronomically. Providers of mental health services are working tirelessly to support community members through telehealth and a moderated return to in-person services, however there are not enough licensed clinical social workers to meet the demands across the state. The result? Clients often waiting upwards of three months for services at mental health agencies and even with many private practices.

There is not, however, a lack of qualified mental health professionals who stand poised and ready to meet these needs and serve consumers. Rather, hundreds, if not more, qualified social workers are stuck in a bureaucratic process, waiting a minimum of three months—but often over a year—for paperwork to make its way through a licensing system that is broken.

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“Daily, we field dozens of calls and emails from social workers with degrees who have passed the licensing exams and completed all necessary steps for licensure, but who cannot get a response from our licensing board,” said Jennifer Thompson, MSW and Executive Director of the National Association of Social Workers New Jersey (NASW-NJ). “These social workers stand poised to help meet the needs across our community, but they call the licensing board and can’t reach anyone. Emails are going unresponded to for months on end. At the same time social workers are being called to action, the system that allows us to serve the community has quite literally, chosen not to respond.”

One pending applicant, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear a license will be denied, shares: “I applied for my licensing exam in March of this year (2021). I paid my licensing fee and uploaded all required documents. I have heard nothing about the status of my application since.”

Another shares: ”[I] passed the masters exam September 2020 and sent all the requirements by mail to the office. I also sent all requirements by email and have not received any correspondence to date. I cannot reach anyone by phone and all my emails have gone unanswered so far.”

Meanwhile, leadership at mental health agencies are struggling to hire anyone new to meet the increase in demand for their services due to the licensing board delays and communication. “Our community mental health agency is having an impossible situation with the Board of Social Work Examiners around things like new LSW’s and LCSW’s getting their documentation reviewed, the scarcity of testing sites, and long waits to be pre-approved for a testing site. These issues are seriously impacting our ability to see new patients as we aren’t able to hire new clinicians. It is unacceptable that there is no way to speak to someone and no way to resolve these issues,” one agency leader shared.

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The stories of a non-responsive and broken licensing board were evident at the open public meeting earlier in June, where numerous applicants showed up virtually to tell the board of their plight. “While the Board seemed to take this to heart, the authority to rectify these issues resides with the Division of Consumer Affairs,” Thompson furthered. “We have been in discussions for over a year, with little to no progress on these very significant issues. The response is always “tell applicants to email. But then they do and don’t get a response,” she continued. “We now stand on the brink of crisis, if we aren’t already there. Our community needs for mental health care cannot be met. Social workers cannot be licensed in our state in a timely manner. They are losing jobs. They are choosing to relocate to states where the system is functional.”

There appear to be immediate remedies to this crisis, but legislators and the administration need to intervene. A working group that includes various stakeholders needs to be established to address the issues. It is crucial that the administrative practices at the Board of Social Work Examiners and Division of Consumer Affairs be improved immediately so licensure can be achieved within a reasonable time frame. This could occur through the addition of temporary (or permanent) staffing and resources, including staff who are required to respond to phone and email inquiries. Moreover, there must be transparency in the process, allowing applicants to see the status of their pending licensure and any missing information.

“If social workers are to be called to action and to serve, the systems that control licensure to protect the community must also be responsive to the community’s needs. These systems are an essential part of solving our mental health crisis in our state, but right now, the Board is taking messages and will respond in 3-9 months,” said Thompson. “But for a client in crisis, they don’t have 3-9 months to wait for a professional’s help. It might literally mean life or death. The Division of Consumer affairs needs to intervene now to address the short-comings of the Board.”

Founded in 1955, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, with more than 120,000 members. The New Jersey Chapter is the second largest chapter in the United States, with more than 6,500 members. NASW-NJ works to enhance the professional growth and development of its members, to create and maintain professional standards, and to advance sound social policies. Learn more at www.naswnj.org.

MEDIA CONTACT:
JENNIFER THOMPSON
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
JTHOMPSON.NASWNJ@SOCIALWORKERS.ORG
917-968-0181

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SOURCE National Association of Social Workers