Valuing Social Workers: Recognizing Their Essential Role in Society

Social worker using a tablet with a little girl and the girl's father

Throughout March, Social Work Month, Maine Children’s Home (MCH) has been reflecting on the unsung heroes in our society who are tirelessly offering support and championing change. Among these unsung heroes are social workers, individuals whose compassion knows no bounds and whose impact reverberates far beyond the confines of their titles. From counseling individuals through personal crises to advocating for systemic change, social workers play a multifaceted role that is indispensable to the well-being of individuals and communities alike. Yet, as we navigate the complexities of life, it becomes more evident that the value we place on social work often falls short of its immense worth.

Social workers often find themselves undervalued and undercompensated for the increasing demand of the vital work they do. In Maine, there is a growing mental health crisis impacting our youth. According to the 2023 Maine Kids Count report by Maine Children’s Alliance, an estimated 50,000 youth have experienced two or more Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as divorce, violence in the home, incarceration of a parent or other events that can create trauma and toxic stress. In addition, nearly one in four children ages 12 – 17 experience struggles with anxiety, according to a recent parent survey.

As the demand for mental health support rises, the field of social work is projected to grow by seven percent to more than 780,000 social workers in the United States by 2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)*. Yet, as the demand for social work grows, people in the profession often receive insufficient wages.

Social services such as social work ranks second on a list of college majors that pay the least after graduation. While an average career salary of a masters-prepared social worker is just over $50k, the median salary of professionals five years after college is $37,000*. When we consider that current median wage, insurance reimbursement rates, and the fact that Master of Social Work students complete about 63 credit hours and have an average of $68,000 to $76,000 of college debt, a salary of $37,000 is not enough*.

For additional perspective, students who earn a Master of Business Administration degree complete about 36 to 40 credit hours and are paid an average salary between $152,000 and $172,000 three to five years after graduation.*

The disparity between the significance of their role and the compensation they receive is detrimental to the social work profession. It undermines morale, hinders recruitment and retention efforts, and ultimately diminishes the support available to those in need.

It’s time to recognize the fundamental importance of social work and take tangible steps to ensure that social workers receive compensation and support that matches their value. By advocating for policies and investing in social workers, we are not only honoring the dedication and expertise of social workers but also investing in the well-being and resilience of our communities. This is why supporting legislation such as the Improving Access to Mental Health Act, student loan debt relief, and social work safety is so important. Monetary gifts to organizations like Maine Children’s Home (MCH) also helps support the compensation of social workers in its clinical counseling center and adoption program, ensuring continued support and high quality of care.

At MCH, we are constantly assessing the fairness of the pay of social workers on staff. As a relatively small nonprofit, we try our very best to offer competitive pay and benefits. We provide support for self-care and generous paid vacation time, as well as an additional two weeks of paid time off for the weeks of July 4th and the winter holidays. As we continue to grow and evolve as an organization, fair pay will continue to be a one of the top priorities for our clinicians.

As our society strives to be more compassionate and equitable, let us remember the invaluable contributions of social workers and commit to providing them with the compensation, support, and recognition they deserve. By investing in social work, we are investing in a brighter future for all. 

Thank you to all social workers who have made the decision to care for others despite the challenges you face in this vital and undervalued profession.

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