Why social work isn’t changing – and why that’s hurting consumers

I vividly remember my social work field placement at a residential drug treatment program. The one licensed social worker on staff was so burnt out she’d taken to listening to Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” with her office door closed. With no meaningful guidance I was in a constant state of panic.

Not music therapy

The staff psychiatrist, meanwhile, would jet in like a rock star. He always seemed happy and people lined up to see him.

It was a vivid demonstration of a real problem: as social workers we fail to advocate for ourselves, and in the end this hurts our clients.

My wallet's never looked like this

Society wants us to work – and work cheap

The baby boom is aging, the healthcare system is changing, and demand for social workers is only going to grow. Demand for most kinds of social workers (mental health, substance abuse and healthcare social workers) is expected to explode by 19% between 2014-2016, far outpacing the average for all industries (around 6%) and exceeding the growth rate for psychiatrists (15%).

Despite this boom in demand, social workers’ salaries are not keeping up. According to surveys from Payscale.com, the average social worker increases their earnings by only 37.5% over a 20-year career, going from $40,000-$55,000. In contrast, a psychologist will increase their earnings by 50% ($60,000-$90,000 per year) and a psychiatrist will increase their earnings by 24%-but that’s from an already high starting salary of $174,000 per year, capping out at $216,000.

Salary of social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists after 20+ years in field

For some in society – nonprofits and government agencies – this has obvious short-term benefits. Bossman loves cheap labor. (Indeed, it’s probably worth noting that social work is more populated by women and minorities than psychiatry and psychology – I’d suspect that’s one reason for the lower pay). Whatever the cause of the salary gap, it has serious long-term consequences – and not just for social workers.

The sick reality is that interns and beginning social workers are charged with the most vulnerable, high-need people. Survive in the field for 20 years and you can get rich helping millionaires with public speaking anxiety.

The cost of low pay

Most social workers don’t last for 20 years in the field, according to Salary.com’s survey, a fact that isn’t true of psychiatrists and psychologists.

This high burnout rate might create opportunities for beginning social workers, but is that really such a good thing? Not for clients.

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I’m thinking of the jobs and field placements I’ve had so far. I’ve been an intern with zero experience with responsibility for the emotional wellbeing of recovering drug addicts with extensive trauma histories. My first job out of grad school was as a preventive worker with families involved with Child Protective Services – an incredibly demanding job that involved trauma-informed therapy, legal advocacy and intense casework. These are jobs that should have been performed by somebody with years of experience.

I don’t buy the argument that beginning social workers make up for their lack of experience with enthusiasm – how many domestic violence survivors have been forced to pin their hopes on somebody who was working with a client for the first time? Would you want to be in that position? If it was your mother would you want her to see an intern or someone with 10 years’ experience?

The sick reality is that interns and beginning social workers are charged with the most vulnerable, high-need people. Survive in the field for 20 years and you can get rich helping millionaires with public speaking anxiety.

By the way, if you’re thinking psychiatrists and psychologists deserve higher pay because they have expertise your thinking is part of the problem – they have expertise in their fields, but do they know how to advocate for somebody in court? Or get someone into a domestic violence shelter?

Moving forward

It’s a truism – but also true – that in order to care for our clients we must also practice self-care.

As social workers many of us seem willing to sacrifice everything we have, including our financial security, for the greater good. But in the end this is catastrophic, not only for social workers but for the people we serve.

If we advocate for ourselves – by demanding raises and salaries that reflect our good work – the result will be satisfied, dedicated social workers who remain in the field longer during these times when we’re needed more than ever.

Stand up for yourself! And let me know in the comments what you think the best way to do this is. Should social workers unionize? Do we need a culture shift?


You can help stop a notorious anti-LGBTQ bully

Go straight to the petition

For more information contact: socialworkedmail@gmail.com
Updates on Facebook and Twitter

Would you read a SocialWorked newsletter? If enough people sign up I’ll start writing. Click here to join the SocialWorked mailing list. I promise not to share your information.


I sent the email to Facebook and Google with petition results included. I’ll continue providing updates as things develop.

If anybody would like to discuss next steps, please reach out to me. If you haven’t signed the petition please sign it now, as additional signatures could help in future communications with Facebook and Google.

I’m grateful to everyone who’s already signed, and especially to @ThatSabineGirl, who’s been lending her time, credibility and stature to stopping this blogger.


A notorious blogger makes a regular practice of posting photos, names and ages of children who are apparently on the verge of coming out as transgender. (Details below.)


A blogger is outing trans kids online – let’s stop her u

You can help protect kids by sending an email

I’ve seen some disgusting things in the debate over LGBTQ equality – we all have – but there’s one blogger who takes it a step too far.

Would you read a SocialWorked newsletter? If enough people sign up I’ll start writing. Click here to join the SocialWorked mailing list. I promise not to share your information.

This person outs transgender kids on her blog, Facebook page, and Google+ page. She posts their photos, names and ages next to photos of a Nazi concentration camp (to imply transgender children transitioning is like the Holocaust?) as well as hateful rants and what look like personal photos of adults.

A quick look at her writing and you know this person isn’t well. Unfortunately, if I identify or even quote this person I’m worried it will spread these kids’ information further, so I’m keeping that to myself. But a lot of people have complained about her online and their comments show she’s caused some real pain. (I think it goes without saying that outing LGBTQ youth is dangerous – it can lead to kids being kicked out of home, getting attacked or even driven to suicide.)

Technology now makes it possible to start with a photo and find every single place that photo appears online. Anyone could click on a child’s school yearbook photo and wind up on this person’s blog. And unfortunately the current climate is so toxic that people sometimes find this person useful. Pages’ worth of websites link to her blog – some to trash it but others to praise it. And she frequently gets more Google searches than the also-noxious Gender Identity Project, which has also been associated with outing LGBTQ youth.

I complained about this person using Google’s online complaint form on March 23. The children’s personal information is still up and I haven’t received a reply. So I emailed Chrissy Persico, Google’s head of consumer PR. Please join me – emails and suggested language below.

<a href=”mailto:press@google.com”>press@google.com


Suggested language:

I’m informed a user is posting photos and personal information about transitioning transgender youth. This is cruel and dangerous – please immediately remove this user from your platforms.

For your reference, emails about this user with identifying information were sent to individuals related to all get known platforms – Google staff (Carla Persico at cpersico@google.com and press@google.com) and Facebook staff (press@fb.com, support@fb.com) – on March 27 with the subtext line “CHILD ENDANGERMENT – OUTING TRANS YOUTH.”

Please also make sure this user cannot post offensive content in the future; and please and report any illegal actions to the proper authorities.

My email to Google (with identifying info removed) is below.

Dear Google staff,

A user has been using multiple Google platforms to distribute photos, names and ages of transgender youth in an apparent effort to “out” them. I made a complaint using Blogger’s online form on March 23, but I have not received a response and the material is still posted.

The user’s name is *****

I’ve found profiles under that name on Blogger, Google+ and YouTube. The user posts information about LGBT youth in what seems to be an ongoing series. A recent example is here:


As you know, current technology makes it fairly easy to find matches for any given photo online. Therefore, the photos alone provide enough information to determine these children’s identities.

“Outing” LGBTQ youth can lead to serious repercussions that include suicide. These posts seem to be violations of your policies on bullying, child endangerment, and posting personal and identifying content (other pages also have photos of apparently LGBTQ individuals that appear private, accompanied by hateful language. I believe the user’s comments on LGBTQ people constitute hate speech. Finally, please note the attached screen grab from the user’s YouTube account, which shows the user stating, “Death to *****” – an incitement to violence.

Multiple users have spoken out in concern about this user (you can see them in the user’s comments; also by Googling the user’s name). The user has also referenced complaints, so it’s possible action has been taken in the past.

*** PLEASE IMMEDIATELY REMOVE this user from all Google platforms for child endangerment and violation of your content policies.

Please also take any steps possible to block this user from posting under different Google accounts in the future (Google search turns up the user posting under a close variant of the current screen name, “*****”). It looks like this user might have been blocked in the past and simply created new accounts. It’s clear thus user won’t stop unless unable to access Google platforms.

If it is found this user violated any laws, please report this matter to the authorities.

I will keep an eye on the pages in question and ask others to reach out to you in this matter. Please let me know what steps you are able to take.