Behind the Numbers: More than the minimum

Published in the Fall 2008 issue of SSA Magazine

More than the Minimum

30: Continuing education hours required every two years for Licensed Social Workers in Illinois.

Social workers benefit by approaching continuing education as professional development

-Carl Vogel

Those in the social work profession are a trusted resource for individuals and families facing enormous challenges. As such, social workers have the responsibility to continue to locate new sources of knowledge and to develop new skills during their careers. With these ideas in mind, the State of Illinois passed a regulation in 1989 that requires licensed social workers to take 30 hours of continuing education every two years, with a modification in 2005 that three of those hours be specifically related to ethical issues.

Illinois is one of many states that has a continuing education requirement. In Michigan, each social worker must complete 45 hours of continuing education with at least five hours in ethics and one in pain and pain symptom management. Half of New Jersey's 40 credits within two years must be directly related to clinical practice; another five must be concerning ethics and three in courses about social and cultural diversity. New York, Colorado, and Hawaii do not have any continuing education requirements at all.

While there is no one correct answer for how many Continuing Education Credits (CECs) are necessary to continue to be prepared to practice social work, there is clarity that continuing education is an important opportunity for professional growth.
Real Ideas, Real Context

Today, faced with increasing demands from clients and their organization, social workers can find time-saving ways to fulfill their continuing education requirements. Weeklong sessions are being replaced by one- or two-day workshops—or even hour-long presentations or audio tapes. Online courses are becoming more common, as are web-streaming conferences or workshops.

There is more to keep abreast of in the field than ever before, including new and revised policies at the state and national level and insights from research. However, continuing education programs should also reflect established practices of clinical work that withstand through time. An academic setting provides a unique venue for providing information on enduring themes of the profession as well as new knowledge. Faculty can share heir research with those in direct practice and conversely, learn from those in the community.

In fact, it is this direct exchange that generates a rich learning environment. In addition to the resource of the instructor, the participants also add depth and breadth to the discussion. Many have years of experience and hands-on knowledge of the subject matter. Their experience reflects diversity in terms of agencies, populations served, and professional responsibilities, leading to a very lively exchange of perspectives and ideas.

The SSA Experience

The roots of the Professional Development Program (PDP) at SSA go back to the founding of the School 100 years ago. Over time the program developed into short course offerings, including content on clinical and management issues, and eventually into a yearlong series of workshops complemented by an occasional series focusing on a specific policy, social service topic, or population.

The Professional Development Program at SSA is an outreach of the mission of the School—to provide a framework for critical thinking so that as the field and the demands of practitioners' jobs change, they are able to generate new approaches to their work. Our programs include workshops reflecting foundational theories of the profession, including supervision (clinical and administrative), field instruction, school-based programs, and social problem-solving around issues like transportation, women in contemporary society, the migrant in the city, and health policy.

PDP has also sought to introduce new knowledge and skills. We were at the forefront on working with older adults, recognizing early that demographic changes meant a growing population with complex needs. At the outset of the AIDS epidemic, SSA offered a workshop on clinical work with individuals and families affected by the disease. We were one of the first schools to offer a preparatory course for those seeking licensure as social workers, and today, PDP offers workshops on new topics such as "Spirituality in Clinical Practice" and "Spanish for Social Workers."

The Professional Development Program at SSA aims to give practitioners what they need to best meet the needs of their clients, their supervisees, their organization, or their own professional development. We see PDP as a vital part of our academic mission, both to help those in the field and to learn from them.

Maureen Stimming is SSA's director of the professional development program and marketing; Karen Teigiser is SSA's deputy dean for curriculum and a senior lecturer at the School. She served as director of the professional development program at SSA from 1982 to 1999.