Methods: Data on the number of SSWs, counselors, and psychologists, were obtained from the 2015-2016 Civil Rates Data Collection. State certification requirements were compiled through a variety of sources, including state SSW associations, state Departments of Education, governmental and university associated websites. Where data was unavailable through online sources, government or other representatives for each state were contacted. Percent urban population was obtained from the 2010 U.S. Census. We used correlations and t-tests to examine the association between certification requirements, urban population, and the number and ratio of SSWs. We made aggregate comparisons across the domains of counselors, psychologists, and SSWs.
Results: Certification requirements for School Social Workers varied widely across states. The highest requirement was for SSWs to hold a Masters in Social Work degree, complete an internship and pass a licensing or other state exam (12 states). The lowest state requirement was a Bachelor’s in Social Work with no internship or exam requirement (19 states). Four states did not have state-level requirements and relied on district or county level jurisdiction. States with larger rural populations tended to have lower requirements. State percent urban population was significantly associated with the number of SSWs (B=11.65, SE=5.21, p=0.30), but not SSW:student ratio. Higher state certification requirements did not correspond to a greater overall number of SSW’s or a lower SSW to student ratio at the state level. No states met the NASW recommended ratio of 1:250 SSW per student, and 17 states had fewer than 100 total SSWs. The number of SSWs, counselors and psychologists were highly correlated (r=0.49-0.70, p<0.001), but only the professional:student ratios between SSWs and psychologists was significant (r=0.44, p=0.001).
Conclusions and Implications: An alarmingly high number of states (⅓) have fewer than 100 SSWs for their entire student population. We found that having higher state SSW certification requirements does not increase their presence in schools, and is not associated with the number of SSWs relative to school counselors or psychologists, whose requirements are uniformly higher across states. National efforts to establish consistency in certification requirements across states, increase SSWs visibility and role definition, as well highlighting the unique contribution of SSWs for student outcomes may be required to increase their presence in schools.