Amidst Growing Demand for Services & Hiring Crisis, Social Workers Face Backlog in Getting Licensed

Across New Jersey, a mental health crisis is brewing with potentially dire consequences. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for mental health services has increased exponentially. While providers of mental health services are working tirelessly to support community members through telehealth and a moderated return to in-person services, there are simply not enough licensed clinical social workers to meet the demand. At the same time, qualified mental health professionals stand ready to meet these needs, but cannot due to a significant backlog in issuing licenses. Applicants for licensure are waiting a minimum of three months, and some more than a year, for paperwork to make its way through a licensing system that is not working.

According to the National Association of Social Workers New Jersey (NASW-NJ), dozens of calls and e-mails from social workers who have passed the licensing exams and completed all necessary steps for licensure, but who cannot get responses from the licensing board (the State Board of Social Work Examiners [BSWE]), are received every day. They say applicants cannot reach anyone at the BSWE and their e-mails are going with response. One applicant shared that he/she passed the required exam in September 2020 and sent all the requirements by regular mail and e-mail to the BSWE, but has not received any correspondence to date and cannot reach anyone by phone.

Meanwhile, leadership at mental health agencies are struggling to hire to meet the increase in demand for their services. Adding to the problem of the BSWE backlog, there is a scarcity of testing sites, and long waits to be pre-approved for a testing site. These issues are seriously impacting providers' ability to hire and respond to demand for services.

It is imperative that the BSWE take whatever actions are necessary immediately so that licensure can be achieved within a reasonable time frame. Moreover, there must be transparency in the process, allowing applicants to see the status of their pending licensure and any missing information.

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