Master's-Level Social Workers: Who Are They and What Do They Do?

Chapter 3

Master's-Level Social Workers: Who Are They and What Do They Do?


The past two decades have been a time of dramatic change in social work practice and education. Through revisions to its accreditation standards and Curriculum Policy Statement, CSWE has sought to provide master's-level social work education programs with sufficiently flexible guidelines to allow them to adapt their curricula to meet these changing needs. However, the programs have found it difficult to devise this type of curriculum in the absence of a reliable database on social work practice. The data from the national task analyses have the potential to help them devise up-to-date, needs-related curricula.

Three Influences

Three recent developments in the social work profession have had a direct effect on MSW social work education. First, models of social work practice have been modified over the last two decades. For example, the practice methods of casework, group work, and community organization, at least in their traditional forms, have been abandoned. None of these terms appears in the Encyclopedia of Social Work (Minahan, 1987) as more than a historical reference. Instead, these models have been replaced by a number of highly specialized practice frameworks aimed at specific client groups and unique practice situations. NASW's Standards for the Classification of Social Work Practice (1981) underscores this emphasis by designating the MSW graduate as a "specialized" worker, and agencies employing MSWs expect them to possess the competencies necessary to perform highly specific roles and functions. For schools of social work, this change has meant a demand for more focused curricula at the graduate level.

Second, accreditation standards have increasingly allowed MSW programs to develop multiple identitieseach having one or more "tracks." Where once master's-level social work education was almost identical in content from school to school and curricula could be adopted or adapted readily from other schools, now each school is encouraged to develop its own program based on emphases such as "fields of practice, problem areas, populations-at-risk, intervention methods or roles, and practice contexts and perspectives" (CSWE, 1994, M6.21, p.143). Programs offering specialized education have proven desirable among students who can select a program to suit their interests. Students who feel locked into a particular school for personal or financial reasons, however, may find that they need knowledge and skills for practice areas other than those represented by the program's specialization(s). Thus, programs are challenged to design curricula with sufficient generality to serve the educational needs of students with a variety of educational interests while offering courses that equip students with the specialized competencies that agencies have come to expect from MSW graduates.

Third, the re-emergence of baccalaureate social work education has necessitated changes in master's-level education. As their numbers have increased, BSW programs have expropriated much of the introductory content that had long been considered the purview of graduate programs. As a result, MSW programs had to redesign their curricula for two distinct groups of entering students: those with the BSW degree and those with no previous social work education/experience. In MSW programs, students without a BSW degree are required to take foundation content prior to beginning concentrated (i.e., specialized) preparation.

Given these recent influences on social work education, MSW programs can use the data presented in this chapterdata on both the common characteristics of master's-level practice and the uniqueness found in various specializationsto develop curricula relevant to student interests and social needs.1

Demographic Characteristics

Who They Are

As Chapter 1 and Appendix B indicate, the data on the MSW practitioners are based on responses from 5,272 social workers who, at the time the data were collected, had completed a master's degree from a CSWE-accredited school, had been employed in a social work job for at least one year, and were currently working full-time as a social worker. Pertinent demographic information on this diverse group is summarized in Table 3.1.

Table 3.1. Personal Characteristics of Master’s–Level Practitioners (N=5,272)

Location

Ethnicity

Gender

Northeast

33.3%a

American Indian

0.5%

Male

39.2%

Northcentral

28.7%

Asian/Pacific Islander

1.5%

Female

60.4%

South

21.3%

African American

7.1%

West

16.2%

Chicano/Mexican American

0.5%

Puerto Rican

0.3%

Other Hispanic

0.6%

White

88.7%

Mean Age = 43.8

Mean Yrs. in Present Position = 6.7

Mean Yrs. in Social Work = 13.7

a Percentages may not total 100% because of missing values on some variables.

Just over 60% of the master's-level social workers were female and most were white. Only about 7% were African American, and other minority groups of color comprised only fractions of the sample. The typical respondent was in his or her mid-40s, had nearly 14 years of social work practice experience, and displayed a high level of job stability, as evidenced by an average of 6.7 years in their positions. Respondents lived all over the United States62% lived and worked in the Northeast and Northcentral states with smaller proportions from the South and West.

What They Do and Where They Work

Table 3.2 describes the employment characteristics of this group. In marked contrast to the BSW practitioners, only about half of the MSWs were direct service practitioners. Using the language of the framework developed in Chapter 1, almost as many respondents were system- or organization-centered as were client-centered. Of the former, 27.5% were in administrative or management positions, about 10% were in supervisory roles, and just over 5% were in education and training jobs. Thus, the entire MSW sample was almost equally split between direct and indirect services and more than 95% of them were concentrated in just four job functions. In the opinion of the authors, these data speak to the need to revisit the traditional emphasis on clinical preparation of MSW students, especially in the specialized component of training.

Table 3.2. Employment Characteristics of Master’s-Level Practitioners (N=5,272)

Primary Job Function

Direct service

53.5%

Education/training

5.1%

Management/administration

27.5%

Consultation

2.1%

Supervision

10.2%

Policy/research/planning

1.5%

Practice Setting

 

Primary Practice Area

 

Social service agency

26.7%

Mental health

28.3%

Hospital

21.4%

Family services

13.7%

Outpatient facility

19.4%

Medical and health care

13.5%

Private practice

7.9%

Children and youth

13.1%

Elementary/secondary school

7.2%

School social work

6.3%

College/university

4.8%

Services to the aged

3.7%

Psychiatric institution

3.7%

Dev. disabilities/mental retardation

3.6%

Non-social service organization

3.0%

Education

3.4%

Group home/residential care

1.6%

Alcohol/substance abuse

2.2%

Courts/criminal justice

1.4%

Pubic assistance/welfare

1.5%

Nursing home/hospice

1.0%

Corrections/criminal justice

1.3%

Other

0.7%

Other

11.3%

The direct service workers had 10.9 years of experience as social workers as compared to 14.8 years for supervisors, 16.3 years for managers and administrators, and 16.6 years for educators and trainers. These data suggest that direct service practice may have been the entry point for new MSWs, but that many opted for or were asked to take on indirect service job functions as they gained experience. The data clearly indicate that the MSW degree is the gateway to supervision and management positions. More will be said later about the strategic significance of this credential with regard to the upward mobility of social work practitioners and access to positions of leadership, power, and authority.

The data reported in Table 3.2 also reveal that more than two-thirds of the respondents were employed in just three practice settings: social service agencies, hospitals, and outpatient clinics. The percentage of workers in any one of the other settings was small. Programs that want to develop specializations in the settings that are most likely to employ MSW graduates should consider these data when designing their curricula and field placements. Table 3.2 also shows that, regardless of job function or employment setting, MSW practitioners were more than twice as likely to work in mental health than in any other practice area. Family services, medical or health care, and work with children and youth constituted second-tier practice areas but, beyond these, no single area involved a substantial portion of master's-level social workers.

Gender, Ethnicity, and Employment Characteristics

Because a substantial number of MSW practitioners were male, some observations about employment and gender differences are possible.2 Because African Americans were the only other significantly represented group (7.1%), comments about employment patterns of minority practitioners must be limited to this group.

Job Function

Of special note is the distribution of gender and ethnicity across the job functions. Of the direct service workers, 66.6% were female. This 2:1 ratio was roughly the same for supervision. For administrative and managerial positions, however, the proportion of women dropped to 49.3%. Essentially, men were more likely than women (p<.05) to hold managerial and administrative positions.3 The data also showed evidence that African-American practitioners were more likely than any other group to be found in supervision, management, and administration: although making up 7.1% of the entire sample, African-American social workers held only 5.7% of the direct service jobs while holding 9.1% of the supervisory positions and 8.0% of the managerial/administrative positions.

Job Setting

The proportion of male and female practitioners also varied considerably from one setting to another. Although males constituted only 39.2% of the sample, they comprised 51.3% of those employed in criminal justice settings and 52.8% of those in psychiatric institutions. By contrast, males made up only 22.6% of the MSWs working in nursing homes, 28.9% of those in schools, and 33.4% of those in hospitals. African Americans were most likely to be employed in colleges and universities (11.9%) and least likely (1.2%) to be engaged in private practice.

Practice Area

Some rather substantial differences in gender were evident in the various practice areas. Female MSWs were more likely to be working in services for the aged (69.2%), school social work (71.1%), and medical or health-related services (74.0%). Males made up the majority of the MSWs in public welfare (53.1%), substance abuse (58.3%), community organization and planning (59.0%), and corrections (69.6%). These deployment patterns reflect both traditional hiring practices and gender-based job preferences. Race or ethnicity, on the other hand, did not vary to any significant degree among the various practice areas except in education, where African Americans constituted 13.4% of the practitioners.

What Their Clients Are Like

If graduate social work education is to be relevant to the work place, curriculum designers must make some assumptions about the kinds of clients graduates are likely to be serving and the kinds of needs and problems these people will have. The database from the national studies provides much valuable information in this regard. When they filled out the Job Analysis Questionnaire (JAQ), respondents were asked to estimate the percentage of their clientele who were male, indicate as many as three racial/ethnic groups and two age groups they regularly served, and identify the three client needs or problems addressed most frequently in their practice. Their responses to these questions are summarized in Table 3.3.

Table 3.3. Client Characteristics and Problems— Master’s–Level Practitioners (N=5,272)

Client Gender

Client Ethnicitya

Client Agea

Female (mean)

49.0%

American Indian

3.1%

Infants (0–5)

9.2%

Male (mean)

51.0%

Asian/Pacific Islander

3.0%

Children (6–12)

22.9%

African American

44.6%

Youth (13–20)

34.0%

Chicano/Mexican Am.

10.9%

Adults (21–60)

65.5%

Puerto Rican

8.6%

Aged (over 60)

21.6%

Other Hispanic

3.8%

White

86.1%

Percentage of Time Each Client Problem Was Citeda

Family functioning difficulties

45.1%

Skill or knowledge development

9.8%

Anxiety or depression

30.9%

Physical disabilities

7.3%

Interpersonal relationship problems

29.8%

Financial problems

7.1%

Mental illness or mental retardation

26.7%

Shelter or housing needs

4.1%

Behavior problems

24.6%

Legal problems

4.0%

Health problems

18.4%

Group interaction problems

3.9%

Alcohol or substance abuse

14.8%

Recreation needs

1.0%

School problems

13.6%

Civil rights or affirmative action

0.9%

Job or work needs

12.4%

Membership development

0.7%

Problems with aging

10.2%

a Percentages total to more than 100% because respondents could name more than one category.

As a group, the respondents reported that their clientele was almost equally split between females and males. Almost all the workers indicated that white clients were a primary part of their clientele; about half reported that their caseloads included African Americans; and 21.1% reported working with Mexican American or Puerto Rican clients. Only a few workers reported serving American Indian, Asian or Pacific Islanders, or other Hispanic clients. As one might expect, the proportions of respondents serving these minority group clients increased in parts of the United States where these population groups are concentrated (e.g., Mexican Americans in the Southwest, Puerto Ricans in the Northeast). This would suggest that MSW programs planning courses that deal with cultural diversity should emphasize those minorities prevalent in their geographic area. In regard to client age, only a small portion of the MSW practitioners reported that they worked with infants, but substantial numbers indicated working with all other age groupschildren, youth, adults, and older persons. These data strongly argue for human behavior content in the graduate curriculum spanning all phases of the life cycle.

As portrayed in Table 3.3, the most prevalent problem of clients served by the MSW respondents was associated with family functioning. Regardless of setting or practice area, almost half of the respondents (45.1%) reported dealing with this problem. The next most prevalent group of problems were those associated with psychological and behavioral dysfunctions, both moderate and severe: Workers reported that their clients had anxiety and depression (30.9%), interpersonal relationship problems (29.8%), mental illness or mental retardation (26.7%), and various types of behavior problems (24.6%). To a lesser extent, respondents reported that their clients had "situation-specific" problems; these were problems related to physical health (18.4%), alcohol and substance abuse (14.8%), school (13.6%), employment (12.4%), and the aging process (10.2%).

Because unique configurations of client problems were reported in specific settings, programs should consider these configurations when developing setting-specific courses or course content. Table 3.4 summarizes the four most prevalent client problems in the five settings in which MSWs were most frequently employed.

Table 3.4. Client Problems Addressed in Primary MSW Settings

Type of Setting

Client Problems Addresseda

Social Service Agencies (n=1,406)

Family functioning (61.0%)

Interpersonal relations (34.7%)

Character or behavior problems (23.0%)

Job or work performance (18.9%)

Hospitals (n=1,127)

Health problems (49.9%)

Anxiety or depression (33.5%)

Mental illness or mental retardation (33.1%)

Family functioning (31.9%)

Outpatient Psychiatric Facilities (n=1,026)

Mental illness or mental retardation (55.2%)

Anxiety or depression (51.8%)

Family functioning (41.1%)

Interpersonal relations (34.1%)

Private Practice (n=416)

Anxiety or depression (74.0%)

Family functioning (56.5%)

Interpersonal relations (55.5%)

Character or behavior disorders (28.1%)

Elementary or Secondary Schools (n=381)

School related problems (91.6%)

Character or behavior disorders (48.6%)

Family functioning (48.3%)

Interpersonal relations (30.4%)

a Percentages total to more than 100% because respondents identified up to three client needs most frequently addressed.

Task Analysis of the Master's Practitioners

Cluster Scores

Up to this point, we have focused on the characteristics and attributes of the workers and their work environments. It is also possible to describe the specific tasks performed by MSW practitioners by looking at the frequency with which they carry out each of the 18 clusters of activity displayed in Figure 3.1.4 Here we see more balance between the client-centered clusters and the delivery system-centered clusters than was the case with the BSW workers. These cluster scores suggest that, as a group, MSW practitioners were "frequently" involved in two clusters of work activity: Interpersonal Helping (Cluster 1), including such tasks as interviewing, listening, and counseling, as well as tasks related to their own professional growth and development (Cluster 9). Figure 3.1 further indicates that, as a group, MSW practitioners "occasionally" engaged in six additional clusters of activity: Case Planning/Maintenance (Cluster 6), Individual/Family Treatment (Cluster 3), Risk Assessment/Transition to other services (Cluster 4), Resource System Knowledge Development (Cluster 15), Staff Information Exchange (Cluster 13), and Staff Supervision (Cluster 11). These data simply reinforce the notion that MSW practitioners were employed in positions with widely differing job functions.

Figure 3.1. Mean Cluster Scores: All MSW Respondents (N=5,272)

Figure 3.1. Mean Cluster Scores: All MSW Respondents

Factor Scores

The factor score profile in Figure 3.2 presents the same information in a slightly different formit illustrates the orientation of MSW practice into three primary sets of activity. The first two bars represent client-centered activitiesthat is, helping clients change their attitudes, skills, knowledge, or insight (Client Change), and the conditions under which they live, work, and interact with others (Client Situation Change). The third emphasis (represented by the fourth bar in Figure 3.2) is system-centered activitiesthat is, helping to operate and maintain the organizations and agencies delivering these services (Organization/Unit Operation). To a lesser degree, the MSW respondents reported engaging in activities that strengthened their own professional competence (Professional Competence Development), and they reported giving the least attention to bringing about changes in resources, programs, and services (Resource/Service Change). As with the BSW practitioners, whose aggregate patterns were quite similar, this last characteristic again calls into question social work's commitment to its historical mission of facilitating change in both people and society.

Figure 3.2. Factor Scores: All MSW Respondents (N=5,272)

Figure 3.2. Factor Scores: All MSW Respondents

Job Function and Practice Activities

In contrast to the undergraduate practitioners, the MSW respondents were almost evenly split between those who reported that they were direct service providers (53.5%) and those who did not (46.5%). Because the social work practice literature is replete with assertions that job functions represent very different spheres of activity, analyses were made to determine whether differing job functions actually were associated with different activities. It was important to find out, early in the analyses, whether composite depictions of the data hid important details about practice differences among subgroups of MSW workers. Accordingly, the sample of 5,272 MSW practitioners was partitioned into the four largest subsamples based on respondent self-reports of primary job function. As an aggregate, the four groupsdirect service workers (n=2,819), supervisors (n=536), managers/ administrators (n=1,451), and educators/trainers (n=271)accounted for 96.3% of the MSW respondents.

ANOVAs were calculated across the mean cluster and factor scores for each of the four groups to determine if the level of involvement in various types of activity varied significantly from one group to another. Without exception, differences were found among the 4 groups on all 23 variables (18 clusters and 5 factors). To examine these differences further, a total of 138 ex post facto contrasts between means were made (23 variables times 6 pairs of means). Of these, 115 indicated that statistically significant differences (p<.05) existed among the 4 subgroups of practitioners.5 In addition to demonstrating the concurrent validity of the practice framework (see Appendix B for a further discussion of this), the findings clearly indicated that, at least for the MSW practitioners, job-related activities should be seen as distinctly different for each of the four subgroups.

Factor Score Differences

The factor score profiles of each of the four groups, presented in Figures 3.3a through 3.3d, illustrate why the analyses showed statistically significant differences among the groups. All of these differences will not be discussed here. Rather, the text focuses only on those that, in the opinion of the authors, have practical implications for educational policy making.

As expected, the direct service practitioners (Figure 3.3a) were significantly involved in activities intended to change clients (Client Change) and the situations in which they found themselves (Client Situation Change). Somewhat unexpected was the fact that the supervisors (Figure 3.3b), although different from the direct service workers in both of these client-centered factors, still had relatively high loadings on them. The supervisors appeared to be "all purpose" workersengaged in almost as many client-centered activities as the direct service workers and nearly as much organizational activity as the managers/administrators. Their profiles suggested that they might, in fact, be called the advanced generalists of today's social work practice.

What accounts for the supervisors' high loadings on client-centered activities? Although many of these workers may have had caseloads in addition to their supervisory responsibilities, there is another explanation: Many of the activities associated with the Client Change and Client Situation Change factors are equally relevant to problem solving and behavior change initiatives carried out with colleagues and supervisees. Later in this chapter, when supervisory activities are examined in more detail, this explanation gains plausibility.

As Figures 3.3a–3.3d illustrate, the MSW respondents who were not direct service workers were very involved in the operation and maintenance of the organizations in which they worked. This was especially true of the supervisors and managers, but educators and trainers also had a substantial loading on this factor. The fact that a graduate degree greatly increases the probability that social workers will be given supervisory or administrative responsibilities simply cannot be ignored by graduate educators as they prepare their students for practice.

Finally, the factor data clearly indicate that the low score in the Resource/Service Change factor seen earlier in Figure 3.2 was not the result of low scores in one group canceling out high scores in another. With the exception of the educators and trainers, who constituted a small minority of the practitioners, the MSWs simply were not involved in these activities to any great extent.

Figures 3.3a–3.3d. Factor Scores for Different MSW Job Functions

Figures 3.3a–3.3d. Factor Scores for Different MSW Job Functions

Figures 3.3a–3.3d. Factor Scores for Different MSW Job Functions

Cluster Score Differences

As stated earlier, the four work groups all differed among themselves on all 18 clusters. There were, however, some similarities among the differences. Table 3.5 contains a summary of these. The clusters of tasks that, on the average, each group carried out "frequently," "occasionally," "seldom," or "almost never" are listed in four columns in the table. By moving across the columns, one can make comparisons rather quickly. The groups had a common involvement in four areas of work activity, i.e., they were carried out either "frequently" or "occasionally" by all four groups of workers. These clusters (bold-faced in Table 3.5) were Interpersonal Helping (Cluster 1), Professional Development (Cluster 9), Delivery System Knowledge Development (Cluster 15), and Staff Information Exchange (Cluster 13). With the exception of these four clusters, the four groups differed from each other in terms of the emphasis placed on various activities. For this reason, the remaining sections of this chapter will discuss these groups separately.

Table 3.5. Task Cluster Differences by Selected Job Functions (N=5,077)

 

Direct Service (n=2,819)

Supervision (n=536)

Administration/Management (n=1,451)

Education/Training (n=271)

Frequently
Mean cluster score
3.50–4.49

Interpers. Helping

4.40

Staff Supervision

3.98

Prof. Development

3.63

Instruction

4.29

Ind/Family Treatment

3.79

Interpers. Helping

3.77

Prof. Development

3.72

Case Plan/Maint.

3.79

Prof. Development

3.63

Interpers. Helping

3.54

Prof. Development

3.61

Occasionally
Mean cluster score
2.50–3.49

Risk Assessment

2.99

Case Plan/Maint.

3.45

Syst. Knowl. Develop.

3.48

Staff Info. Exchange

3.40

Syst. Knowl. Develop.

2.89

Staff Info. Exchange

3.40

Staff Info. Exchange

3.48

Syst. Know. Develop.

3.04

Group Work

2.58

Syst. Knowl. Develop.

3.32

Staff Supervision

3.37

Group Work

3.01

Staff Info. Exchange

2.56

Staff Deployment

3.18

Interpers. Helping

3.35

Staff Supervision

2.92

Ind/Family Treatment

3.14

Program Develop.

3.19

Res/Policy Develop.

2.63

Risk Assessment

2.85

Staff Deployment

3.14

Dispute Resolution

2.71

Case Plan/Maint.

2.89

Organiz. Maint.

2.64

Ind/Family Treatment

2.62

Dispute Resolution

2.50

Instruction

2.50

Seldom
Mean cluster score
1.50–2.49

Service Connection

2.28

Program Develop.

2.44

Risk Assessment

2.43

Program Develop.

2.49

Staff Supervision

2.20

Group Work

2.37

Group Work

2.16

Case Plan/Maint.

2.47

Protective Services

2.18

Instruction

2.32

Res/Policy Develop.

1.99

Ind /Family Treatment

2.36

Dispute Resolution

2.07

Service Connection

2.16

Service Connection

1.95

Dispute Resolution

2.22

Program Develop.

1.82

Protective Services

2.15

Protective Services

1.71

Risk Assessment

1.90

Instruction

1.81

Organiz. Maint.

2.00

Staff Deployment

1.88

Staff Deployment

1.57

Res/Policy Develop.

1.66

Organiz. Maint.

1.76

Tangible Services

1.56

Tangible Services

1.51

Service Connection

1.72

Res/Policy Develop.

1.51

Almost Never
Mean cluster score
1.00–1.49

Organiz. Maint.

1.42

   

Tangible Services

1.49

Tangible Services

1.43

Protective Services

1.42

Activities Reported by Direct Service Workers in Five Practice Settings

Of the 5,272 MSW practitioners in the study, the largest single group characterized themselves as direct service practitioners (n=2,819). The factor scores for this group were presented in Figure 3.3a. Their cluster score profile can be found in Figure 3.4. It is clear from looking at the cluster profile that, as a group, they had a high level of involvement in those task clusters associated with the Client Change and Client Situation Change factors. Most especially, they were "frequently" involved with tasks continued in Interpersonal Helping (Cluster 1), Individual/Family Treatment (Cluster 3), and Case Planning and Maintenance (Cluster 6).

Figure 3.4. Mean Cluster Scores, MSW Direct Service Workers (N=2,819)

Figure 3.4. Mean Cluster Scores, MSW Direct Service Workers

This study had enough responses from direct services practitioners in five practice settings to permit a discrete analysis of differences in factor and cluster score patterns. The five settings were social service agencies (n=501), hospitals (n=687), outpatient clinics (n=636), private practice (n=360), and schools (n=330). Using cluster and factor score means as dependent variables, ANOVAs were calculated across the five practice settings.

Factor Score Differences

Significant (p<.05) differences were found between each of the factor scores for the five practice settings.6 However, only 30 of the 50 possible ex post facto comparisons were statistically significant. Moreover, most of these differences were not as large as one rating scale unit (e.g., from "occasionally" to "frequently"), which indicates that although the direct service respondents displayed some statistically significant variations in their work activity, these variations made little difference in overall activity patterns. As Figure 3.5 shows clearly, the patterns were quite similar from one setting to another.

Figure 3.5. Mean Factor Scores by Practice Settings, MSW Direct Service Workers (n=2,514)

Figure 3.5. Mean Factor Scores by Practice Settings, MSW Direct Service Workers

Stated most simply, direct service workers carried out activities designed to bring about changes in the clients they served; these were closely followed by activities designed to alter the situations in which their clients found themselves. All groups manifested some involvement in organizational operation, but these activities were reported with less frequency than client-centered activities. As did almost all of their MSW colleagues, these direct service practitioners devoted little energy to bringing about changes in the resource or service delivery systems of which they were a part. The only group to depart somewhat from this overall pattern were the private practitioners, who devoted significantly less effort to changing their clients' situations and to operating their organizations. In other words, the private practitioners more closely fit the image of a specialized "clinical" social worker.

Cluster Score Differences

As with the factor scores, the ANOVAs calculated on the mean cluster scores showed statistically significant activity differences among the groups of direct service workers in different settings. The exception to this was the Professional Development cluster (Cluster 9): All of the groups indicated that they frequently engaged in activities designed to maintain or improve their competence as professionals.

As one would expect, all of the direct service practitioners were highly involved in client-centered tasks, frequently carrying out activities associated with Interpersonal Helping (Cluster 1) and Individual/Family Treatment (Cluster 3) to bring about changes in individuals. The private practitioners had the highest ratings on Cluster 1; they almost always reported involvement in interpersonal helping. The use of formal treatment models was lowest among practitioners in hospitals (although frequently reported). The majority of direct service practitioners indicated that they seldom engaged in Group Work (Cluster 2), but practitioners in private practice, outpatient settings, and schools reported occasionally working with clients in groups. The direct practitioners only occasionally carried out risk assessment activities (Cluster 4); they seldom carried out Protective Services (Cluster 5), except for the agency social workers who occasionally did. Almost all of the workers reported frequent involvement in activities associated with Case Planning and Management (Cluster 6), except for the private practitioners who indicated occasional involvement. Somewhat surprisingly, all of the direct practitioners reported seldom involvement with Service Connection (Cluster 7), and as a group, they almost never delivered Tangible Services (Cluster 8), although social service agency workers "seldom" did.

The picture with regard to the system-centered work clusters (Clusters 1018) was as one would expect. The activities in these clusters were seldom or almost never performed by the direct service MSWs. Some workers reported occasionally carrying out tasks to get more information about the delivery system in which they worked (Cluster 15) and occasionally taking part in Staff Information Exchange activities (Cluster 13).

Client Characteristics Reported by Direct Service Workers in Five Practice Areas

While the cluster and factor scores showed basically the same activity patterns for the various groups of direct service workers, they indicated substantial differences in the types of clients served and the client needs and problems addressed. These differences were most striking when the workers were grouped by area of practice. In all, 94% of the direct service MSWs were employed in five practice areasmental health services (n=983), family services (n=385), medical and health services (n=398), children and youth services (n=322), and school social work (n=286). Table 3.6 lists the percentages of workers in each practice area who indicated they dealt with a particular problem or need. The table also summarizes their descriptions of the types of clients they worked with most often.

Table 3.6. Client Characteristics Reported by Direct Service Workers in Five Practice Areas

 

% in Mental Health (n=983)

% in Family Services (n=385)

% in Medical/Health (n=398)

% in Children/Youth (n=322)

% in School Social Work (n=286)

Client Needs/Problemsa

Family functioning

42.9

90.1

27.4

77.0

49.3

Anxiety or depression

69.5

45.2

41.5

19.6

8.7

Interpersonal relations

44.9

49.4

11.8

32.8

33.2

Mental illness/retardation

53.9

4.7

5.3

13.0

12.6

Behavior problems

31.5

28.6

4.3

51.9

51.4

Health problems

4.0

6.2

85.7

7.5

3.1

Alcohol/substance abuse

12.9

18.4

9.0

7.5

5.6

School problems

5.6

11.9

0.5

38.5

93.7

Job/work needs

3.8

2.3

1.8

2.8

1.0

Aging problems

1.9

1.3

25.1

0.0

0.0

Skill/knowledge

0.7

2.6

0.8

4.3

3.5

Physical disability

0.0

1.3

38.2

1.9

3.5

Legal problems

1.1

2.6

0.3

7.5

0.7

Financial problems

2.0

2.9

20.4

0.3

0.7

Client Agesa

Infants (0–5 years)

0.8

9.1

13.1

19.9

7.7

Children (6–12 years)

11.3

22.6

7.8

57.1

76.9

Youth (13–20 years)

36.0

40.5

10.3

60.2

60.8

Adults (21–60 years)

86.4

74.8

74.9

38.2

25.2

Aged (over 60 years)

15.6

3.9

66.6

0.3

0.0

Client Gender

Male

46.8

47.0

50.8

52.5

62.0

Female

53.2

53.0

49.2

47.5

38.0

Client Ethnicitya

American Indian

2.3

2.3

3.5

5.3

2.4

Asian

1.3

3.1

4.3

3.7

4.2

African American

36.8

27.8

57.5

53.4

44.8

Chicano/Mexican American

10.6

6.5

15.1

13.0

9.4

Puerto Rican

6.1

5.2

7.0

9.0

10.1

Other Hispanic

2.3

2.6

3.8

3.1

6.3

White

91.7

81.0

90.2

91.0

92.0

a Percentages total to more than 100% since workers could identify up to three problems, two age groups, and two ethnic groups.

The 983 mental health workers represented the largest single practice area specialty in the MSW sample.7 These workers typically dealt with a configuration of problems centered on and exacerbated by mental illness and retardation. They were the only group to deal extensively with the chronic and long-term consequences of these syndromes, including disruptions in family functioning, anxiety, difficulties with interpersonal relations, behavior problems, and alcohol and substance abuse. Although their clients were somewhat diverse in age, they tended to be adults (21 to 60 years of age), and were most frequently female and white.

The family service workers (n=385), quite predictably, dealt overwhelmingly with problems experienced by family members of all ages. These workers dealt more frequently with problems that were situational (i.e., externally induced) than did their colleagues in mental health, but the problems were more diverse, including interpersonal relations, behavior problems, school problems, and alcohol and substance abuse. Family service workers reported that their clients were more likely to be female and white; they also reported the lowest percentage of African Americans in their caseloads.

The 398 medical and health workers, like their counterparts in mental health, dealt with a more focused set of problems centering on physical illness and disability. They seemed to help clients with both transitory health problems brought about by illness and injury and chronic, long-term disabilities associated with the aging process. These situations typically required these workers to deal with depleted financial resources and the problems, tensions and anxieties that inevitably followed. The clients of medical and health workers were mostly adults, and were the most ethnically diverse of all the practice areas reported.

The 322 practitioners working in the area of services to children and youth reported serving a clientele mainly between infancy and 20 years of age. These workers were heavily involved in working with families in order to reach young people who were having difficulties with interpersonal relationships, behavioral problems, and problems in school. Mental illness was sometimes involved but, more often, the problems seemed to be situational and age-specific. These workers were most likely to be dealing with young, nonwhite male clients; they reported one of the highest percentages of minority clients among all practice areas.

The school social workers (n=286) dealt with clients and problems similar to those of the youth workers, but their efforts were centered on the school environment. Like the youth workers, they focused on behavior problems of young people but also worked with families and interpersonal relationships. Mental illness was sometimes a client problem, but not a dominant one. The clients of these workers were almost twice as likely to be male rather than female and were almost evenly distributed between students in elementary and middle school (612 years) and those in secondary school (1320 years). Their clients were only moderately diverse in ethnicity/race.

Core Tasks of Direct Service Practitioners

Of the 131 activities on the JAQ, 24 were found to be "core" tasksthat is, those performed either frequently or almost always by at least 50 percent of the direct service workers. They are grouped by cluster area below. To the left of the task statement is the percentage of workers who reported that they performed the task either frequently or almost always; at the end of the task description, in parentheses, is the number of the task as it appeared on the JAQ and as listed in Appendix A.

Interpersonal Helping

(93%) Express and demonstrate an understanding of peoples' points of view, feelings, and needs in order to establish open and trusting relationships. (Task 9)

(93%) Discuss options with individuals in order to help them understand choices and/or resolve a particular problem. (Task 3)

(88%) Talk with individuals and/or their relatives about problems in order to reassure, provide support, or reduce anxiety. (Task 5)

(83%) Encourage and help people to discuss their points of view, feelings, and needs in order to increase their insight into the reasons for their actions. (Task 8)

Individual/Family Treatment

(71%) Use specific intervention techniques with individuals in order to improve behavioral functioning and adjustment. (Task 12)

(63%) Confront individuals about unacceptable behavior in order to bring about changes or promote adjustment. (Task 4)

(58%) Use specific intervention techniques with family members, individually or as a group, in order to strengthen the family unit. (Task 7)

Risk Assessment/Transition

(51%) Observe individuals and gather information from appropriate sources in order to decide whether there is a need for special counseling or mental health services. (Task 20)

Case Planning/Maintenance

(88%) Record or dictate information about individuals, using either prepared forms or narrative, in order to establish or update records, document services provided, or terminate services. (Task 68)

(77%) Discuss proposed actions with individuals in order to provide full information and ensure understanding. (Task 58)

(71%) Analyze case background and consult with appropriate individuals in order to arrive at a plan for services and/or financial help. (Task 64)

(69%) Review case records and consult with appropriate individuals in order to evaluate progress and alter service plans if needed. (Task 65)

(68%) Coordinate service planning with staff, other providers, family members, or significant others in order to make the delivery of services to individuals and groups most effective. (Task 67)

(68%) Review files and records of an individual prior to a contact with that person in order to become familiar with the details of the situation. (Task 57)

(66%) Exchange information about case details with supervisor and/or colleagues in order to get guidance in dealing with an individual or group. (Task 59)

(63%) Carry out appropriate procedures (for example, obtain consent, explain rights, maintain record security, etc.) to ensure that individuals' rights are protected. (Task 62)

(57%) Obtain information from individuals, their relatives, or significant others in order to carry out intake or admission procedures for treatment or services. (Task 39)

(57%) Make contact with other units/agencies by letters, memos, or phone calls in order to refer people to appropriate services. (Task 25)

Professional Development

(72%) Review your workload (appointments, visits, mail, etc.) in order to plan your activities and set priorities for a given period. (Task 38)

(70%) Take part in discussions with co-workers, talking over events or problem situations, in order to share experiences or gain insights. (Task 84)

(62%) Read articles in professional/scientific journals, newspapers, or magazines in order to keep up with developments related to your job responsibilities. (Task 90)

(55%) Evaluate your competence, availability, and feelings about individuals to whom you are providing services in order to decide if you are serving their best interests. (Task 81)

(54%) Evaluate your actions and decisions in order to determine if your professional activities are meeting the standards, values, and ethics required for quality. (Task 94)

(51%) Give information to people, by phone or in person, in order to explain and interpret the programs, policies, or procedures of your organization. (Task 29)

For curriculum development purposes, a school might want to be sure that, at a minimum, it has prepared its graduates who are intending to enter direct service jobs to conduct the kind of practice activities represented by these tasks.

Practice Activities among Supervisors

A total of 536 MSW-level respondents identified their primary job function as supervision. Perhaps the best way to get a feel for the work activities of the graduate level supervisor is to use the factor score profile displayed in Figure 3.3b and the cluster score profile displayed in Figure 3.6 as reference points. Both reflect these practitioners' greater job breadththat is, more involvement in more activity areas—than did their direct service and management colleagues. In fact, these workers had high levels of involvement in 30 different tasks in 7 different task clusters. As they did for direct service workers, ANOVAs of the factor and cluster scores for supervisors showed some statistically significant differences (p<.05) by employment setting and practice area. Three settingssocial service agencies (n=236), hospitals (n=122), and outpatient clinics (n=92)accounted for nearly 85% of these supervisors. On the job factors, the analyses indicated that supervisors in outpatient clinics were slightly more inclined toward client change activities and slightly less involved in delivery system-related activities than supervisors who worked in hospitals and social service agencies.

As Figure 3.6 makes evident, supervisors were typically engaged in ten sets of activity: Staff Supervision (mean cluster score of 3.98), Interpersonal Helping (3.77), Professional Development (3.63), Case Planning/Maintenance (3.45), Staff Information Exchange (3.40), Delivery System Knowledge Development (3.32), Staff Deployment (3.18), Individual/Family Treatment (3.14), Risk Assessment/Transition (2.85), and Dispute Resolution (2.71).

Figure 3.6. Mean Cluster Scores, MSW Supervisors (n=536)

Figure 3.6. Mean Cluster Scores, MSW Supervisors

There were a few differences in the activities of supervisors in the three settings (social service agencies, hospitals, and outpatient facilities) with sufficient numbers of workers to warrant analyses. The 92 supervisors in outpatient clinics were slightly more involved in the client-centered activities of interpersonal helping, group work, individual and family treatment, and case planning and maintenance than were those in the other two groups. The 122 hospital-based supervisors reported more involvement in dispute resolution. However, the variations in job activity that showed up in employment settings and practice areas were not deemed large enough to warrant the development of specific curricula.

Core Tasks of Supervisors

As stated earlier, the job breadth of the supervisors was greater than that of the direct service workers. The 30 core tasks for supervisorsthose activities of the 131 on the JAQ that were frequently or almost always performed by at least 50% of the respondentsare grouped by cluster area below. Some are the same as those performed by the direct service workers; others primarily involve internal organizational functions related either to the supervision of people or to the operation of various program units. The system-centered clusters and tasks are listed first, followed by the client-centered activities. To the left of the task statement is the percentage of workers who reported that they performed the task either frequently or almost always; at the end of the task description, in parentheses, is the number of the task as it appeared on the JAQ and as listed in Appendix A.

Staff Supervision

(88%) Go over cases with supervisees (staff, students, or volunteers), recommending methods and approaches in order to instruct them in dealing with various case situations. (Task 97)

(76%) Go over case records of supervisees (including students) in order to ensure that documentation has been carried out according to proper procedures. (Task 99)

(72%) Clarify job duties, roles, and work assignments for supervisees (staff, students, volunteers) in order to increase individual or group effectiveness. (Task 110)

(70%) Discuss your evaluation of a supervisee's performance in order to promote understanding of expectations and/or to work out any differences of opinion. (Task 115)

(67%) Complete rating forms, including narrative if appropriate, in order to evaluate the job performance of staff, students, or volunteers. (Task 114)

(64%) Discuss agency procedures and work expectations with new staff members, students, or volunteers in order to familiarize them with your operations. (Task 113)

(64%) Teach individuals (staff, students, volunteers) how to do a job, helping with tasks when appropriate, in order to provide on-the-job training. (Task 116)

(62%) Go over policies, procedures, or laws with supervisees (staff, students, volunteers) in order to inform them about the material or to alert them to effects on programs. (Task 112)

Staff Deployment

(64%) Schedule/coordinate working hours, vacations, etc., in order to arrange adequate staffing patterns and coverage. (Task 109)

Staff Information Exchange

(63%) Give guidance to staff, students, or volunteers about personal or job-related problems in order to restore job functioning. (Task 10)

(57%) Conduct a meeting (committee, staff, board, students) in order to exchange information, gather opinions, or select courses of action. (Task 124)

Delivery System Knowledge Development

(66%) Read administrative literature (for example, manuals, memos, circulars) in order to keep up with organizational policies and procedures. (Task 88)

(60%) Gather and compile data about services provided to people in order to prepare statistics for various reports. (Task 69)

(55%) Read regulations, guidelines, and other material in order to keep current about federal, state, and local regulations that affect your job. (Task 96)

Professional Development

(79%) Review your workload (appointments, visits, mail, etc.) in order to plan your activities and set priorities for a given period. (Task 38)

(79%) Take part in discussions with co-workers, talking over events or problem situations, in order to share experiences or gain insights. (Task 84)

(61%) Give information to people, in person or by phone, in order to explain and interpret the policies, or procedures of your organization. (Task 29)

(58%) Read articles in professional/scientific journals, newspapers, or magazines in order to keep up with developments related to your job responsibilities. (Task 90)

(53%) Evaluate your actions or decisions in order to determine if your professional activities are meeting the standards, values, and ethics required for quality. (Task 94)

Interpersonal Helping

(84%) Discuss options with individuals in order to help them understand choices and/or resolve a particular problem. (Task 3)

(75%) Express and demonstrate an understanding of peoples' points of view, feelings, and needs in order to establish an open and trusting relationship. (Task 9)

(62%) Encourage and help people to discuss their points of view, feelings, and needs in order to increase their insight into the reasons for their actions. (Task 8)

(54%) Talk with individuals and/or their relatives in order to reassure, provide support, or reduce anxiety. (Task 5)

Case Planning/Maintenance

(72%) Review case records and consult with appropriate individuals in order to evaluate progress and alter service plans if needed. (Task 65)

(66%) Discuss proposed actions with individuals in order to provide full information and ensure understanding. (Task 58)

(65%) Coordinate service planning with staff, other providers, family members, significant others in order to make delivery of services to individuals or groups most effective. (Task 67)

(63%) Analyze case background and consult with appropriate individuals in order to arrive at a plan for services and/or financial help. (Task 64)

(56%) Record or dictate information about individuals, using either prepared forms or narrative, in order to establish or update records, document services provided, or terminate services. (Task 68)

(55%) Review files and records of an individual prior to contact with that person in order to become familiar with the details of the situation. (Task 57)

(55%) Exchange information about case details with supervisor and/or colleagues in order to get guidance in dealing with an individual or group. (Task 59)

Analysis of Core Activities

As the previous listing clearly shows, the MSW supervisors regularly engaged in a wide range of activities as they carried out their jobs. Their core duties spanned 30 tasks and 7 task clusters. Two of these, Interpersonal Helping (Cluster 1) and Case Planning/Maintenance (Cluster 6), were also core activity areas for the direct service providers. Is it possible that these supervisors were also delivering services to a caseload of clients on a regular basis? Although it's possible that supervisors in small service organizations might have been doing this, another explanation for the entire group seems more likely: All of the tasks in Interpersonal Helping and most of those in Case Planning/Maintenance are activities that one would expect supervisors to be engaged in as they provided personal assistance and case-oriented guidance to supervisees. Interpersonal helping activities designed to explore options, increase insight, provide support, and resolve problems can apply to situations involving clients in a therapeutic context as well as to workers in a supervisory context. This is also true of case planning activitiesthat is, supervisors may review their workers' case records, discuss proposed case actions, coordinate service planning, carry out record keeping, review files and records, and exchange case information with colleagues.

The client-centered tasks that were missing from the supervisory core (but appeared in the direct service workers' core) reinforce the assumption that most supervisors were not carrying substantial caseloads. In the Case Planning/Maintenance cluster, the tasks that would typically be used only with clients (e.g., obtaining informed consent, carrying out intake, and providing information and referral) were seldom carried out by the supervisors. Furthermore, none of the tasks in Individual/Family Treatment (Cluster 3) and in Group Work (Cluster 2) were part of the supervisory core. Stated another way, this means that the supervisors surveyed rarely used formal therapeutic techniques either with individuals or groups.

Finally, client-centered tasks in two other clustersRisk Assessment/Transition and Professional Developmentdid not appear in the array of core supervisory tasks. This overall pattern of task emphasis and omission would be unlikely if the supervisors, as a group, were extensively involved in the provision of direct services to clients.

The data clearly establish the fact that the role of the MSW supervisor is a broad one. Supervisors used an array of interpersonal skills and techniques for providing personal and case-related guidance to supervisees while carrying out a range of supervisory functions necessary to the operation of their organizations. Currently, almost all MSW students receive instruction in interpersonal helping skills. The same cannot be said, however, for supervisory instruction. Because so many MSW practitioners move into supervisory roles, graduate social work education should provide students with the technical knowledge and skills required to supervise and manage others: for example, delegation, dispute resolution, accountability, limit and standard setting, performance monitoring and evaluation, deployment, staffing, and the fair application of sanctions.

Practice Activities among Managers/Administrators

A large number (n=1,451) of MSW respondents indicated that their primary job function was to serve in a management or administrative capacity.8 More than 78% of these managers/administrators were employed in just three practice settings: social service agencies (n=581), hospitals (n=293), and outpatient facilities (n=263.) No other setting employed a large enough number of social workers in these positions to warrant a separate analysis. In addition, four practice areasmental health (n=330), family services (n=222), children/youth (n=214), and medical/health (n=212)accounted for 67.4% of the workers. These deployment distributions were very similar to those of the direct service workers.

As with the data for direct service workers and supervisors, ANOVAs of the mean cluster and factor scores for these settings and practice areas were computed. Although some statistically significant differences (p<.05) were found, very few reflected a variation of even one rating point on the frequency scale (e.g., from "occasionally" to "frequently"). Given these findings, the practice activities of the managers will be described as an aggregate and not reported by practice area and employment setting.

The best depiction of the work activities of the managers and administrators can be found in Figure 3.3c and Figure 3.7.

Figure 3.7. Mean Cluster Scores, MSW Managers/Administrators (n=1,451)

Figure 3.7. Mean Cluster Scores, MSW Managers/Administrators

As the figures show, the pattern of activities for the managers was quite similar to that of the supervisors in that the primary emphasis in both jobs was on the provision of indirect services, or system-centered activities. The managers, however, did not have the same job breadth as the supervisors. Managers were typically involved in Professional Development (3.63), Delivery System Knowledge Development (3.48), Staff Information Exchange (3.48), Staff Supervision (3.37), Interpersonal Helping (3.35), Program Development (3.19), and Staff Deployment (3.14). Both factor score and cluster score patterns suggest that the MSW managers/administrators, on average, had less involvement with "people-oriented" tasks and more involvement with "data-oriented" tasks than did the supervisors. Stated another way, the tasks that the managers typically performed were more abstract, with many involving the compilation of information and the analysis of data and situations in order to arrive at program and personnel-related conclusions. This point is best illustrated by examining the core tasks of the managers.

Core Tasks of Managers/Administrators

The 26 "core" tasks for the managersthose tasks of the 131 on the JAQ that were frequently or almost always performed by at least 50% of the respondentsare grouped by cluster area below. Many are the same as those performed by the supervisors, and some were also carried out by the direct service workers. The system-centered clusters and tasks are listed first and are followed by the client-centered activities. (The format is the same as that for the previous listings of core tasks for the direct service workers and the supervisors.)

Program Development

(66%) Establish and/or write down policies, either for service or administrative functions, in order to provide standard operating procedures. (Task 98)

(57%) Propose a plan to your supervisor(s) or administrator(s) in order to gather needed support for a change in practices, guidelines, or policies within your organization. (Task 50)

(52%) Describe needs to decision-makers (for example, legislators, managers, board members, community leaders) in order to persuade them to initiate, maintain, or restore programs. (Task 48)

Delivery System Knowledge Development

(76%) Read administrative literature (for example, manuals, memos, circulars) in order to keep up with organizational policies and procedures. (Task 88)

(63%) Read regulations, guidelines, and other material in order to keep current about federal, state, and local regulations that affect your job. (Task 96)

(58%) Gather and compile data about services provided to people in order to prepare statistics for various reports. (Task 69)

(57%) Draft, dictate, or proofread letters to various individuals in order to answer inquiries or request specific information or action. (Task 70)

(55%) Contact and/or work with representatives of agencies or other organizations in order to develop cooperative arrangements. (Task 100)

Staff Information Exchange

(74%) Conduct a meeting (committee, staff, board, students) in order to exchange information, gather opinions or select courses of action. (Task 124)

(57%) Give guidance to staff, students, or volunteers about personal or job-related problems in order to restore job functioning. (Task 10)

(56%) Take part in group meetings in order to assist the group in arriving at a decision. (Task 14)

Professional Development

(82%) Review your workload (appointments, visits, mail, etc.) in order to plan your activities and set priorities for a given period. (Task 38)

(70%) Take part in discussions with co-workers, talking over events or problem situations, in order to share experiences or gain insights. (Task 84)

(67%) Give information to people, by phone or in person, in order to interpret the program, policies, or procedures of your organization. (Task 29)

(66%) Read articles in professional/scientific journals, newspapers, or magazines in order to keep up with developments related to your job responsibilities. (Task 90)

(52%) Evaluate your actions and decisions in order to determine if your professional activities are meeting the standards, values, and ethics required for quality. (Task 94)

Staff Supervision

(60%) Clarify job duties, roles, work assignments for supervisees (staff, students, volunteers) in order to increase individual or group effectiveness. (Task 110)

(56%) Discuss your evaluation of an employee's performance in order promote understanding of expectations and/or work out any differences of opinion. (Task 115)

(53%) Complete rating forms, including narrative if appropriate, in order to evaluate the job performance of staff, students or volunteers. (Task 114)

(52%) Discuss agency procedures and work expectations with new staff members, students, or volunteers in order to familiarize them with your operation. (Task 113)

(52%) Go over policies, procedures, or laws with supervisees (staff, students, or volunteers) in order to inform them about the material or to alert them to effects on programs. (Task 112)

(50%) Go over cases with supervisees (staff, students, or volunteers), recommending methods and approaches, in order to instruct them in dealing with various case situations. (Task 97)

Staff Deployment

(57%) Review and analyze data about service needs and demands in order to establish workload and staffing requirements. (Task 78)

(53%) Schedule/coordinate working hours, vacations, etc., in order to arrange adequate staffing patterns and coverage. (Task 109)

Case Planning/Maintenance

(63%) Discuss proposed actions with individuals in order to provide full information and ensure understanding. (Task 58)

Interpersonal Helping

(70%) Express and demonstrate an understanding of peoples' points of view, feelings, and needs in order to establish open and trusting relationships. (Task 9)

Analysis of Core Activities

The core tasks of these managers/administrators suggest that they functioned at what human resources specialists would call the "middle-management" level. The absence of many of the client-centered tasks, so characteristic of the supervisors, clearly supported the notion that they did not have substantial involvement in the day-to-day supervision of front-line caseworkers and service providers, as did the supervisors. Although the managers/administrators reported performing some supervisory activities, they tended to deal as much with procedures as with people. They reported activities related to the internal operation of their organizations at the program or unit level; for example, developing standard operating procedures, communicating policies and procedures to workers, conducting on-the-job orientation and training, and compiling and assimilating certain kinds of information to make operational decisions. In short, they typically functioned as operational managers. Absent from their jobs were the duties typically ascribed to top administrators, such as financial management (Task 131), budgeting (Tasks 122, 127), converting organizational goals into program design (Task 129), assessing program effectiveness (Task 123), and carrying out external organizational functions such as meeting with community leaders, board members, and various constituency groups (Tasks 130, 49, 41).

Characterizing these individuals as middle-managers, however, should in no way diminish their importance to social work. Next to the direct service workers, they represented the second largest functional subgroup. If only for this reason, it is clear that MSW education has an obligation to prepare social workers with the information and skills needed to function effectively in management-level jobs, and to assume leadership roles in those organizations delivering social services to people.9

Practice Activities among Educators and Trainers

Of the four subgroups, the 271 individuals who identified education and training as their primary job function are the easiest to characterize. The factor scores shown in Figure 3.3d and the cluster scores shown in Figure 3.8 indicate that they were the most functionally specialized of the MSW practitioners. Their cluster mean for Instruction (Cluster 18) was 4.29, the highest mean for any group on any cluster. The educators and trainers had high factor scores on Organization/Unit Operation (Factor 4) and Resource/Service Change (Factor 5) because most of the task clusters in which they were involvedInstruction (Cluster 18), Professional Development (Cluster 9), Staff Information Exchange (Cluster 13), Group Work (Cluster 2), and Delivery System Knowledge Development (Cluster 15)had high loadings on these two factors (see Table B.4 in Appendix B). Their responses concerning employment setting and practice area also reflected this emphasis on education and training: Almost 73% of them were employed in college or university settings. The second largest proportion (14.8%) consisted of 40 staff development specialists, 25 of whom worked in social service agencies and 15 of whom worked in hospitals. Of the 271 in this group of educators and trainers, 160 (59%) specified "education" as their primary practice area. No other practice area predominated.

Figure 3.8. Mean Cluster Scores, MSW Educators/Trainers (n=271)

Figure 3.8. Mean Cluster Scores, MSW Educators/Trainers

Core Tasks of Educators and Trainers

This highly specialized group of MSW practitioners was involved in 22 "core" tasks (i.e., frequently or almost always performed by at least 50% of the respondents). They are grouped by cluster area below. The system-centered clusters are listed first, followed by those that are client centered. (The format is the same as for previous listings.)

Instruction

(90%) Teach groups of individuals in a classroom, workshop, or other setting, according to a training plan, in order to increase knowledge and skills. (Task 119)

(86%) Plan a course or training activity, designing a syllabus and making up a schedule, and/or arranging facilities in order to improve skill and knowledge. (Task 117)

(76%) Review courses and/or training programs in order to evaluate whether or not learning objectives are being met. (Task 133)

(71%) Construct and/or give exams, tests, or other measures in order to assess how much each individual has learned. (Task 55)

Group Work

(74%) Teach people (for example, supervisors, parents, students, volunteers) how to listen, negotiate, or understand nonverbal behavior in order to increase their communication skills. (Task 46)

Staff Information Exchange

(60%) Present information to staff, students, or volunteers about confidentiality and the right to privacy in order to protect the rights of individuals. (Task 56)

(54%) Conduct a meeting (committee, staff, board, students) in order to exchange information, gather opinions, or select courses of action. (Task 124)

(50%) Take part in group meetings in order to assist the group in arriving at a decision. (Task 14)

Professional Development

(86%) Read articles in professional/scientific journals, newspapers, or magazines in order to keep up with developments related to your job responsibilities. (Task 90)

(72%) Review your workload (appointments, visits, mail, etc.) in order to plan your activities and set priorities for a given period. (Task 38)

(72%) Take part in discussions with co-workers, talking over events or problem situations, in order to share experiences or gain insights. (Task 84)

(64%) Evaluate your actions and decisions in order to determine of your professional activities are meeting the standards, values, and ethics required for quality. (Task 94)

(52%) Attend workshops, seminars, or programs dealing with topics of interest or need in order to improve your job knowledge and skills. (Task 92)

(52%) Give information to people, by phone or in person, in order to explain or interpret the programs, policies, or procedures of your organization. (Task 29)

Delivery System Knowledge Development

(53%) Read administrative literature (for example, manuals, memos, circulars) in order to keep up with organizational policies and procedures. (Task 88)

Research/Policy Development

(55%) Teach or help individuals with regard to their speaking or writing in order to improve their communication skills. (Task 45)

Staff Supervision

(51%) Go over with supervisees (staff, students, volunteers), recommending methods and approaches, in order to instruct them in dealing with various case situations. (Task 97)

(51%) Teach individuals (staff, students, volunteers) how to do a job, helping with tasks when appropriate, in order to provide on-the-job training. (Task 116)

Case Planning/Maintenance

(55%) Discuss proposed actions with individuals in order to provide full information and understanding. (Task 58)

Interpersonal Helping

(80%) Express and demonstrate an understanding of peoples' points of view, feelings, and needs in order to establish open and trusting relationships. (Task 9)

(72%) Discuss options with individuals in order to help them understand choices, and/or resolve a particular problem. (Task 3)

(65%) Encourage and help people to discuss their points of view, feelings, and needs in order to increase their insight into the reasons for their actions. (Task 8)

Analysis of Core Activities

At first glance, these workers seemed to have a fair amount of job breadththere were 22 tasks in the core, distributed among 9 task clusters. Closer inspection, however, underscores the specialization inherent in this group. Four of the nine core clusters involved only one task and three of these tasks were informational in nature. Also, involvement in activities in other clusters such as Staff Supervision (Cluster 11) and Staff Information Exchange (Cluster 13) was closely related to the education function. In short, almost everything these practitioners did was related to obtaining and conveying interpersonal and job-related information, formally and informally, in order to improve their own job skills or those of others. They designed courses and curriculum modules and provided instruction according to specific curricular objectives. In the agency settings, these courses were designed to impart skills and knowledge that could be applied immediately to work-related situations. The respondents deployed in colleges and universities provided field liaison and supervision or worked as classroom educators in undergraduate and graduate social work programs.

It is particularly interesting to note that this group of educators and trainers had a significantly (p<.05) higher involvement in Group Work activity than any other subgroup of MSW practitioners, primarily because they worked with groups in classroom situations and in task-oriented meetings. The skills required to perform these activitiesskills in designing, delivering, and evaluating effective learning experiences, and in shaping, directing, and managing the task-oriented group process in organizational settingsare not typically given a high priority in MSW-level education.

Despite their relatively small numbers, educators and trainers are an important component of the graduate social work labor force, in part because they were the only subgroup with a high involvement in activities related to Resource/Service Change (see Figures 3.3a3.3d). These MSW practitioners functioned as a potential force for changing the service organizations and systems with which they were involved by working within the systems, and by using the tools of learning and personal development to bring about evolutionary change. The data do not permit us to infer whether they tried to change individuals to conform to the organizations and systems, or tried to change organizations and systems to deliver more and better services to clients. One hopes it was the latter. However, if the profession of social work is committed to advocacy and positive social change, social work education must provide students with a clear mandate for change, a supportive set of change-oriented guidelines and policies, and the skills and knowledge required to bring about system change.

Conclusion

Perhaps the most striking impression left by these data is the importance of job function in differentiating specializations of MSW social work practice. Four such specializations emerged: direct service provision, supervision, management/administration, and education/training. Together, they accounted for 96% of the MSW respondents and reflected fundamental differences in job activities. In fact, only the following 7 tasks were performed by at least 50% of the respondents from all 4 of the primary specializations:

  • Express and demonstrate an understanding of peoples' points of view, feelings, and needs in order to establish open and trusting relationships. (Task 9)
  • Give information to people, by phone or in person, in order to explain and interpret the programs, policies, and procedures of your organization. (Task 29)
  • Review your workload (appointments, visits, mail, etc.) in order to plan your activities and set priorities for a given period. (Task 38)
  • Discuss proposed actions with individuals in order to provide full information and secure understanding. (Task 58)
  • Take part in discussions with coworkers, talking over events or problem situations, in order to share experiences or gain insights. (Task 84)
  • Read articles in professional/scientific journals, newspapers, or magazines in order to keep up with developments related to your job responsibilities. (Task 90)
  • Evaluate your actions and decisions in order to determine if your professional activities are meeting the standards, values, and ethics required for quality. (Task 94)
Direct Service Workers

Although job activities were very different across the four job functions of MSW direct service practitioners, they were very similar across employment settings and practice areas. Apparently, the respondents approached direct practice with a set of rather generic interpersonal helping techniques and treatment models. Therefore, although information related to employment setting or practice area may be a consideration in developing background content on various practice contexts, it apparently has little relevance to the actual job activities workers perform in these various jobs. For direct service workers, the most striking job activity-related variations were associated with the kinds of clients and client problems encountered in their jobs.

The relative importance of employment setting, practice area, clients, and client needs suggests four configurations for MSW-level educational content:

  • family services in human service agencies,
  • children/youth services in schools and criminal justice settings,
  • medical/health-related social services in hospitals and outpatient facilities, and
  • social services related to mental illness/retardation in institutional and community-based agencies.

Simply put, these data indicate that MSW programs should devote their primary attention to providing those who plan to enter direct service practice with fundamental practice competencies (Morales & Sheafor, 1995; especially see Chapter 8), as opposed to stressing the unique patterns of practice activities in different settings or practice areas. Preparation for specific jobs might better be accomplished through specialized course work in the major areas listed above, accompanied by appropriate field placements (Raymond, Teare, & Atherton, in press).

Indirect Service Workers

The picture is not quite so clear in regard to the indirect service providers. Little information is available about the career patterns of graduate-level social workers, but all available datathe 1988 and 1991 NASW membership data (Gibelman & Schervish, 1993), the composite data from these national studies, and the 1993 NASW membership data (NASW, 1993)consistently show managers outnumbering supervisors by about 2.5 to 1. Although these data sources do not provide clear information on movement from one job function to another, this ratio makes it unlikely that MSW direct service practitioners are moving into management positions only after they have been supervisors. However, if MSW practitioners are likely, sooner or later, to move into either supervision or management/administration, MSW programs must take steps to provide educational opportunities, either through specialized curricula or continuing education, that help graduates make these transitions.

Social Change Activities

Finally, the data consistently reveal that social workers, with the possible exception of the administrators and educators, devote very little of their work activity to the human service delivery system or the broader society. The master's-level workers tend to take part in either client-centered activities or those focused on organizational change. The scope of their work only minimally extends beyond the immediate environment of their clients or the functioning of the organizations that employ them. This pattern of activity calls into question social work's historic claim that its uniqueness among the helping professions lies in its simultaneous attention to both person and environment.

A challenge for graduate social work programs and the profession itself is to reexamine this claim in light of current social work practice and either strengthen this aspect of graduate education, or abandon the claim.

References

L. Diane Bernard, Ruth A. Brandwein, Robert J. Teare, and Barbara W. White, "Women, Social Work Education, and Management: A View From Three Bridges." Paper presented at the 39th Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education, New York, February 1993.

Council on Social Work Education, Handbook of Accreditation Standards and Procedures. Alexandria, VA: Author, 1994.

Margaret Gibelman and Philip H. Schervish, Who We Are: The Social Work Labor Force as Reflected in the NASW Membership. Washington, DC: NASW Press, 1993.

Anne Minahan, ed., Encyclopedia of Social Work (2 vols.). Silver Spring, MD: National Association of Social Workers, 1987.

Armando T. Morales and Bradford W. Sheafor, Social Work: A Profession of Many Faces, 7th ed. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1995.

National Association of Social Workers, NASW Standards for the Classification of Social Work Practice. Silver Spring, MD: Author, 1981.

National Association of Social Workers, 1993 NASW Membership Update Statistics (Special data run at the request of the authors). Washington, DC: Author, 1993.

Ginny T. Raymond, Robert J. Teare, and Charles R. Atherton, "Is `Field of Practice' a Relevant Organizing Principle for the MSW Curriculum?" Journal of Social Work Education, in press.

1 In describing these common and unique characteristics of practice, the authors concentrated their attention on major data trends and significant areas of content. However, since the master's data were collected in the mid-1980s, readers are cautioned to be mindful of recent changes in practice approaches or problem areas (e.g., homelessness, AIDS) that might affect areas of specialization.

2 Whenever differences are discussed, they have been tested and found to be statistically significant (p<.05). However, only those differences that are large enough to have practical implications for curriculum decision making have been singled out for discussion.

3 The implications of these data for women and management were discussed at an invitational presentation at the 1993 CSWE Annual Program Meeting (Bernard, Brandwein, Teare, & White, 1993).

4Respondents rated "how often" they carried out a task by means of a five-point scale. In describing the group cluster data, "almost never" represents an average score ranging from 1.00 to 1.49, "seldom" is from 1.50 to 2.49, "occasionally" ranges from 2.50 to 3.49, and "frequently" ranges from 3.50 to 4.49. None of the cluster means averaged from 4.50 to 5.00 ("almost always").

5 When they did occur, the nonsignificant mean differences were usually associated with the Professional Competence Development factor and/or in contrasts between supervisors and managers.

6 As with other analyses described earlier, the statistical significance was due to the large number of observations in the sample.

7 The deployment of a large concentration of workers in this area has been a characteristic of the social work labor force for years, and is also reflected in the 1993 NASW membership data, which constitutes the most complete data set currently available.

8 Although some authors have made a distinction between managers and administrators, we use these terms interchangeably.

9 The study data suggest that three locationssocial service agencies, hospitals, and outpatient facilitiesare prime field placements for students with concentrations in planning, management, and administration. The 1993 NASW membership data also support this finding (NASW, 1993).

© Copyright 1995. Council on Social Work Education, Inc. All rights reserved.

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