Schools in Wisconsin work hard to make sure students have emotional, behavioral, health, safety, and community support so they can learn, but those districts often struggle to find school social workers who are trained to do that very work. A relatively new and flexible opportunity helps social workers meet licensure requirements – and helps school districts hire social workers.
The Post-MSW School Social Work Licensure option is designed for individuals who have an MSW degree but need to meet the requirements for school social work and licensure in Wisconsin.
“The need for school social workers has grown exponentially in the past few years as school districts see a growing need to better support their students’ social-emotional needs,” says Jenny Braunginn, Field Faculty/Instructor.
According to Braunginn, who developed the courses for this licensure option, there are many social workers with an MSW, but who lack the school social work experience and licensure to fill the need. These folks work around the state, many already working fulltime with emergency licenses in schools, and have trouble accessing coursework in a traditional format.
“Our option has an innovative and flexible approach to provide the needed training and skills for school social work licensure by offering a fully online option with both school social work skills classes and professional mentoring. This is all completed within one school year for full licensing. The classes are specifically school social work practice and mentoring courses that build upon their existing social work skills,” says Braunginn.
“All classes and mentoring are designed to be finished within one academic year; all fully online; all connected to their current job as a school social worker (a practicum can be arranged if the person prefers). Full school social work licensure requirements are met at the completion in spring,” says Braunginn.
This license initiative started in 2020 with 10 students. Now, thanks in part to a grant from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI), 21 students participated this year and received partial funding for their coursework. Braunginn is the coordinator for the grant project.
In Wisconsin, districts can hire social workers with an MSW, but they must gain licensure within a year. The State School-Based Mental Health Services Grant Program from DPI provides funding to support school districts and university license options to expand innovative ways to increase the number of qualified school social workers.
Rural school districts have a particularly hard time finding school social workers because DPI requires certification from one of only three programs in Wisconsin. The Post-MSW School Social Work Licensure Option is the only one fully online, so is much more accessible for these individuals.
The DPI grant also aims to expand the racial diversity of school social workers especially in schools with higher numbers of students of color. This option also supports respecialization training for existing mental health service professionals to qualify for work in school districts with demonstrated need.
“It’s a delight,” says one student enrolled in the courses. “I appreciate the group work connections and the individual work. [I] certainly hope more school social workers develop from this program to advance the profession in Wisconsin. Schools [and] communities need this.”
Last month the US Education Secretary Miguel Cardona visited Madison and gave the program a shoutout when discussing the need for revamped mental health access:
“I visited University of Madison – Wisconsin [sic], and I learned about a program, an accelerated program for master’s students to get into the field of social work. And they intern those students in schools already. So, what we’re seeking and what we need in this country is innovative practices that connect not only our K-12 institutions but our higher ed institutions to make sure that we’re preparing the workforce that we need in our schools, especially in those areas that are hard to fill – social workers, psychologists, bilingual education teachers, special education teachers.”