Inservice Training in Unemployment for SW Faculty

In my doctoral social work study, I was surprised to see how little attention the subject of unemployment received.  It was listed as an area of primary focus in the Code of Ethics produced by the National Association of Social Workers; and yet, in the classroom and in social work literature, it was virtually a non-issue.

One possible explanation for this incongruity was that social work faculty did not do anything with unemployment because they had no training in it.  Having largely ceded the subject to the economists, it appeared that social work professors might require remedial training in order to become comfortable enough with the subject to teach it.  The following manuscript sketches out a hypothetical starting point for that sort of remedial training.

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Inservice Training in Unemployment for Social Work Faculty:
Proposal for a Preliminary Investigation


This document proposes a preliminary investigation of components of an eventual inservice training intervention for social work faculty.  Key investigated components include the prospects for learning about unemployment in conference-style presentation sessions, effects of attending more than one such session, initial and subsequent reactions of social work faculty to any prospect of training in unemployment, educational effects of post-session experiential application of learned content through enactments in simulated situations, and persistence of such learning, as well as the logistics and intellectual accoutrements of such an endeavor.

From this investigation, we expect to develop our own experience for purposes of the larger project, as just noted.  While we anticipate that the relatively sprawling nature of this investigation may not entirely lend itself to the contraints of academic publication, we also appreciate that such publication can impose a salutary discipline upon our interim and subsequent efforts, may generate discussion and insights of potential value, and could prove to be the only output we achieve, should the larger project falter.  The option of writing up our incomplete progress could contribute considerably, on practical and theoretical levels, to discussions of multiple aspects of social work education.

The ultimate goal of a deployable inservice training that would orient social work faculty to the topic of unemployment is, briefly, a response to abhorrent current circumstances.  In those circumstances, under- and unemployment play a prominent role in the lives of disadvantaged individuals; social work provides the bulk of the nation’s mental health practitioners and vast numbers of its social assistance workers; such practitioners and workers wield inordinate influence upon the lives and possibilities of disadvantaged individuals; and yet the courses, publications, and efforts typically encountered in social work education give those practitioners and workers indefensibly scant exposure to unemployment.  We do hope to aid in rectifying this situation.

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The Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) is the federally authorized accrediting organization for undergraduate (BSW) and master’s (MSW) social work programs in the U.S.  CSWE (2010) states that the purpose of the social work profession – “to promote human and community well-being” – is “actualized” through that profession’s focus on key objectives, notably “social and economic justice” and “the elimination of poverty.”  Similarly, among concerns related to poverty and social justice, the National Association of Social Workers (NASW, 2008) has long highlighted unemployment, consistent with a right to “protection against unemployment” claimed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations (1948, Article 23(1)).

Oddly, however, for many years now, there has been hardly any specific attention to unemployment in social work journals and in course offerings within schools and departments of social work (collectively, SSWs).  Among critiques of social work education discussed below, one view links this dissonance between unemployment-related claims and realities to a corrupt preoccupation with other matters.  The argument is that SSWs have marketed themselves to attract relatively well-funded students seeking potentially lucrative careers as providers of mental health services to the insured middle class, for which under- and unemployment have not traditionally been deeply worrisome issues.

Given the undisputed dominance of clinical orientations in SSWs, it appears that social work professors who might have been inclined to say something about unemployment in the wake of the Great Recession have tended to be silent, in part, because they do not have much to say.  The palpable lack of knowledge about and acquaintance with unemployment, within SSWs, may be both an artifact of inbred doctoral social work education and a distant echo of a similar pattern at the outset of the Great Depression, when mental health services were likewise prioritized (see Reid & Edwards, 2006).

It is not evident that social work faculties have generally become much more attuned to the relevance of unemployment in recent years.  Assuming a situation is one of mere ignorance or apathy, rather than outright opposition to treatment of unemployment, it may be timely to look into ways to promote unemployment-related fluency and capacity in SSWs.  This paper leads in that direction.

One route to that end would be to hire faculty with relevant expertise.  In addition to the cost and time required to build up an unemployment group within an SSW, however, there is the problem that social work fancies itself unique.  Faculty need not always have social work PhDs, but it is generally expected that at least they will have MSWs.  People with PhDs in labor economics or sociology are not widely known for their social work credentials, nor are they necessarily desperate to land relatively low-paying and low-status positions on social work faculties.  It would help, too, if SSWs were clamoring for those sorts of PhDs – if, that is, the people who do the hiring for SSWs were familiar enough with unemployment to become aware of their programs’ weaknesses in that area.

Given potential hurdles confronting an effort to build up deep faculty expertise, it may be appropriate to explore alternative ways of developing some acquaintance with unemployment among social work professors.  One possibility is to foster unemployment awareness through an inservice training approach.  The ambition of such an intervention is, not to reshape SSWs with costly investments and significant revision of departmental foci or structures but, more humbly, to promote faculty interest and confidence around the topic – including, for example, an understanding and belief that unemployment can and should receive greater attention in social work education.

Inservice training has its limits.  Faculty who have spent years earning PhDs in a specialty will likely return to it recurrently, without prompting, as circumstances permit, whereas faculty who have had only a brief exposure to a relatively alien topic not accompanied by subsequent rein­forcement or associated administrative interventions will probably display fading enthusiasm for it as months pass.  On the other hand, positive results from preliminary inservice training could support development of resources and materials that might facilitate momentum and encourage follow-up interventions.  For instance, social work education may someday be supplemented by an unemployment counterpart to the National Center for Gerontological Social Work Education (2012), whose website offers faculty an impressive variety of assignments, modules, syllabi, and other materials designed to help interested instructors infuse gerontological content into new and existing social work courses.

The Eventual Goal:  Inservice Orientation to Unemployment

The ultimate objective of this research is to guide the production and distribution of an effective unemployment-oriented inservice training program that includes an initial two-day seminar, with follow-up annual refreshers, in a form that can be deployed in SSWs (or among several neighboring SSWs) at locations throughout the U.S.  For practitioners as distinct from academics, and for those among the nation’s 219 MSW and 482 BSW programs (see CSWE, 2012) limited by geographical constraints and other complications, the inservice may be revised for presentation in conferences or other settings.

This inservice program will feature assorted kinds of sessions addressing various aspects of unemployment.  The program’s objectives will be to demonstrate the deep relevance of unemploy­ment to many areas of social work practice and to convince social work faculty that proper teaching, in core CSWE-mandated courses, calls for attention to under- and unemployment on a par with such commonly recognized spheres of disadvantage as gender and race.

Sessions in this eventual seminar may draw upon relevant inspirational and instructional resources, to encourage a personal appreciation for the subject of unemployment.  Inspirational resources may include opportunities to hear from, and interact with, presenters, panels, and discussion groups featuring under- and unemployed people possessing abilities, education and experience levels, socioeconomic statuses, and other attributes comparable to or exceeding those enjoyed by social work professors.  Examples may range from ousted CEOs and unemployed social work MSWs and PhDs to gifted but practically unemployable ex-convicts and disabled former achievers in various fields.

Instructional materials used in the seminar will include texts, videos, and other items calculated to fit within existing social work curricula.  The combination of inspirational and instructional materials will hopefully encourage faculty to conduct research, offer elective courses, and enhance existing core courses with treatments of unemployment, resulting in some persistence and development of material conveyed during the seminar.  For instance, one such session might examine the contents and use of a collection of articles and book chapters addressing various links between unemployment and mental health, keyed to major topics covered in textbooks commonly used in social work clinical practice courses.  An example would arise in literature on links between unemployment and depression (e.g., Paul & Moser, 2009).  The effort to enhance existing core courses would enable SSWs to remain compliant with CSWE accreditation restrictions; that is, there need not be a formal change in the core curriculum.

We expect that the nationally deployed inservice will have been field-tested in a number of SSWs and other venues.  The field tests will determine whether the proposed training, in the refined form it has reached at that point, has good prospects of infusing unemployment-related content into social work curricula.  To illustrate briefly how a field test might work, it presently appears that faculty within a targeted SSW will be randomly assigned to the unemployment seminar or, alternately, to a control group seminar using comparable inspirational and instructional materials on an established topic within the social work curriculum (e.g., child welfare).  At that point, it will be important to know whether the proposed seminar has potential to be at least as well received as more familiar fare.

Relevant Prior Research

The eventual goal of a deployable inservice unites several subjects and perspectives that are scarcely studied, by themselves, and that collectively engender profound unknowns.  There are continuing education requirements for social work practitioners but not professors; on any subject, structured inservice training (as distinct from intermittent dabbling) for social work faculty is scarce; and as noted above, unemployment is an especially alien topic.  To understate, this proposal does not step into a stream of existing research with a relatively modest adjustment or refinement of what has been done before.

Beyond those severe facial limitations in the availability of relevant prior literature, there is another, darker layer of uncertainty, begotten of certain potentially disturbing eccentricities in social work academia.  As slightly expanded in Appendix A, the eventual goal – deploying a well-formed inservice orientation for purposes of informing and intriguing social work faculty in the topic of unemployment – flirts with problematic assumptions and evokes certain strains in related literature that cannot be adequately and non-tangentially explored here.

One strategy, responsive to these accumulated unknowns, is to undertake an oblique review of literature – proceeding by way of analogy or speculation, for example – arising from loosely comparable efforts.  For instance, one might seek to piggyback on research related to the work of the National Center for Gerontological Social Work Education (above), by learning more about that Center’s efforts to infuse gerontological content into social work education, and by attempting to adapt their techniques to the unemployment sphere.  Similarly, in the process of working toward the deployable inservice, it will surely pay to delve into such topics as inservice training, continuing professional education, and learning at conferences.  The more one learns about such things, the better.  But for purposes of this preliminary proposal, an oblique literature review may quickly pass a point of diminishing returns.  Figuratively speaking, it cannot hurt to acquire armchair familiarity with an unexplored territory, but such efforts cannot substitute for a firsthand look at the sometimes strange world of Middletown (see Lynd & Lynd, 1929).

The Conference:  Exploring the Concept

The present study seeks improved understanding of the possibilities for inservice training of seemingly apathetic or resistant social work faculty (with respect to the subject of unemployment), toward deployment of the inservice described above.  The step taken here consists of an introductory study of prototypical components like those expected to be used in the deployed intervention.

Location and Selection

The location for this introductory study will be determined through inquiries, to identify a setting that will offer the best combination of test conditions.  One desired condition has to do with sample size:  ceteris paribus, in this study a larger sample will be better, within resource limits.  For this purpose, as detailed below, relevant contraints include the budget for cash incentives for participation and the numbers of computers, staff people, and experts available.  Pending statistical review of the possibilities, a ballpark estimate suggests that a total of 400 participants in treatment and control groups would be more than adequate, and that substantial insights could emerge from a fraction of that ideal number.

It would be possible to conduct a version of this study in a metropolitan location at or near one or more SSWs.  The better location may be a major social work conference, since it will likely provide the largest and, in some relevant ways, the most diverse set of potential participants.  The following description proceeds on the assumption that the study is designed to mesh with a multiday national conference in the U.S.  or Canada.  As suggested above, subsequent field trials of a more polished semifinal intervention may then take place at individual SSWs.

Of course, not all social work professors attend, or are interested in attending, a given conference.  Some who do not, or will not, may demonstrate a particular fondness, aversion, or other relevant reaction toward an enhanced mixing of social work and unemployment, or a degree of alienation or impecuniosity that could be worth knowing more about.  Put another way, conference attendance could bespeak a certain self-association with the status quo in social work academia, potentially understating the reception that an unemployment-oriented seminar would receive on the ground, in schools of social work staffed by some number of faculty members who skip conferences.  It could develop, for instance, that a moderately successful intervention, seeking to connect with conference-going faculty who do not have a track record of focusing on unemploy­ment, would generate more encouraging outcomes when offered to adjunct faculty and others in more workaday SSW environments.  The most difficult challenge for an unemployment-oriented intervention may thus be to get past a tough audience at a conference, where a relatively apathetic ambiance may understate the employment-related interests of less privileged faculty.

As a related concern, many people attend social work conferences partly or entirely to socialize, see the local sights, and otherwise indulge non-academic pursuits.  An offering of two solid days of unemployment-related sessions, comparable to the plan for the intervention when finally deployed, could be ill-fitted to mentalities and schedules at a conference.  Hence, at this stage, data collection will be oriented toward individual sessions rather than the inservice as a whole, examining the effectiveness of discrete presentations and materials that may or may not appear in the ultimate intervention.

The relatively broad scope of this exploratory inquiry prompts us to seek information about unemployment-related sessions from multiple perspectives.  Our selection and analysis of participants will be correspondingly multi-headed, yielding a somewhat rangy but not untameable plethora of data analysis possibilities.  While we seek as many participants as facilities and budget allow, the maximum number of responses per session will be limited by the size of the room in which a given session is held.

Without prematurely rejecting the possibility of testing competing approaches to one or more unemployment topics, we plan to offer just one version of each session that we would expect to present in the ultimate, deployed inservice, with a tentative target of 12 distinct topical sessions altogether.  So, for example, we will have just one session (although possibly offered repetitively, at more than one time on the conference schedule) on the subject of unemployment and mental health.  We may have to stage some sessions in overflow accommodations near the conference building(s) if, for example, we are not able to secure sufficient space within the official conference schedule, but we will still seek to list all such sessions in conference materials or supplements.

Solicitation and Assignment

Selection of participants will begin with a solicitation, incorporated into conference materials, of social work faculty members, registered for the conference, who may be willing to participate in research for modest compensation.  Compensation will range from $15 to over $100, depending upon the number and demands of activities in which respondents participate.  Neither this solicitation nor other pre-conference communications will disclose our unemployment focus.

SW conferences draw at most 3,000 attendees.  Assuming adequate numbers of participants for inquiries described below, we will randomly assign as many as 40 participants to what we will call the Level 1 control group.  While we do not expect to achieve a random selection, our processes may at least approximate barriers to successful deployment of various components within the fully developed inservice intervention.  In pre-conference communications, we will ask members of this group to stop in at our conference headquarters (HQ) for a check-out procedure before leaving the conference.  We will give them a reminder call during the conference, but will otherwise not interact with them until check-out.  This group will provide a point of comparison against the bulk of participants, with whom we will be more involved.  That comparison will seek to verify that any changes observed in other study participants will not be due simply to the operation of the conference, as distinct from our particular activities there.

In addition, numbers permitting, we will randomly assign another 40 participants to the Level 2 control group.  We will subject members of this group not only to check-out, as above, but also to the full check-in process described below, except that we will ask these individuals not to attend any unemployment-related sessions, offering instead to give them passworded access to online post-conference videos of sessions that interest them.  This group will provide a second point of comparison, for purposes of verifying that any improvements attributable to our intervention were attributable specifically to the sessions attended, and not to our check-in process or other interactions with us.  We anticipate some crossover in practice between the Level 2 control and treatment groups, when people attend or fail to attend sessions as originally planned.  We will emphasize the importance of check-out regardless.

Collection of Intervention Data at the Conference

The majority – hopefully a large majority – of our participants will be assigned to the Level 2 treatment group.  Members of this group will likewise check in at the start of the conference.  At check-in, these participants will meet with us, one on one, to identify their areas of specialty within social work and to determine which of our unemployment-related sessions occur during openings in their anticipated conference schedules – that is, which sessions they might be able to attend.

We will take advantage of that one-on-one interaction to learn more about the extent to which the topic of unemployment may encourage or deter session attendance, and to gain experience relevant to the marketing of our ultimate inservice.  Specifically, we will observe differences between alleged availability when alternating Level 2 treatment group members are informed that unemployment is our topic of focus after, rather than before, we ask them about openings in their schedules.  Either way, we will solicit their ranking of our sessions in order of interest, and will compare those rankings against their areas of specialty.  For example, we would anticipate that a conference full of mental health workers would be especially interested in a session addressing links between unemployment and mental health.  We will also compare such data against the final list of sessions attended, as determined by questionnaires at check-out.  We expect to videotape sessions from front and rear, to learn more about what worked well; we will incidentally verify attendance by checking such videos against photos taken at check-out.

We will also require participants attending check-in (i.e., Level 2 control and treatment group participants) to complete a questionnaire examining their knowledge of, attitudes toward, and interest in unemployment per se and as a subject for study by social workers.  We hope, of course, that this aggregate of knowledge, attitudes, and interest rises dramatically between check-in and check-out.

Level 2 treatment group participants will then proceed into the conference, attending unemployment-related sessions among other things.  Nonparticipants in this study will likely join them in some such sessions.  Post-session questionnaires solicited from all unemployment session attendees (with a study ID space on the questionnaire form to identify our participants) will help to indicate whether responses supplied by our study participants, with their extrinsic financial motivation to attend, differ significantly from responses supplied by persons attending from intrinsic interest (as indicated on the questionnaire).  Our post-session questionnaires will also supplement the check-in and check-out questionnaires, providing cross-sectional information about the specialties and relevant characteristics of such attendees (e.g., age, sex, full professor specializing in adoptions) along with their views on the style and substance of the session attended (e.g., impact of unemployment on keeping families together; importance of this session within the world of social work).  With the cooperation of conference organizers and other presenters, we plan to obtain similar questionnaires from several other non-employment-related sessions, so as to compare responses to certain questions designed to determine whether our unemployment-related post-session questionnaires are conveying significant departures from typical session evaluations.

Data Collection at Check-Out

Although our primary interest is in the sessions themselves, there is another important point of data collection at the conference.  That is the check-out point, our last contact before participants go home.  All participants, from Levels 1 and 2 alike, will visit our HQ before leaving the conference.  At that time, they will complete a questionnaire much like the one administered at check-in, with an additional inquiry into the list of sessions actually attended.  We will also take a photograph of each participant and will request the address to s/he wants us to send his/her check, with which we may include an invitation to participate further (below).

At check-out, we will also make our first efforts to use the Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) (e.g., Lu et al., 2011), pioneered in medicine (Harden & Gleeson, 1979) and subsequently applied in other fields.  An OSCE subjects the tested individual to “stations” requiring performances that are scored by multiple experts using established criteria.  Each station takes perhaps 15 minutes.  Examples of such stations may include an assignment to lobby a simulated legislator (typically, a trained actor) on certain aspects of proposed legislation related to unemployment, or to acquaint a simulated unemployed person with useful information and resources (e.g., to obtain emergency benefits, hunt for work, find a support group).

We are interested in the OSCE for both assessment and training.  In its assessment role, we will videotape each participant’s performance in each OSCE station, to permit later scoring.  Regardless of whether the prospect of an OSCE stimulates session presenters to target their efforts toward conveyance of specific applied skills, the obligation to perform in an OSCE relevant to an attended session will provide a concrete indication of training achieved.  Educationally, we suspect that participants who have completed an OSCE within a few days after attending a session could experience reinforcement of skills or knowledge addressed in that session.  It will not be feasible to subject all participants to OSCEs.  We do want to obtain as many OSCEs as possible from attendees at each of our 12 unemployment-related sessions, however, along with comparison OSCEs for each such station, starring randomly selected willing members of the Level 1 control group, to illustrate how a complete stranger to our sessions might perform those same tasks.  We also want to explore the question of whether attendance at multiple unemployment-related sessions has cumulative benefits visible in OSCE scores.

Finally, we will interview certain Level 2 treatment group members at check-out.  We will be particularly interested in those whose experience may be especially atypical or otherwise informative.  Examples include participants with disabilities; those who have attended many sessions, or significantly more or fewer than anticipated at check-in; and those whose background, remarks, or other characteristics or behaviors otherwise suggest especially strong or weak appreciation for our efforts or attraction to the topic of unemployment.  While these interviews will feature certain standard questions, we will make use of latitude to steer them toward unique aspects of the particular case.  We will record the interviews and will make notes to guide us to key passages (e.g., “5:08 – liked panelist #2”), but will probably not transcribe or code the results, relying instead on interviewers’ impressions and summaries.


Six months after the conference, we will contact all Level 2 treatment group participants, and a few Level 1 and Level 2 control group participants, with another iteration of the questionnaire used at check-in and check-out.  This version will include questions specific to the sessions that each participant attended.  As before, the questions will inquire into knowledge, attitudes, and interest pertaining to unemployment.  In terms of knowledge, for example, we will want to know whether the participant’s understanding of certain aspects of unemployment resembles or exceeds that evinced on check-out, suggesting continued engagement with related topics and concerns, or has instead reverted toward the level displayed at check-in.  This version of the questionnaire will also inquire into unemployment-related activities (e.g., writing an article, modifying course content) that the participant may have undertaken in the wake of his/her experiences at the conference.

The six-month follow-up will resemble check-out in another regard:  we will once again administer OSCEs.  Participants targeted for this assessment will include a fair sample of those who completed such examinations at check-out, along with some who did not.  These OSCEs will include stations already administered to the participant at check-out, where applicable, as well as a few stations that were not administered to that participant but were administered to others.  These assessments will provide information regarding the persistence of learning reinforced by an OSCE at a seminar, and may also provide useful insights about acquisition of OSCE skills applicable to novel situations.  Given the dearth of social work literature on OSCEs, we expect this research to be particularly suitable for publication as an investigation of method in its own right.

Finally, again resembling check-out, our follow-up will include some interviews of similar form and purpose.  At this stage, we will be interested in remarks from people whose prior interviews proved especially informative, and also from those whose follow-up questionnaires or OSCEs suggest particular success in implementing knowledge from our conference sessions, or insight into refinements we might implement in our field tests.  If participation in check-out OSCEs seems associated with higher rates of post-conference implementation (in e.g., infusion of unemployment content into social work courses, or proposal of unemployment-related electives), for example, we would like to learn more about how that connection operates.  Generally, the question is whether the participant can lead us to a better understanding of what would have made the conference sessions more useful for someone like him/her.

Data Analysis and Reporting

The measures sketched out above will produce a substantial amount of potentially useful data.  Several such measures will admit traditional quantitative analysis.  For instance, a t test may identify significant positive impact from the unemployment-related sessions taken as a whole, and an ANOVA with post hoc tests may indicate that certain sessions are particularly effective.  Whether we would generally choose to publish the results of such analyses, inspiring possible competitors or premature backlash against a perceived end-run around the hidebound guardians of social work education, is yet to be determined.

Generally, in light of our orientation toward learning for eventual production of an inservice training deployable across hundreds of SSWs, we presently expect to grapple with the potential torrent of data from the foregoing investigations in a heterodox fashion of rather qualitative spirit.  That is, given our plan to use this data primarily for purposes of internal guidance, we hope to become immersed to the point of saturation in information about the behavior and learning of social work faculty when confronted with opportunities, whether eschewed or accepted, to obtain brief unemployment-related training.

In the exploratory effort to become attuned to possibilities – as distinct from an effort to reach final and definitive conclusions – we thus plan to follow Perneger (1998) in the sense of dredging through the data for any actual or apparent causes or correlations, using any statistical tools that may appear suitable for the purpose, and simply recording what we have done.  This inclination rests upon a sense that what we gain, through fascination with and interminable retaking of perspectives upon the data, may exceed whatever may be lost to “discovery” of potentially spurious effects.

In other words, our outlook in this instance is not highly compatible with the conservative mindset underlying Bonferroni adjustments.  One can remain aware that repeated inquiries increase the likelihood of false positives, and yet can also explore instances when varied inquiries recurrently highlight a particular tendency in what appears to be a nonrandom fashion.  There is a certain acceptance of responsibility, in this perspective, insofar as it is we – not some hypothetical future investigator – who are actually positioned to speculate upon and appraise possibilities emerging from our data.  Rather than defer attention to relevant questions to what may be the 5% of future researchers who find publishable information within the detritus of investigations like ours, it seems incumbent upon us to sift the data thoroughly, advancing the acquisition of knowledge in whatever way we can manage, and anticipating with appropriate documentation the panoply of concerns and investigations entertained along the way.


This document proposes a preliminary investigation of components of an eventual inservice training intervention for social work faculty.  Key investigated components include the prospects for learning about unemployment in conference-style presentation sessions, effects of attending more than one such session, initial and subsequent reactions of social work faculty to any prospect of training in unemployment, educational effects of post-session experiential application of learned content through enactments in simulated situations, and persistence of such learning, as well as the logistics and intellectual accoutrements of such an endeavor.

From this investigation, we expect to develop our own experience for purposes of the larger project, as just noted.  While we anticipate that the relatively sprawling nature of this investigation may not entirely lend itself to the contraints of academic publication, we also appreciate that such publication can impose a salutary discipline upon our interim and subsequent efforts, may generate discussion and insights of potential value, and could prove to be the only outputs we achieve, should the larger project falter.  The option of writing up our incomplete progress could contribute considerably, on practical and theoretical levels, to discussions of multiple aspects of social work education.

The ultimate goal of a deployable inservice training that would orient social work faculty to the topic of unemployment is, briefly, a response to abhorrent current circumstances.  In those circumstances, under- and unemployment play a prominent role in the lives of disadvantaged individuals; social work provides the bulk of the nation’s mental health practitioners and vast numbers of its social assistance workers; such practitioners and workers wield inordinate influence upon the lives and possibilities of disadvantaged individuals; and yet the courses, publications, and efforts typically encountered in social work education give those practitioners and workers indefensibly scant exposure to unemployment.  We do hope to aid in rectifying that situation.


Council for Social Work Education (CSWE).  (2010).  Educational policy and accreditation standards (revised March 27, 2010).  Retrieved April 27, 2010 from

Council for Social Work Education (CSWE).  (2012).  Accreditation.  Retrieved from

Harden, R.  M., & Gleeson, F.  A.  (1979).  Assessment of clinical competence using an Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE).  Medical Education, 13, 41-54.

Lu, Y.  E., Ain, E., Chamorro, C., Chang, C.-Y., Feng, J.  Y., Fong, R., Garcia, B., Hawkins, R.  L., & Yu, M.  (2011).  A new methodology for assessing social work practice:  The adaptation of the Objective Structured Clinical Evaluation (SW-OSCE).  Social Work Education, 30(2), 170-185.  DOI:  10.1080/02615479.2011.540385.

Lynd, R. S., & Lynd, H. M. (1929). Middletown: A study in American culture. New York: Harcourt Brace.

National Association of Social Workers (NASW).  (2008).  Code of ethics.  Approved by the 1996 NASW Delegate Assembly and revised by the 2008 NASW Delegate Assembly.  Retrieved May 24, 2009 from

National Center for Gerontological Social Work Education.  (2012).  Resources for infusing Gero in your teaching.  Retrieved from

Paul, K.  I., & Moser, K.  (2009).  Unemployment impairs mental health:  Meta-analyses.  Journal of Vocational Behavior, 74, 264-282.

Perneger, T.  V.  (1998).  What’s wrong with Bonferroni adjustments?  British Medical Journal, 316(7139), 1236-1238.  Retrieved from

Reid, P.  N., & Edwards, R.  L.  (2006).  The purpose of a school of social work – An American perspective.  Social Work Education, 25(5), 461-484.

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Appendix A
Eccentricities in Social Work Academia

The accompanying proposal largely tolerates the academic conceit that faculty cognition must play a key role in the resistance to unemployment evident in so many SSWs – that, in other words, such resistance must be intellectual in nature, and can thus be countered through a logical inservice training intervention.  Multiple sources, including some already cited, could instead support hypotheses that resistance to a focus on unemployment – to, indeed, any significant change from the social work status quo – may stem, rather, from corruption (e.g., Stoesz, Karger, & Carrilio, 2010; Specht & Courtney, 1994); narrowmindedness (e.g., Reisch & Andrews, 2001), abusiveness (Margolin, 1997), or even a preference for a kind of “education” that prioritizes quasi-therapeutic personal gratification.

Lest that last suggestion seem farfetched, one might consider not only the existence of reports raising serious questions about the mental health of substantial numbers of social work students (e.g., Regehr, Stalker, Jacobs, & Pelech, 2001, p.  141; Horton, Diaz, and Green, 2009, pp.  469-470), but also those pointing to disturbing orientations among faculty.  On the latter point, absent mental health testing of social work faculty en masse, one might resort to individual cases suggesting such orientations.  One illustrative case emerges from the report of a specialty panel of the Michigan Court of Appeals, regarding allegations of child sexual abuse investigated by a team led by social work professor Kathleen Faller.  The panel concluded that, when interviewing allegedly abused children, Dr.  Faller’s team engaged in repeated leading questions, coaching, creating memories, and generally coercive and untrustworthy techniques – sometimes openly admitting efforts to drive children in desired directions – and reached conclusions inconsistent with the findings of all other family evaluators consulted (Lorandos & Campbell, 2005, pp.  100­109).  As critics of social work education might expect, Dr.  Faller remains on the faculty at the University of Michigan’s top-ranked SSW.

Similarly, Bruce Thyer (2007, p.  28), editor of Research on Social Work Practice, observes that LCSWs continue with impunity to provide “treatments long since proved to be bogus,” and Berkeley’s Eileen Gambrill (2010) has long said, and continues to say, that social work is an authority-rather than knowledge-based profession, and to warn that “little evidence exists that current [social work licensing] requirements have any bearing on the necessary skills or any relationship to performance” (Gambrill, 2001, p.  426, quoting Hogan, 1979, p.  348).  In short, there have been many such critiques (Woodcock, 2012), and yet the profession has engaged with them only very sparingly, and largely at the conceptual rather than empirical level (e.g., Reid & Edwards, 2006; Wakefield, 1998).

When considering an effort to seek an unemployment-related intervention that should resonate with social work faculty on a primarily cognitive level, one might fairly ponder the nonexistence of SSWs at many leading universities (e.g., Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Duke).  The text’s reference to personal and inspirational content, within the final inservice training, is intended to address what may be a key aspect of any effort to present unemployment in terms that social work faculty will find compelling.  Pending further inquiry, it may even prove advisable to downplay the cerebral or even the compassionate content of unemployment – the plea that, for instance, people without jobs may starve, freeze, or suffer for lack of health care – in favor of an emphasis on consequences with more immediate personal meaning for middle-class social work faculty (e.g., that unemployment may yield ridicule of children and loss of social status for parents).

There is vanishingly little research on, or even conceptualization of, the prospect that social work faculty might be treated as something other than just one more species of university faculty – that there might be something in the nature of irrationality if not pathology in the profession’s (or at least its academics’) proclamations of concern for unemployment despite a glaring shortage of evidence of actual interest.  The question of how to engage this putatively “helping” professoriate in a sober consideration of something like unemployment has unsurprisingly been neglected in academic investigations.

These remarks raise one other dimension of potential inquiry.  There is a question of what it means to engage in scientific inquiry, and in the teaching of research principles and substantive content related thereto.  This question has multiple dimensions, including not only the relatively familiar concretization of ethics in the form of the Institutional Review Board but also less familiar (but not necessarily less important) questions of justification for one’s claims of what and how people claim to know.  Social work academia, as characterized here, does pose questions with which this writer has become slightly familiar, in terms pertaining to such matters as the fabric of belief (Quine, 1951), paradigms (e.g., Kuhn, 1970), and the sociology of scientific questioning (e.g., Gieryn, 1978).  While we continue to pursue learning in matters immediately associated with the development of an unemployment-specific inservice training for social work faculty, we may be well advised to allow some time for consideration, not only of psychological dimensions like those suggested in the preceding paragraphs, but also of philosophical conditions contributing to concepts of the university manifested in SSWs.

Additional References

Gambrill, E.  (2001).  Evaluating the quality of social work education:  Options galore.  Journal of Social Work Education, 37(3), 418-429.

Gambrill, E.  (2010).  Evidence-informed practice:  Antidote to propaganda in the helping professions?  Research on Social Work Practice, 20(3), 302-320.  DOI:  10.1177/1049731509347879.

Gieryn, T.  F.  (1978).  Problem retention and problem change in science.  Sociological Inquiry, 48, 96­-115.

Hogan, D.  B.  (1979).  The regulation of psychotherapists.  Vol.  1:  A study in the philosophy and practice of professional regulation.  Cambridge, MA:  Ballinger.

Horton, E.  G., Diaz, N., & Green, D.  (2009).  Mental health characteristics of social work students:  Implications for social work education.  Social Work in Mental Health, 7(5), 458-475.

Kuhn, T.  S.  (1970).  The structure of scientific revolutions (2nd ed.).  Chicago:  University of Chicago Press.

Lorandos, D., & Campbell, T.  W.  (2005).  Benchbook in the behavioral sciences:  Psychiatry, psychology, social work.  Durham, NC:  Carolina Academic.

Margolin, L.  (1997).  Under the cover of kindness:  The invention of social work.  Charlottesville:  University of Virginia Press.

Quine, W.  V.  O.  (1951).  Main trends in recent philosophy:  Two dogmas of empiricism.  The Philosophical Review, 60(1), 20-43.

Regehr, C., Stalker, C.  A., Jacobs, M., & Pelech, W.  (2001).  The gatekeeper and the wounded healer.  The Clinical Supervisor, 20(1), 127-143.

Reisch, M., & Andrews, J.  (2001).  The road not taken:  A history of radical social work in the United States.  New York:  Routledge.

Specht, H., & Courtney, M.  E.  (1994).  Unfaithful angels:  How social work has abandoned its mission.  New York:  Free Press.

Stoesz, D., Karger, H.  J., & Carrilio, T.  (2010).  A dream deferred:  How social work education lost its way and what can be done.  New Brunswick, NJ:  Aldine Transaction.

Thyer, B.  A.  (2007).  Social work education and clinical learning:  Towards evidence-based practice?  Clinical Social Work Journal, 35, 25-32.

Wakefield, J.  C.  (1998).  Foucauldian fallacies:  An essay review of Leslie Margolin’s Under the cover of kindness.  Social Service Review, 72(4), 545-587.  DOI:  10.1086/515778.

Woodcock, R.  (2012).  Reflections on Reid & Edwards:  Prospects for clinical social work education.  Retrieved from­education/

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