“I’ve always been the person who wants to help, no matter who or what it is.”
Natalie West began pursuing her career in social work over a decade ago, out of a desire to help those who need it most.
“They say with social work, you don’t choose it. It chooses you,” she told IWF.
West is a a military spouse and a mother of two boys. She spent many late nights and thousands of dollars on her education. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in social work online. The then mother of two began pursuing her degree in Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), completing multiple internships in order to accrue service hours. She’s currently waiting to take her LMSW test.
But, West soon realized, beginning her career wasn’t going to be as simple as she thought.
West’s husband is a career serviceman and their family moves often. So far, they’ve lived in seven states—Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Florida, Maryland, Tennessee, Louisiana, and New Jersey, where they currently reside. In July, they’ll be moving again, this time to Texas.
“Time’s lost, money’s lost, and families suffer,” she said.
For their upcoming move to Texas, West’s spent upwards of $1,000 in fees and many hours preparing to take the state’s licensing test. If she fails, she’ll have to wait another three to four months before she can take the test again. Which means, she’ll be unable to work during that time.
Occupational licenses are state-granted certifications that permit Americans to practice in a profession. They used to be required in only a few select industries, but the number of jobs requiring government licenses to operate has ballooned from 10 percent of the workforce in 1970 to nearly 30 percent today. From social workers to florists, there are hundreds of jobs that require professional licenses today. And the list keeps growing.
Proponents say these certifications are needed to prevent fraud and protect public health and safety. But for West and thousands of other Americans chasing work, these certifications have become so costly and burdensome, they’ve blocked them from working and earning an income.
Instead of requiring different licenses to perform social work in each state, West believes occupational licensing laws could be reformed to allow social workers to have three different titles: bachelors, masters, and LCSW. Each title could incorporate standardized health and safety requirements and then apply to every state.
“And that’s it. This is what is expected,” she said. “This is all you have to do to transfer it, and you do it once, you’re done.”
“There’s a lot of talk, but there’s never a lot of action,” West said of attempts to reform the licensing requirements. “So it would be nice to put some action behind the talk and move this topic forward. It should not be this difficult to go state-to-state.”
And that’s why she keeps at it—despite the mental, physical, and financial toll getting a new license in each state can take.
“I’ve always been the person who wants to help, no matter who it is, what it is,” she said. “It’s who I am. I’ve always been a fighter.”
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