June 30, 2018, slipped quietly to July 1, 2018, with little notice. It was a big event for me, but I barely noticed either. This was probably due to the fact I had anticipated June 30, 2018, for a couple of years, knowing I had a decision to make. I considered the pros and cons, consulted others in my situation, fact-checked, and discussed the ramifications of my decision with my husband.
On June 30, 2018, my State of Kansas Social Work license expired. I am no longer legally able to practice social work in Kansas. It was a decision I did not take lightly. There were several elements to consider. The most compelling consideration was, obviously, since I could no longer legally practice social work in the state of Kansas, I could not earn a professional salary. For thirty-four of the thirty-eight years I worked, I was licensed to work in the social work field. When I let myself consider this prior to retirement, it felt like making a giant leap off of a cliff and saying, “Go ahead, remove that safety net. I laugh at danger. Ha, ha, ha!” That’s where the fact-checking came into play. When I first became licensed as a bachelor level social worker in 1984, I took a qualifying test, administered by the state. At that point, I had been out of college for four years, and the test was definitely challenging. When I took the master’s level licensing test in 1990, I was steeped in the academia of social work, pursuing my master’s degree. I was a straight-A student, still found it challenging and barely passed the multiple choice licensing test. I remember hating the test, as it was not a learning experience. I would not find out which questions I had answered correctly, which incorrectly, and why. I also remember railing that in the practice of social work, there was rarely one “right” answer. We work with people, where there is a multitude of possible interventions! What I did know now, twenty-six years past academic pursuits, that a major amount of studying, re-learning, new learning, whatever learning, was going to have to happen for me to pass another licensing test. The last twenty-some years my professional work had focused on social work in the special education realm, and I was better prepared to pass a test on special education than social work.
An important element of my decision to let my social work license lapse was what it would take to reverse that decision. A social work friend told me all it took to reinstate my social work license was to acquire the forty CEU’s (Continuing Education Units) and pay the relicensing fee. I would not need to take the licensing test again. I believed her, as she had reinstated her license a few years prior, but decided to call the Kansas Behavioral Sciences Regulatory Board (BSRB to us), just to be sure that was still the case. The staff person at BSRB assured me my friend was correct.
Since 1984, I renewed my social work license every two years. At that time I was required to obtain sixty hours of CEU’s. This was mainly achieved by attending workshops or college classes. The workshops and classes had to meet standards spelled out by the Kansas state legislature. When we submitted our proof of our CEU’s, the BSRB would review them to make sure they met the legislated standards of a social work CEU. The first Kansas agencies I worked in helped social workers meet our licensing requirements, so it was just part of the job. I usually submitted more than sixty CEU’s, so I didn’t have to worry my license would not be renewed. I saw it as vital; if I didn’t have a social work license, I couldn’t work. For most of my married life, and for sure my single-parent times of life, I was the primary bread-winner. I viewed working as a social worker as my way to sustain my family.
BSRB eventually changed our CEU requirements to forty instead of sixty. We also no longer had to send in our paperwork documenting the accrual of CEU’s. We answered online questions that we had followed their requirements and a random number of licensees were audited. So then the angst was the random audit. I was never randomly chosen for an audit.
I had a variety of jobs in my thirty-eight years. Starting in 1979, I worked as a church youth worker, then a family planning counselor. I moved to Kansas, was not licensed to practice social work and did non-social work jobs: an eligibility worker for the utility assistance program, the house coordinator at a battered women’s shelter, After I obtained my Kansas social work license I worked in child protective services, foster care, and adult protective services. The work of Child Protective Services remains the hardest job I had. I will always remember my first children I removed from their home. Removing children may be necessary work, but I experienced it as heart-breaking. The main challenge of my job in foster care was having fifty-five children on my caseload. The work was mostly facilitating services, but it was before computers or email. It was laborious, and the paperwork became more important than meeting with the children and families I served. I remember showing up for the court hearings and hoping I would recognize the child for whose care I was responsible. It was a different kind of heartbreaking. I transferred into Adult Protective Services when I had my first child so I wouldn’t have to tackle the mountain of paperwork on the weekends.
In December of 1989, I attended a workshop on preventing burnout as a social worker. I was weary from working in public welfare, so the topic interested me. And I could acquire those needed CEU’s. One suggestion I recall from this workshop was to set our own professional goals. I set the goal of applying to the master’s social welfare program and seven months later I was attending graduate school.
A fair amount of my graduate work was reflecting on my first ten years of social work, and what I could have done differently. A very helpful article I read addressed the reason for social work burnout being the ethical dilemmas social workers face. Being able to understand my ethical decision-making style helped me show up for the rest of my social work career. Another was a guideline given by social welfare professors, “If you can’t help, don’t harm.”
As a master’s level social worker I worked at a community mental health center for two years, then landed a school social work job in the local school district. After seven years as a school social worker, I became a Transition Facilitator in the Special Education program at the new high school. I certainly used my social work skills in my last job, but it was not required to be a social worker to be the Transition Facilitator. In fact, at one point my counterpart at the other high school in town and I were the only transition facilitator’s who had social work licenses. Everyone else had teaching licenses. I was relieved to be out of the work of assessing a child’s welfare and safety. It was easier to leave work at work and I lasted longer in the school district because of the better fit for me.
In the summer of 2016, anticipating my next renewal, I decided I would take a passive approach of whether I would renew my license in 2018. It was rare that the in-services required for my school district job could be used for my CEU’s, so I needed to look and pay for my workshops. I decided I would gather CEU’s if a qualifying workshop sounded interesting enough to pay for and attend. As time passed, I watched the offerings, but nothing matched my criteria. I realized this wasn’t the soundest way to make a professional decision, but it accentuated what I already knew: I wasn’t passionate about being a social worker anymore. I cared about people, I cared about doing well at my work and remained a conscientious worker. But it seemed to take more intellectual and emotional energy to show up. I still immensely enjoyed meeting with students one on one and helping with their transition from high school to the adult world. But the aspects of my job I didn’t enjoy became more burdensome. I had seen plenty of co-workers in my career who quit working before they retired, and I was determined to not do that. But I had my moments, especially in the last two years of work.
I retired in May of 2017 and my license was in effect until June 30, 2018. I realized I would have a year to see if I would want to use my social work license. I was open to working again, but only if it paid handsomely, or was more fun than not working. Those opportunities did not present themselves in the year past my retirement.
The crux of my decision was whether I could now let go of my means to make money, to trust I didn’t need that immediate safety net. My adult life had had a fair amount of time living paycheck to paycheck, being helped by extended family, and I didn’t want to return to that life again. Retiring prior to Social Security eligibility was retiring into a lesser income. The numbers made me nervous. How much faith in my money did I need? I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out, and taking a financial risk did not seem prudent, adult-like, responsible. All that stuff. But, a year and a half later, I can say, it has worked out! My husband and I have figured out our finances in our new income strata. We prioritize spending time together rather than have accruing income.
It is continuing to be true that I care about people, their welfare and happiness, but I do not want to be the one providing social work services anymore. I am getting to step up in providing some childcare for our grandchildren and helping a brother who has Parkinson’s. And then more time to attend to my needs and to my marriage. It’s a pretty sweet life.
I had an opportunity to test my decision out recently. A social work friend, who forgot I let my license lapse, told me of an opportunity to cover a maternity leave for a school social worker. I thought it out, even about reinstating my social work license and discussed the pros and cons with my husband. When I started getting a stomach-ache thinking about returning to work, I knew I needed to pass up this job. There are aspects of social work I enjoy immensely, but the parts I experience as stressful are not worth showing up for anymore. I am so glad my friend told me about the opportunity, as it confirmed what I thought I knew. I am content, no, I am happy, to not be a licensed social worker anymore.