YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – The future of social work in Ohio could look different if a substitute bill is adopted by the legislature.

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – Ohio Chapter, an amendment has been proposed to House Bill 509. In its original version, HB 509 allows, among other things, some leeway for some professional licensing in the wake of the pandemic and for other reasons, too. Now, a substitute amendment to that bill is including social work.

NASW has obtained the bill, which is being introduced Wednesday, that would allow people with related degrees other than social work to become licensed social workers. Many in the field don’t support the proposed change saying it’s a public protection issue and would erode the field’s professional standing and reputation.

As it stands now, HB 509 states that to be eligible to become licensed as an independent social worker, a person must hold a master’s degree in social work, complete at least two years of post-master’s degree social work supervised by an independent social worker and pass an exam administered by the board. With the substitute bill, some of those requirements would change, allowing people with a related degree the ability to apply to become licensed social workers.

Danielle Smith with the Ohio Chapter of the National Associated of Social Workers said the proposed changes are concerning.

“Folks should be able to trust that when they’re working with a social worker that person actually has the degree, the experience and the training to be a social worker,” Smith said.

In Ohio, a licensed social worker can diagnose and assess mental health disorders under supervision.

“This could mean that we have people who have a background outside of mental health having licensure scope to be able to diagnose a mental health disorder,” Smith said.

Dana Davis, an associate professor in YSU’s social work department, said she’s sure the legislators had good intentions behind the proposed amendment by addressing the workforce shortage and the need for social workers, but she has concerns, too.

“They’re missing a lot of pieces. This is not going to be the solution,” Davis said.

Smith said she worries that allowing these amendments could change the way social work is done.

“Although there are professions that are similar like counseling, psychology, sociology, social work is unique, and I worry that this is a slippery slope to us losing the specific way that we practice,” Smith said.

Students don’t like the idea either. Smith said she’s heard from them and they are worried that their degrees will be compromised.

“Why did I enter this program and pay all of this money and spend all this time to get a master’s degree so I could be a licensed social worker when I could’ve just gotten a license with my bachelor’s degree in my related field,” Smith explained.

The substitute bill will be heard by a committee Wednesday at 3 p.m. Smith encourages people to contact members of the Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee with concerns. And while she agrees there’s a need for more social workers, Smith says they need more time to figure out how to address the workforce issue.

WKBN reached out to two of the state representatives who sponsored the bill to gather their rationale behind the proposed amendment but as of the time of this report, we have not heard back.