MSU-Meridian addressing critical social worker shortage

Ebony Horner is a senior enrolled in MSU-Meridian's Bachelor of Social Work program and is currently completing her internship with the Mississippi Department of Child Protective Services. "It goes beyond just helping," she said. "I wanted to advocate and work for those who are less fortunate than others."Contact: Marianne Todd

MERIDIAN, Miss.—For 100 years, social workers have championed causes, brought relief to the suffering and advocated for those who have historically had no platform from which to speak.

Educators now worry misconceptions about the social work industry hinder its advancement.

“Social work numbers are going down in every state, and change will only come when the narrative on what social workers can do changes,” said Angela Savage, program director at Mississippi State University-Meridian.

So concerned are educators that MSU-Meridian faculty have joined Mississippi’s other public and private universities and colleges in a dedicated consortium to address filling gaps within the industry, especially in health care. Students who in the past may have been driven solely toward education are now navigated to the social work industry as an option, Savage said.

The campus is also looking at expanding its current bachelor’s program to include a master’s program, both of which offer licensure opportunities. The reality of implementing such a program could be three to five years in the making. Until then, educators are working to change perceptions.

Often synonymous with child protective services, social workers also have choices in a multitude of disciplines, Savage explained.

“They address social justice issues, police reform, homelessness, poverty issues, unemployment. You can couple social work with any discipline because social workers invest in people. For any injustice, we try to be there,” Savage said.

At Meridian’s Bedford Health Center, James Page is director of social work, acting as a liaison between the staff, patients and their families.

He has prevented families from being evicted from their homes by helping them acquire rent during difficult times. He has fed the hungry, clothed the homeless and helped patients gain access to assisted living.

“One of my greatest gifts is that I have an eye to see things, and when I do, I try to meet the need of whatever the situation demands,” he said.

MSU-Meridian’s two-year program is a transfer-only program, meaning students must first complete their first two years at a community college, Savage said. During the last 15 hours of the program, while students complete their practicums, they’re eligible to apply for state licensure examination through the Mississippi Board of Examiners. Once licensed, the path to meeting the needs of others is measureless, Savage explained.

“In nearly every aspect of positive social change or humanitarian effort, where a door has been opened, an opportunity created, or a need met, chances are a social worker was behind it,” said Terry Dale Cruse, associate vice president of MSU-Meridian and head of campus. “As a land-grant university, our dedication to advancing the social work field aligns with our continued mission to cultivate an institution of care and opportunity for all underserved Mississippians.”

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