Labor and Public Employees Committee

March 3, 2022

Submitted by Stephen A. Wanczyk-Karp, LMSW

On behalf of the National Association of Social Workers, CT Chapter representing over 2,300 members, we support HB 5258.

Individuals who committed a felony and have completed sentencing should be provided full opportunities for re-entering into the community and attaining an occupational license that allows for a career. As social workers we believe in the power of people to change their life. Denying an occupational license to a former felon solely based on a past felony is a form of life-long penalization. If we expect those who committed a felony to move forward in a positive manner with their lives, we need to take steps to facilitate such a change. Denying an occupational license is an unnecessary, and punitive measure that serves no positive outcomes.

We know of social work licensure candidates who have been denied the license due to a past felony, despite the fact that the felony created no risk to clients. There was a case where CT denied a license to a social worker who had driven a car in a robbery many years earlier in his life. Rhode Island and Massachusetts issued him a license so he resided in Connecticut with his spouse but had to practice out-of-state.

Our Chapter had a member of our Board of Directors who spent multiple years advocating for himself with DPH. He eventually was issued a license with restrictions that were finally lifted once he proved himself to be practicing safely.

To acquire a social work license in our state requires completion of a master degree (MSW) with both rigorous class work and field internships under MSW supervision. Most MSW programs are two-years or require a bachelor degree in social work and admittance to an advance standing program of one-year specialization at the graduate level. Just the act of successful completion of the degree speaks to the individual’s fortitude and commitment to ethical practice.

There are numerous social work settings where a history that includes involvement with the judicial system is advantageous to relating to clients. Forensic social workers are employed in the courts, correctional facilities, public defender office and other settings within the judicial branch. Community based re-entry programs that work with persons on parole or serving sentences in facilities such as a half-way house employ social workers. A social worker who had a past felony can build credibility and rapport with these clients. At a time when Connecticut needs to build a larger, more diverse mental health workforce, denying licensure to a former felon who has attained a MSW is counterproductive to the critical workforce needs of our state.

Whether the social worker seeks to work in the field of forensics or another aspect of social work, the only valid reason to deny a license must be if the felony is reasonably related to the license holder’s ability to safely or competently perform the duties or responsibilities associated with such license. To do otherwise is a violation of the Social Work’s profession’s core value of the dignity and worth of each individual.

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