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Hawaiʻi's demand for social workers will climb over the next decade, report says

Kristen Uroda for NPR

When you think of a healthcare worker, you may imagine a doctor or a nurse. But according to a new report from the University of Hawaiʻi, social workers make up 60% of the mental healthcare workforce.

The "Social Work in Hawaiʻi: A Workforce Profile" report from UH's Thompson School of Social Work and Public Health evaluated the status of social workers in Hawaiʻi in terms of salary, labor force and demand.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts this demand will increase by 12% in the next 10 years. They predict that the job will increase by 4.7% for child and family welfare sectors locally.

The report stated that the demand for healthcare social workers in Hawaiʻi will increase by 18.4%, and the need for mental health and substance abuse social workers is estimated to increase by 21.6% in the next 10 years.

The report also takes a deep dive into the history of social work, specifically tied to immigrants and aliʻi.

"With immigrant populations, nationally, as we think like how social work really emerged, [was] helping provide services for those people so that they could incorporate themselves in the community so that they weren't necessarily living in poverty, but they had resources," said Robin Arndt, a social work professor and co-author of the report.

He said that the need for social workers began in the 1880s with the rise of immigrants, indigenous communities and Black migrants from the rural South living in poverty.

"They all contributed to the growth to ensure that the community can come together, the community is full of resources and support, meet their basic human needs and grow and be able to, provide for the community, provide for themselves and be citizens if you will," Arndt said.

He added that the aliʻi played a crucial role in providing resources to Hawaiʻi residents by building five legacy foundations — Lunalilo Home, the Queen's Hospital (now Queen's Medical Center), Kamehameha Schools, the Kapiʻolani Maternity Home (now Kapiʻolani Medical Center) and the Liliʻuokalani Trust.

The five legacy foundations were built to serve as a safety net for Hawaiians. They blended the aliʻi's values with social work practices from the continental U.S.

“Social Work in Hawaiʻi: A Workforce Profile,” is the first comprehensive report focused on social workers in the state. The report states that better information is needed to identify who counts as a social worker to fill gaps in the data.

Zoe Dym was a news producer at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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