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Newsroom Social Worker Month Recognizes Crucial Service

TOPEKA – The critical service provided by social work professionals, including the protection of vulnerable children and adults from abuse and neglect, will be highlighted this month, thanks to special recognition from Governor Sam Brownback and the Kansas Department for Children and Families (DCF).

Governor Sam Brownback has designated March as Social Worker Month, a time to recognize the tireless commitment of those who take on this challenging occupation. It’s a time also to call attention to the need to retain and recruit social workers to serve the State of Kansas.

“As a licensed social worker, I know the many difficulties and rewards that come with this line of work,” DCF Secretary Phyllis Gilmore said. “We are working hard to attract more caring and compassionate social workers to join our Prevention and Protection Services team.”

DCF, along with its contracted providers, employs nearly 1,000 social workers statewide. There remains, however, a persistent need for more. 

DCF typically has approximately 50 vacant social worker positions, which it struggles to fill. Some of the most challenging areas to fully staff include the agency’s Wichita and West regions. DCF uses a wide range of recruitment strategies to attract social workers, including partnerships with Kansas colleges. The agency also has a Recruitment and Retention Workgroup that is tasked with helping solve social worker staffing needs.

DCF Social Worker Amber Rufener, Topeka, recognizes that social work is often thankless and rarely easy.

“It’s a challenge, because people don’t always want to work with you,” said Rufener, a social work specialist in the Topeka Service Center. “They need help, but often they don’t want it. Social workers have to give them the resources to be successful. We serve as a bridge to the help in many cases.”

Rufener began work as a certified nursing assistant while in college. It was then that she took an interest in the social side of human services. To prepare for a career as a social worker, she earned a bachelor’s degree in Human Services, then a master’s degree in Social Work from Washburn University.

“I went into social work because I wanted to protect those who are vulnerable, who maybe don’t have a voice for themselves,” said Rufener, who participated in the signing of the Social Work Month proclamation.

Rufener emphasized that the ability to work with clients who suffer from mental health issues is essential. She recognizes that there is always a need for new people in the social work field, and said while it’s not for everyone, she believes many caring individuals would find it rewarding.

“You have to be in it because you have a heart for helping people,” she said. “You don’t always get rewards or praise. But it’s rewarding when you can see that you made a difference in someone’s life.”

To become a social worker, individuals must graduate from an accredited university with at least a bachelor’s degree in social welfare. They must also pass a licensure exam and maintain the license with 40 hours of continuing education, every two years.

DCF recently added four categories of professionals who now can fill the same role as social workers within the agency’s Prevention and Protection Services division. Individuals with ducation backgrounds that now may, with certain qualifications, serve as DCF social workers are bachelor’s in Social Work, Master’s in Psychology, Master’s in Professional Counseling and Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy.

(pictured left to right: DCF Deputy Secretary Jaime Rogers, DCF Deputy Director of Permanency/Training Sharri Black, DCF Social Worker Amber Rufener, DCF Deputy Director of Performance Improvement Tony Scott, Governor Sam Brownback, KDADS Secretary Tim Keck, KDADS Social Worker Laura Leistra, DCF Assessment and Prevention Administrator Suzanne Martinez, KDADS Social Worker Dawn Turner)​