Kentucky is known as the “Bluegrass State,” the land of horses, and the home of barbecue and bourbon. Rushing rivers wind through rolling hillsides, supporting the largest deer, wild turkey and elk populations east of the Mississippi River. Kentucky is a state known for horse races and tobacco farming, college basketball and fried chicken.
However, the state is home to a diverse population. A large percentage of Eastern Kentucky is part of Appalachia, and a segment of Western Kentucky is coal-mining territory. Wealthy racehorse owners live next to poverty-stricken single mothers who have lost their partners to mining-related accidents. Overall, Kentucky is a state with a wide range of social work opportunities.
Kentucky’s “Unbridled Spirit”
Social workers interested in progressive work may be interested in the state’s Alternative Sentencing Social Worker Program. According to the Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy, this state-sponsored program brings together social workers and public defenders to craft alternatives to incarceration. Individualized, practical plans are designed and implemented so that people who would have been incarcerated receive support and services while remaining in the community (1).
Mental health is another concern in Kentucky. Data from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) tells us that Kentucky has a higher than average percentage of the population diagnosed with mental illness (19.47 percent; the national average is 18.19 percent), and a higher than average percentage of people diagnosed with serious mental illness (4.74 percent, compared with a national average of 3.97 percent) (2). Even though Kentucky is one of the more sparsely populated states in the union (3), it has more mental health facilities than the average state (4).
It should come as no surprise that Kentucky is the highest employer (per capita) of child, family and school social workers in the nation (5).
Studying Social Work in Kentucky
According to the 2014 US News & World Report graduate school rankings, Kentucky has two schools of social work that rank in the top 50 in the nation. The University of Louisville, Raymond A. Kent School of Social Work ranks number 37, and the University of Kentucky School of Social Work ranks number 44 in the nation. Three other masters in social work programs in Kentucky rank in the top 175 schools in the nation, firmly establishing Kentucky as a great place to prepare for a career in this field (6).
You might want to check out the loan forgiveness programs available to social workers working in “Health Professional Shortage Areas” (HPSA). If you are willing to work in a position that supports an underserved population, you may be eligible for loan forgiveness of up to $20,000 a year for two years, for a total of $40,000 of loan forgiveness. Check out the requirements of both the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the Kentucky State Loan Repayment Program (KSLRP).
A State Ripe With Opportunity for Social Workers
Most social workers in Kentucky make below-average wages when compared to national averages (7), but some types of social workers make significantly above average wages. Child, family and school social workers make an average of $38,360 in Kentucky, while the national average is $46,060. Additionally, social workers in Kentucky (listed in the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) as “social worker, other”) make an average salary of $46,710, which is significantly less than the national average of $56,060 (8). Remember, when comparing salary information, it’s also important to consider the local cost of living.
As of 2010, 1590 mental health and substance abuse social workers were employed in the state. According to the BLS, job growth is anticipated at a rate of 30 percent between 2010 and 2020, resulting in the creation of 90 additional jobs each year in the state of Kentucky for mental health and substance abuse social workers alone (9). The demand for healthcare social workers in Kentucky is anticipated to grow by 34 percent between 2010 and 2020 (10). This is higher than the national average.
Social Work Licensure and Professional Development Resources
- Social Work License Requirements in Kentucky
- Kentucky Board of Social Work
- National Association of Social Workers, Kentucky Chapter
Universities with Master’s in Social work Programs in Kentucky
- KY DPA Alternative Sentencing Social Worker Program Video, 2014. Kentucky Department of Public Advocacy. http://dpa.ky.gov/sw.htm2.
- State Estimates of ADult Mental Illness from the 2011 and 2012 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, 2014. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2k14/NSDUH170/sr170-mental-illness-state-estimates-2014.htm
- State and County Quick Facts: Kentucky, 2013. United States Census Bureau. http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/21000.html
- State Estimates of Adult Mental Illness from the 2011 and 2012 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, 2014. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. http://www.samhsa.gov/data/2k14/NSDUH170/sr170-mental-illness-state-estimates-2014.htm
- Occupational Employment and Wages: Child, Family, and School Social Workers: May, 2013. Bureau of Labor Statistics. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211021.htm#st
- Graduate School Social Work Programs: Kentucky, 2014. US News & World Report. http://grad-schools.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-graduate-schools/search?spp=10&program=top-social-work-schools&name=&zip=kentucky&program_rank=Any&sort=&sortdir=
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013. http://www.bls.gov/
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013. http://www.bls.gov/
- Occupation Profile: Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: Kentucky, 2013. Career One Stop. http://www.careerinfonet.org/occ_rep.asp?optstatus=011000000&soccode=211023&id=1&nodeid=2&stfips=21&search=Go
- Occupation Profile: Healthcare Social Workers: Kentucky, 2013. Career One Stop. http://www.careerinfonet.org/occ_rep.asp?optstatus=011000000&soccode=211022&id=1&nodeid=2&stfips=21&search=Go