Social worker or social worker

What’s in a name?

To the Pennsylvania Association of Social Workers, a social worker by any other name smells of professional misrepresentation.

That’s why the organization, which represents about 40,000 state-licensed professional social workers, is less than happy about news coverage of the ongoing Philadelphia Common Pleas Court trial of three people in the 2006 starvation death of Danieal Kelly, the 14-year-old girl disabled with cerebral palsy found dead in the two-bedroom West Philadelphia apartment she lived in with her mother and eight siblings.

Among the three defendants is Dana Poindexter, 54, a former intake social worker with Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services who allegedly never visited the Kelly household from the time he fielded an anonymous hotline neglect call in August 2003 until the case was taken from him in September 2005.

“If this worker is not a social worker,” wrote Christina Mortensen, LSW, the communications director for the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, “a caseworker is the term that is most appropriate. Social workers legally have title protection in Pennsylvania.

“A trouble we have is that DHS commonly refers to caseworkers as ‘social workers,’ and they continue to openly break our title protection law for a number of reasons,” Mortensen added.

 Mortensen’s group feels so strongly about this that in 2008 they successfully lobbied for passage of Pennsylvania Act 68, which granted “title protection” for Pennsylvania social workers. Only those with a degree in social work may legally use the professional title of social worker, according to the law.

Poindexter is not licensed as a social worker by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, nor does he have a degree in social work, according to defense attorney Craig Hosay.

Unfortunately, Mortensen’s group’s legislative triumph has run up against the fact that in the City of Philadelphia, social worker is a longstanding formal job title – regardless of whether the employee is a licensed social worker or has a degree in social work. The city website’s job description says that an applicant for the job of social worker must have a bachelor’s degree, two years of social work experience and one year of social work experience in a specialty area if the job opening is specialized.

At least one of the three defendants in the Kelly case is a licensed Pennsylvania social worker: Mickal Kamuvaka, 62, cofounder and chief administrator of MultiEthnic Behavioral Health Inc., a defunct DHS contractor paid to do twice-weekly visits to monitor Danieal’s health and welfare after the Kelly case was taken from Poindexter in September 2005.

Kamuvaka allegedly assigned an unpaid intern – a master’s candidate in social work at the University of Pennsylvania – to perform the twice-week home visits to the Kelly household. When the internship ended, prosecutors allege, Kamuvaka assigned the Kelly case to an employee who was not a license social worker and who apparently made just a few visits to the Kelly household before the disabled girl died.

The third person on trial is Danieal’s father, Daniel Kelly Sr., 40, who is charged with child endangerment for abandoning Danieal and her year-older brother, Daniel Jr. with their mother in 2003 after returning with them to Philadelphia from several years living with a girlfriend in Arizona. Prosecutors say Kelly Sr. removed the two children from his ex-wife’s custody in 1996 because he knew they weren’t being cared for.

As for the children’s mother, Andrea Kelly, 42, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder charges in 2009 is serving 20 to 40 years in prison.