Travel Social Work: #MacroSW Twitter Chat for 4/4/19 at 9:00 p.m. Eastern

Chat transcript

For our Twitter chat this Thursday at 9:00 p.m., we’ll host this week’s guest expert, J the Roving Social Worker. J is a travel social worker, a social worker who moves from site to site, sometimes across the country.

Before the chat, get acquainted with travel social work by reading this week’s post!

What is Travel Social Work?

While travel nursing has exist for over 30 years, domestic Travel Social Work appears to have started within the last decade. Like travel nursing, TSW is a distinct workforce within the profession of Social Work. A TSW is hired to work in a Social Work practice setting for a limited amount of time. A traveler is not the same as a temp agency worker, a person who is usually local to the work site. These practice settings can be in a variety of regional settings such as urban, rural, or on Tribal land. The work site is usually 50 miles or more from the TSW’s “tax home.” TSWs work varied lengths of contracts, 13 weeks up to one year, and move from region to region to fill in service gaps.

Per IRS guidelines if a person works and lives in a location for over a year they lose “traveler” status and are exempt from earning a per diem. However, the “radius rule” is not a set distance by the IRS, it is set by the agency or hospital to justify a stipend in case of an audit. 


TSWs have autonomy in their career that includes choosing when they work and where they work. TSWs are not placed without consent and they are not required to fulfill a certain amount of contracts a year or hours. TSWs can change agencies as long as they are not contractually bound by an agency. 

TSWs do have benefits such as health insurance, 401Ks, sick time, PTO, and other benefits associated with traditional full time employment. What benefits exist depends on the agency and the state that the job is located. Some states have mandated a company allows for 40 hours of sick time that is not a part of PTO. TSWs sign a contract with their agency prior to being placed at a work site, this means that the traveler works for that agency and must report to and bill through the agency.


TSWs go through a process called onboarding with their agency. This includes the regular HR paperwork one would do for any job. A difference is the agency will have the TSW complete an application for them and every assignment site the TSW works for. In addition to applications and references, a TSW must complete a skills checklist and competency testing. The assignment site will have additional continuing education requirements that the TSW must complete prior to starting. Once on site, a TSW goes through an abridged version of on-site training. The expectation is that a TSW has the skill set and clinical knowledge to quickly adapt to the work environment with little training past orientation.


TSW/Traveler(s): Travel Social Worker

Contract: There are usually two contracts involved in a TSW assignment, one between work site and agency and then one between the agency and TSW.

Assignment/Contract: sometimes interchangeable, depending on context it may refer to the physical contract signed OR the site/placement the TSW will work at

Base Rate: The taxable income of a TSW

Per Diem: The non-taxable stipend a TSW gets to cover “incidentals,” housing, and food. Travelers must keep up a primary “tax home” household in order to have an non-taxed per diem.

Onboarding: Process of completing paperwork and requirements for both agency and work site.

Radius Rule: The understanding that a traveler needs to be a certain distance from their home to receive a per diem. This is not specified by the IRS and can fluctuate based on the staffing agency, often it is around 50 miles from the TSW’s tax home.

Possible questions for the chat:

  1. What practice settings would Travel Social Workers (TSW) best fit? #MacroSW
  2. What ethical implications do you see occurring in TSW? #MacroSW
  3. How does enculturation factor in your workplace? How would that impact a TSW? #MacroSW
  4. How can professional organizations like the @NASW support TSWs #MacroSW
  5. How does or could this work inform @CSWE & @ASWB? Example, SW edu & licensing issues? #MacroSW
Listen to this week’s podcast

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