Social workers make decisions that affect their clients and others in a very personal and powerful way. Situations that require a social worker, such as child custody disputes, terminal illness, and childhood misbehavior in the classroom are often volatile and emotionally charged. Social workers need specialized training and education in order to know how to deal with these situations in ways that serve their client’s best interest. For these reasons, states and provinces require a social work license.
To earn a social work license, a person needs to apply for licensure with the state board. The board will decide if the person is eligible for a license based on education and work experience. For the bachelors and masters levels work experience is not needed, but for the advanced generalist and clinical levels at least two years of experience in a social work setting is required. Anyone meeting the eligibility requirements can move forward in the application process by taking the ASWB social work exam.
Different jurisdictions have different eligibility requirements, and one may need to take a different category of ASWB exam if he or she has moved recently or changed practice settings. After one takes the exam, the scores are sent to the appropriate board for review. In most jurisdictions the board will then issue the license, although in others the candidate will need to contact the board to move the process along.
The entire process from eligibility confirmation to the granting of the license by the board may take several months.
After one earns a social work license, he or she will be expected to complete a certain number of continuing education hours on a regular basis. Because states have different requirements, it is the social worker’s responsibility to contact the licensing boards to check if continuing education programs are accepted for an added credential or licensure renewal.
Social Work Licensing Board
In the world of social work regulation, it is important to define several key terms. Each regulated state or Canadian province is known as a jurisdiction. All jurisdictions have their own social work licensing board. This board is the regulatory body responsible for issuing social work licenses.
The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) is not a social work licensing board. It is an organization made up of individual boards from a majority of jurisdictions across the United States and Canada. The ASWB is responsible for creating and maintaining the licensing exam and also provides continuing education and accountability services to boards and social workers.
Anyone with questions about social work licensure should first contact the appropriate social work board. The ASWB will not speak for a jurisdiction, but refers all individual social work candidates to their licensing board for exam eligibility issues and license requirements.
The social work licensing board determines who is eligible to take the ASWB licensing exam and decides which exam category the candidate should take. The board will be able to answer questions about regulations and policies within a particular jurisdiction. If a person has failed the ASWB licensing exam, the board will decide if he or she is eligible to take the exam again after a required 90-day waiting period.
Social work licensing boards may be contacted by email or by phone. The website address for a particular state or province board can be located by using the ASWB website or performing an online search. Email should be used whenever possible, since it can be difficult to get through on the telephone. Whenever a person needs to talk with a board member by telephone, it is best to avoid peak hours such as lunchtime. A quick phone call followed by a more detailed email might be the best way to secure the information needed from the board.
How To Become A Licensed Social Worker
Becoming a licensed social worker involves much more than passing an exam, although that is a very important part. The following are the steps candidates take to become licensed social workers in the United States and Canada:
- Earning a Bachelor’s Degree or a Master’s Degree in Social Work from an accredited program. As of 2006, there are 458 accredited bachelor’s programs, 181 accredited master’s programs, and 74 accredited doctoral programs in social work in the United States.
- Applying for licensure with the jurisdiction’s social work licensure board. Every jurisdiction has different requirements for how to become a social worker. Some jurisdictions may require a degree in social work, while others will accept degrees in psychology or another related field. When contacting the social work board to apply for licensure, a candidate will find out exactly which requirements he or she must meet.
- Pursuing eligibility for the ASWB licensure exam required by the jurisdiction. Once a person applies for licensure he or she must learn which exam to take. The need for the bachelor’s, master’s, advanced generalist, or clinical exam depends on the degree a person holds and his preferred area of practice.
- Registering for the exam with ASWB. ASWB is responsible for approving eligibility to take the exam. After a review of a candidate’s education, work experience, and career goals, ASWB will notify an approved candidate by mail.
- Scheduling the exam at an ACT testing center.
- Passing the exam. This is extremely important. A candidate who fails the ASWB exam must wait a certain period of time before registering again, and not everyone is approved to repeat the exam. For this reason most successful candidates choose to study for the exam by using practice tests and other study materials.
- Issuing of the social work license by the board. After the exam is completed, test results are forwarded to the social work board, which issues the license if the candidate passed the exam.