Regulatory Issues

Levels of Practice Regulated: The license names and qualifications vary from state to state, however they all follow a similar format. The most common license examinations are the Bachelors Examination, Masters Examination, Advanced Generalist Examination, (MSW) and Clinical Examination, (2-3 years post-masters experience). A few states also offer a license examination at the Associate level for social workers with two years of undergraduate education.

  • ASSOCIATE LICENSE LEVEL: The Associate License qualifications require two years of college or an Associates Degree. Some states also specify one or two years of experience. Candidate qualifications vary from state to state. The license may be called an LSWA, LBSW, SWT or similar names.
  • BACHELORS EXAMINATION: The BaCHELORS license names and qualifications vary from state to state. It may be called an LSW, SW, LSWA, BSW or similar names. The license requires a bachelors degree in social work or a bachelor's degree and specific periods of experience.
  • MASTERS EXAMINATION: The MASTERS License is only available to social workers who have an MSW. Many states award this license immediately after graduation. Some states permit the candidate to take the examination a few months before graduation. The license may be called an LCSW, CISW, LGSW, CSW, LMSW, or LSW depending on the state.
  • CLINICAL OR ADVANCED GENERALIST: This title is only available to social workers who receive the MSW or DSW degree and have a specified number of years or hours of post-masters supervised experience. It may be called a CSW, PIP, LCSW, LSCSW, BCSW, LICSW or LISW depending on the state..

Title Protection: In most states with licensing , the social work title is protected - those whose credentials have not been accepted by the state authority and those who have not passed the license test cannot call themselves social workers. In practice , however, many states do not require publicly employed social workers to possess a license. Some states have additional exemptions for certain institutions such as hospitals. The momentum toward licenses has increased as many insurance companies condition third party reimbursement or participation in a managed care network on licenses.

The Examination Process: Most states use the computerized version of the ASWB examination. An appointment must be made to take the exam in accordance with the procedures of the state board. Appointments are usually made within a few weeks following a request. Candidates travel to a central site, take the exam on a special terminal and receive the results immediately. The test can be retaken, but there is usually a 90 day wait.

Public Employee Licensing: Recently some states have begun to discuss requiring state-employed social workers to obtain licenses. The most notable examples are New York and Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, concern about the quality of child protective services has caused the state legislature to recommend that all protective workers obtain a social work license at the appropriate level. Since Massachusetts has four levels of licensing (from Associate Degree to MSW) it should be possible for all state workers to seek qualification. In other states, administrators are recommending that public employees eligible for a license should obtain it to protect themselves in the event of down sizing. These trends are likely to accelerate as state legislatures seek to provide evidence that they are concerned about quality issues even as budgets are reduced.

Do You Know the Continuing Education Requirement in Your State?
Almost every state that mandates a license to practice social work specifies a renewal period. While some states require annual renewals, most have a two to three year term. Many states also expect social workers to continue to refresh and improve their skills after receiving a license. By specifying the numbers of CEUs necessary for license renewal at each level of licensing, the state regulates additional training requirements. In states with continuing education requirements (CEUs), license renewal is not automatic. License renewals can be denied if the applicant has not acquired the necessary CEU hours. In several states non renewal is the same as cancellation. That's right - the social worker has to go through the entire licensing process again and retake the examination. Other kinder and presumably gentler states simply suspend the license temporarily until the social worker has received the necessary CEUs. Suspension means just that. Without an active license the social worker may be temporarily unable to practice until the CEU requirement is satisfied.

According to ASWB reports, the following states do not have a CEU requirement for license renewal: Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Don't rely on this list as definitive. State laws are changing constantly and many states will soon add a CEU requirement. Everyone should know the local law to avoid the potential hazards of license non renewal. Call your State Board and ask them for information.

How Often Does a License Need to be Renewed?
It depends on the state in which you live and are licensed. Most states seem to prefer a two year period for renewal. New York, Kentucky and Hawaii have a three year license period. California, Connecticut, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington have annual renewal periods. Do not fail to renew your license before it expires. Failure to do so can lead to suspension of practice privileges and if a worker is unlicensed for a lengthy period, a new application and qualifying test may be required by the state board. In those states with CEU requirements. it will be necessary to certify or provide evidence of having completed a sufficient number of Continuing Education Hours before a license renewal is granted.

How Does Supervision Affect Eligibility for the License?
The answer to this question is complicated. Each state with multiple levels of licensure has published its own unique requirements for moving from one level of licensure to another. For example, New York has no supervision requirement, while the District of Columbia requires 100 hours of supervision to be eligible for the Clinical Social Worker Examination Level. Many states also specify years of practice or numbers of hours of practice that are necessary to advance from one level of licensure to another. Some states also have annual supervision requirements and many also specify the characteristics of the supervisor. Virtually all states specify that the supervisor must be a social worker licensed at either the same or a more advanced level than the supervisee. Some states, such as Alaska, Montana and Georgia will allow a psychiatrist or psychologist to supervise. Since the eligibility requirements vary so much from state to state, it is best to contact the state board and ask for a copy of the licensing law or a summary of eligibility requirements. Often, NASW chapters will provide these guidelines free to members.
Contact the state NASW chapter for information.