How to Start a Career in Social Work4 min read
Over 600,000 social workers strive every day to make a positive impact on the lives of others. If you’re passionate about helping individuals, families, organizations, and communities, a career in social work might be right for you. Social workers find themselves helping people from all walks of life in a variety of atmospheres from schools to hospitals to prisons to nursing homes and handle casework, policy analysis, research, counseling, and teaching. They deal with issues such as poverty, abuse, addiction, unemployment, death, divorce, and physical illness. If a career switch to social work appeals to you, following is a brief background of social work basics and how to make a smooth transition.
Career Outlook: According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the social work profession is expected to grow by 30% by 2010 and is expected to grow faster than average for all occupations through 2014.
Median Annual Earnings for Social Workers (U.S., 2004)
• Child, Family, And School Social Workers: $34,820
• Medical And Public Health Social Workers: $40,080
• Mental Health And Substance Abuse Social Workers: $33,920
• All Other Social Workers: $39,440
Education Requirements: All social workers must have a bachelors (BSW), masters (MSW), or doctoral degree (DSW or Ph.D.) and complete a predetermined number of hours in supervised fieldwork. Social workers also have to graduate from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). The CSWE reports that in 2004 there were 442 BSW programs and 168 MSW programs. While some people work with only a BSW, career options are more limited, so the MSW or DSW is more common.
• BSW: Accredited BSW programs typically take four years to complete and require 400 hours of supervised field experience. With a BSW, a graduate can work in an entry-level position, such as a caseworker.
• MSW: An MSW requires two years of study and has a prerequisite of an undergraduate degree in social work, psychology, or a similar field. An MSW allows a social worker to work in a clinical setting to diagnose and treat psychological problems.
• DSW: A doctoral degree takes anywhere from 4-7 years. A DSW has extensive training in therapy and research and is qualified to teach in a university setting.
If you lack the educational or professional background, an associate’s degree may be a good place to start to see if you’re willing to make the necessary educational commitment.
For information regarding accredited social work programs, visit the Council on Social Work Education’s website: http://www.cswe.org
Licensing and Exams: Social workers must be licensed. For licensing purposes, each state has its own requirements, but an MSW is usually a minimum. In addition, licensing requires 2 years or 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.
After completing school and hour requirements, social work candidates must pass an exam. The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) develops and maintains four categories of social work licensure examinations: Bachelors, Masters, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical. Candidates should check with individual boards to find out which examinations are appropriate for the jurisdiction where they want to be licensed.
According to the ASWB’s website:
“Each examination contains 170 four-option multiple choice questions designed to measure minimum competencies at four categories of practice. Only 150 of the 170 items are scored; the remaining 20 questions are “pretest” items included to measure their effectiveness as items on future examinations. These pretest items are scattered randomly throughout the examination. Candidates have four hours to complete the test, which is administered electronically.”
For information on state licensing requirements, see the Association of Social Work Boards website: http://www.aswb.org/education/boards/
For information on exams, visit [http://www.aswb.org/exam_info.shtml]
Continuing Education: As part of renewing licenses every two years, almost all states require continuing education (CE) courses. Each state’s CE requirements vary in number of hours and approved courses, so be sure to check with the board over your jurisdiction to make sure you are in compliance with CE requirements. Many courses are available online, at sites such as http://www.speedyceus.com, which save time and money.
Types of Licenses: There are several different kinds of licenses available:
L.C.S.W. (or A.C.S.W., L.C.S., L.I.C.S.W., C.S.W.)
The licensed clinical social worker has a graduate academic degree, has completed supervised clinical work experience and has passed a national- or state-certified licensing exam. This advanced practitioner holds a license that allows him or her to receive health-care insurance reimbursements. (National Association of Social Workers)
SSW: School social work is a specialized area of practice within the broad field of the social work profession. School social workers bring unique knowledge and skills to the school system and the student services team. School social workers are instrumental in furthering the purpose of the schools: to provide a setting for teaching, learning, and for the attainment of competence and confidence. School social workers are hired by school districts to enhance the district’s ability to meet its academic mission, especially where home, school and community collaboration is the key to achieving that mission. (School Social Work Association of America)
Other specialties and certifications, offered by the National Association of Social Workers, include:
• Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW)
• Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW)
• Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW)
• Certified Clinical Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Social Worker (C-CATODSW)
• Certified Advanced Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker (C-ACYFSW)
• Certified Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker (C-CYFSW)
• Certified Advanced Social Work Case Manager (C-ASWCM)
• Certified Social Work Case Manager (C-SWCM)
• Certified Social Worker in Health Care (C-SWHC)
• Certified School Social Work Specialist (C-SSWS)