Continuing competence

Nearly every jurisdiction that issues social work licenses requires continuing education courses for renewal. These CE requirements vary from one jurisdiction to another, from the number of hours required to the types of courses that must be taken.

Compliance with continuing education requirements is the responsibility of the individual social worker. It is crucial that licensed social workers understand the CE requirements in their jurisdictions and keep up to date on any rule changes.

ASWB’s Approved Continuing Education program has been designed to review and approve high-quality CE providers and courses, delivered in person or via distance learning.

It is up to you, the individual social worker, to understand your jurisdiction’s requirements for social work licensing. If you don’t know what these requirements are, you can find out by contacting your board directly.


Maintaining your social work license requires more than just filing paperwork every two years. Licensing boards recognize the importance of lifelong learning to the social work profession. Social workers in all areas of practice can benefit from continuing coursework in familiar subjects, or from an exploration of new topics.

Continuing education requirements vary from one jurisdiction to another; some boards require only a specific number of hours, while others mandate continuing education in social work ethics, substance abuse, or domestic violence. Each jurisdiction has final approval on any continuing education course from any source on any subject. It is your responsibility as a regulated social work professional to contact your board and verify that your continuing education plans meet your board’s requirements.

Know where the buck stops. The bottom line is, continuing education is the responsibility of the individual social worker—not the CE provider, the licensing board, or the professional association. It is up to you to understand your jurisdiction’s requirements for continuing education—how your jurisdiction tabulates CE time (“clock hours” versus “contact hours,” for example), which types of courses will not be accepted, etc. If you don’t know what these requirements are, you can find out by contacting your board.

Understand the powers of the licensing board. Your jurisdiction’s licensing/certification board always has the final say about whether the continuing education courses you took will be approved. ASWB’s Approved Continuing Education program identifies providers and courses capable of delivering high-quality, appropriate continuing education, but it is ultimately the social worker’s responsibility to see to it that actual CE gained fits within the board’s definitions of acceptable continuing education. Familiarize yourself with your licensing board’s continuing education rules. If you’re considering a particular CE program and have a question about whether your board will accept it, contact your board for clarification before you take the course.

It isn’t just about the course. When it comes to continuing education, details matter. Your licensing board will likely need the correct kinds of documentation verifying your attendance, and you should be able to rely on your CE provider’s record keeping. Continuing education providers should be able to do the following:

  • Issue you a signed certificate of completion for the program you finished
  • Keep attendance records and other documents on file for as long as seven years after the program
  • Provide qualifications of instructors, social work consultants, and continuing education personnel who develop and implement the course

ACE providers and providers of approved individual courses must meet these criteria.

Not all providers are equal. You spend money—sometimes, a lot of money—for continuing education. It is disappointing to find that you spent time and money on a program that didn’t live up to its marketing claims. The reality is, just because a company advertises continuing education as useful to social workers doesn’t mean that the program will be appropriate and acceptable to your licensing board, or to you.

Several national organizations, including ASWB, review continuing education providers and courses for quality. Providers and courses who pass these screenings meet stringent requirements. While such approval is no guarantee that a particular course will be accepted by your regulatory board, finding a provider recognized by one of these groups is a way to increase your chances of ensuring you select quality continuing education.

Find out as much as possible about the providers themselves. Look for the following:

  • High degree of involvement from social workers in curriculum planning and presentation
  • Clear and effective evaluation procedures
  • Content pertinent to social work theory, methods, and practice
  • A syllabus or general outline of the course provided at the beginning
  • Written educational goals and specific, measurable learning objectives
  • Website security for registration, payment, and online courses

ACE providers must meet these standards.

Keep records. Because complying with your board’s CE requirements is the responsibility of the social worker, it’s important to keep your own records of CE sessions attended.

Find out how to keep track of your records using ASWB’s Social Work Registry.

Choose wisely. Remember, the continuing education systems used by boards were designed to ensure that social workers maintain the knowledge and skills necessary to practice safely throughout their careers. After you’ve made certain that the company providing the CE is qualified and well-organized, ask yourself whether the CE course you’re considering is a good fit for you. While it’s tempting to choose courses that play to your own practice strengths, you may also want to consider using CE requirements as a way to round out your social work knowledge.