Protecting the public

Regulation is your assurance that social workers are competent to practice and will interact with clients in an ethical and safe manner.

Social work clients may not have the option or the resources to shop around for social work services. That’s why professional licensing for social workers is critical. Clients know that licensed social workers have demonstrated their ability to practice safely and competently. Further, if a social worker breaks the rules, professional licensing means that clients and the government have a way to hold that social worker accountable.


Licensed social workers have demonstrated competence to practice by completing an accredited degree program and by passing a national licensing exam.


Licensed social workers are accountable for their practice. They must maintain their license in good standing and practice according to the rules and regulations of their licensing board.


If a social worker breaks the rules, professional licensing means that the state or province may take disciplinary action against the social worker. When this happens, the social worker must comply with the board’s sanctions. It also means that there is a record of the case, so that boards can see whether there is a pattern of infractions.

Your rights as a client

Social work clients have every right to expect and demand that a social worker is trained, competent, ethical, and responsible.

How to file a complaint

If you are receiving social work services—whether you are paying for them or not—you can file a complaint if you believe a licensed social worker has violated the code of conduct or acted incompetently or unethically. If you are a licensed social worker and know of another licensed social worker who has committed a violation, you may have a duty to report that violation to your social work board, even if the code of ethics says you should first discuss the violation with your colleague.

What your state or provincial board does

The board in your state or province enforces the rules for social work, including issues of ethics and malpractice.

Find your state or provincial board

What ASWB does

ASWB’s programs are designed to support state and provincial boards in licensing and regulating social work.

Read more about ASWB
For ASWB members only

Public Protection Database

The Public Protection Database is designed to provide an important front line in the protection of the public. The PPD flagging system provides disciplinary information to member boards to assist them in making licensure decisions.

Look up a license

Find links to social work regulatory board websites that provide online confirmation of licensure status.