Get licensed, live licensed
As one of our pilot school faculty members noted, Path to Licensure is all about teaching students an important lesson: “Get licensed, live licensed.” While most of your students may understand the importance of getting licensed to practice social work, they don’t necessarily understand that there are different requirements for licensure in different jurisdictions. ASWB works with state and provincial jurisdictions throughout the United States, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Canada. Through our member boards, ASWB is in a unique position to access current jurisdictional requirements and practices. We are happy to make the most current information available via links to jurisdictional information on the ASWB website.
In most states, to be a social work practitioner—or even to use the title “social worker”—an individual must be licensed. It is in this way that the jurisdiction can ensure that if a client or client system is harmed by a licensed professional, there is legal recourse to mitigate the harm and protect the public.
Classroom activity idea: Encourage your students to research the regulation in their state to learn who can use the title social worker and whether that title is protected. In fact, encourage your students to research more than one jurisdiction to see how the definition and title protection is similar or different in various states.
“Get licensed” basic requirements: Three E’s and fees
You can share with your students in general that every jurisdiction has basic requirements to get licensed that fall in three categories:
The first E is Education: Regulation defines what social work degree is required for each license category. Jurisdictions in the United States usually require that the social work program be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). In Canada the programs must be accredited by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education (CASWE). Regulation will further specify what degree qualifies for each licensure category. There is considerable variation in what the licenses are called from one jurisdiction to another, yet the educational requirement is similar by category. In general, this means that a bachelor’s license requires a BSW degree, a master’s license requires an MSW degree, and a clinical license requires an MSW degree plus experience. That leads me to the next “E.”
The second E is Experience: Once again there are some variations in the amount of experience required by jurisdictions. The differences typically are found in the amount of supervised experience required for licensure at the clinical category. Sometimes this is stated in terms of years: Anywhere from one to five years of experience may be required. In other cases, regulation specifies a number of hours and the length of time during which these hours must be accumulated.
Classroom activity idea: Use the ASWB website’s quick report page for an easy way to demonstrate in class how to find a side-by-side report comparing licensing requirements for more than one jurisdiction.
The third E is Examination: This one may cause the most anxiety and is typically the focus of concern when thinking about the licensure process. But we offer plenty of information that you can share with students about this “E.”
Explain to your students that no matter where they want to get licensed, the exam they sit for has the same passing score in all jurisdictions. That’s good news for your students, because it means exam scores can be transferred from one jurisdiction to another, in large part eliminating the need to retake the exam in the same category for the purposes of getting an equivalent social work license in a new jurisdiction.
Let your students know that there are four categories of examinations (Bachelors, Masters, Advanced Generalist, and Clinical) based on category of practice and education. All 50 states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and British Columbia use one or more of the ASWB examinations, and some jurisdictions use all four. Be sure to tell your students to take the correct examination for the relevant licensure category for which they are applying. ASWB’s Links to Licensing Boards can guide students to licensing board websites, where they can learn about individual state examination requirements. The licensing board in the jurisdiction where they apply for their initial license will ultimately determine which exam they are approved to take.
As discussed in the ASWB Guide to the Social Work Exams, 2nd edition, the exams are developed in ways that ensure fairness and consistency. The blueprint—or content outline—for each exam is based on the practice analysis, which is updated every five to seven years. The 2017 Analysis of the Practice of Social Work defines what a social worker is expected to know in order to practice safely on the first day on the job or, in the case of the clinical social worker, what the individual is expected to know to be competent to practice after obtaining supervised experience.
The examinations themselves may or may not be similar to examinations your students have taken during their education. One thing is clear: The ASWB examinations are not “comp tests” that assess everything covered in a social work degree program but, instead, are anchored to the practice analysis mentioned above.
Classroom activity idea: The best way to get a feel for the scope of the examinations is to review the ASWB website’s exam content outline page and the ASWB Guide to the Social Work Exams, 2nd edition. Both of these resources list the percentage of questions for each area, as well as the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) that may be tested on each examination. Candidates are advised to review these KSAs, make sure the topics are familiar, and focus study on the areas that are less familiar or less fresh.
As for examination preparation, you may be using the Group Review Practice Test in your classrooms already. Good for you! Not only does that give your students a taste of how exam questions, called items, are constructed, but it is also a great tool for teaching students the critical thinking skills required to determine the one correct answer to the item. Many exam candidates have found ASWB’s online practice test helpful. This individual practice test gives candidates registered for the exam a way to test their readiness and receive feedback on what they missed so they can focus their study accordingly.
The ASWB examinations are in step with current literature widely used in the profession, such as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). Be aware, however, that the examinations are North American in scope and, as such, do not test specific state laws or individual society or association standards or codes of ethics. Of course, social work ethics are a major element in the ASWB examinations, and the exams are consistent with the ethical codes of both the National Association of Social Workers and the Canadian Social Workers Association.
Finally, the fees: This part is simpler. Jurisdictions assess fees for license application processing. Again, there are differences between jurisdictions. This is another good time to encourage students to use our link to the jurisdictions to find out the costs ahead of time. There is also a fee paid to ASWB for the exam. If a candidate wants to purchase study materials, there will be additional costs. Please tell your students about fees up front to reduce their “sticker shock.” In fact, encourage students to set up a professional development savings account before graduation. A contribution to that savings account is a great graduation gift for students to suggest to loved ones!
“Live licensed” basics
Display the license: At some point, your graduates will likely have passed the exam and fulfilled their entry to practice licensing requirements. They will receive their license in the mail. Tell your students that when they are practicing licensed professionals, they should display their license. In fact, many jurisdictions include language in their regulation stating that licensees must display their licenses in a “conspicuous place” where their clients and the public can see it. This is one way that regulation provides for protection of the public.
Renew the license: Another critical part of living licensed is for licensees to remember that they are required to periodically renew their license. When initially getting licensed, the 3 E’s measured minimal competency. When renewing to keep an active license, all boards require social workers to demonstrate continued competence; these requirements may include professional development plans or continuing education (CE) credits. Some jurisdictions are very specific about their CE requirements; renewing licensees may need specific training in topics such as ethics, diversity and difference in practice, mandatory reporting, or domestic violence. Jurisdictions may even specify whether CE credits for book studies or online webinars are allowed.
Classroom activity idea: Have your students use the ASWB website to create a report about licensure renewal requirements and/or link to their licensing board for information about renewal.
New social work licensees sometimes expect to be reminded—as they have been as students—about course requirements. But once licensed, it is the licensee’s responsibility to regularly work on the CE requirements and renew on time. No amount of cramming at the last minute will suffice for acquiring CE credits in a timely way.