Social work regulatory strategies in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

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As part of the critical infrastructure workforce, social workers have been deemed essential during the public health crisis we are now experiencing. Social workers are responding to increased client needs in a time of uncertainty and disruption that has produced problems like food insecurity, inability to pay bills, anxiety, and other mental health challenges. Social work regulators and policy makers are responding, too, so that the need for social work services is met even as regulatory boards maintain a focus on public protection.

Regulatory challenges stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic

The public health emergency has produced many problems that affect the social work regulatory community, including:
  • The increased need to provide continuation of care via electronic means because of social distancing protocols, students leaving universities and their support networks, and clients and practitioners being separated by state lines
  • Disruption of classes, supervision, and field work experience, necessitating electronic solutions and reduction of field hour requirements
  • Cancellation of in-person continuing education offerings, demanding extension of renewal deadlines and greater access to and acceptance of distance learning
  • Delays in licensure because of the suspension of testing, calling for temporary flexibility in licensure requirements

Regulatory solutions from member jurisdictions

Most jurisdictions have issued policy actions to address challenges that affect social work regulation. “Social work regulators are working hard to respond to executive orders and to develop solutions while still keeping public protection as the primary mandate,” says Jennifer Henkel, ASWB senior director of member services and strategic initiatives. “We’re impressed by the changes we see happening and the flexibility exhibited by member boards to respond to the needs.”

  • Ohio has addressed the need for electronic practice, especially to allow students returning home from out-of-state colleges and universities to receive continued behavioral health care, by issuing emergency provisions allowing more flexibility in providing services. Guidance from the board, however, reminds practitioners: “… The code of ethics and scopes of practice remain unchanged. Licensees must continue to practice in ways that ensure client care is not compromised.”
  • New York is helping social work students meet graduation requirements for field hours. Because the required number of field hours is specified in law, the New York board was unable to recognize temporary guidelines issued by the Council on Social Work Education allowing accredited programs to accept 85 percent of current field placement hours for graduates. That barrier has been lifted through amendments to the law after Governor Andrew Cuomo’s executive order declaring a state of emergency allowed modification of the supervised field experience requirement.
  • Virginia is easing license renewal requirements by granting a one-year extension to all licensees and removing restrictions on the number of CE credits that may be earned online.
  • Arizona has taken several actions in response to the emergency. The state has  extended the time frame for license renewals by six months for licenses expiring between March 1 and June 1 to give social workers more time to complete CE requirements. And the state suspended limits on online or alternative ways of earning CE credit.

ASWB wants to hear from jurisdictions

ASWB supports regulators in their creative efforts to safeguard the public through emergency regulation. Staff members have compiled and are regularly updating a list of emergency provisions that affect social work regulation during the COVID-19 pandemic. The association is interested in hearing from members about your efforts. Please keep Cara Sanner, regulatory support services coordinator (, apprised of any emergency regulations enacted in your jurisdiction. Sanner will make sure your entry in the emergency provisions web page is current. In addition, your input will help the association’s Regulation and Standards Committee when it takes up the challenge of adding best-practice emergency provisions to the ASWB Model Social Work Practice Act.