Qualifications for professional social work

Qualifications for professional social work

Professional Social Workers are generally considered those who hold a professional degree in Social Work. In a number of countries and jurisdictions, registration or licensure of people working as social workers is required and there are mandated qualifications. [The National Association of Social Workers (NASW, 2005). NASW Fact Sheet. Retrieved November 15, 2006 from http://www.socialworkers.org.] In other places, the professional association sets academic and experiential requirements for admission to membership.

United States

A social worker, practicing in the United States, usually requires a doctoral degree (Ph.D or DSW), master's degree (MSW) or a bachelor's degree (BSW or BASW) in social work from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program to receive a license in most states. In some areas, however, a social worker may be able to receive a license with a bachelor's degree in any discipline. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest organization of professional social workers in the United States.

Depending on the university, the four year degree may be structured in different ways and draws upon many fields, including social work theory, psychology, human development, sociology, social policy, research methods, social planning and social administration.

A person with a BSW is considered a "generalist" and the MSW is considered "a specialist or advanced generalist"; a Ph.D. or D.S.W. (Doctor of Social Work) generally conducts research, teaches, or analyzes policy, often in higher education settings.

Various states in the United States "protect" the use of the title social worker by statute. Use of the title requires licensure or certification in most states. A number of states have different levels of licensure, Maryland being one example.

United Kingdom

The main qualification for social work is the undergraduate Bachelor's degree (BA, BSc or BSW) in social work, offered at British universities from September 2003 onwards. There is also available a master's degree (MA, MSc or MSW). These have replaced the previous qualifying award, the postgraduate Diploma in Social Work (DipSW), which was first awarded in 1991 and will be phased out across the UK by 2009. Prior to this, the recognised qualification was the Certificate of Qualification in Social Work (CQSW), awarded between 1975 and 1991.

Purporting to be either a social worker or a student social worker without registering with the Social Work Register and holding or undergoing training for the recognised qualifications is now a criminal offence. Social workers must renew their registration every three years. These regulations offer protection to vulnerable people by guaranteeing the professional regulation of people working as social workers. They also promote workforce development, as all social workers must participate in at least fifteen days of professional training over a three year period in order to be eligible for renewal of their registration.

Lay practitioners in the United Kingdom, often referred to as Social Services Assistants or Care Workers, are unregistered social workers that often do not hold any formal social work qualification. Within the mental health sector in the United Kingdom, there is an additional qualification that can be gained as an Approved Social Worker. This enables the practitioner to assess and make an application to a hospital for admission under the Mental Health Act 1983.

After qualifying, social workers can undertake further training under the social work 'Post-Qualifying Framework'. Until 2007, there are four awards available under this framework:
*Post-Qualifying Award - for advanced social work practice and management
*Mental Health Social Work award (in England, Approved Social Worker award; in Scotland, Mental Health Officer award) - qualification to work with people with mental health needs under the Mental Health Act
*Child Care Award - qualification to work with children and young people
*Practice Teaching Award - qualification to work as a tutor, supervisor and assessor for social work students on their work placement

From 2007, the General Social Care Council and UK partners are implementing a new framework which unifies these awards in a simpler structure allowing broader study to count towards three levels of social work award: specialist, higher specialist, and advanced.


A four-year Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is required for entry into the occupation of Social Worker in Australia, although some universities also offer a two-year, accelerated, graduate-entry BSW. Whilst there are no legal registration requirements, most employers stipulate that applicants must be eligible for membership of the [http://www.aasw.asn.au/ Australian Association of Social Workers (Australia)] (AASW). Only graduates of courses recognised by the AASW are eligible for membership. Continuing Professional Education (CPE) is an ongoing requirement of accredited membership of the AASW and must incorporate accountability, gaining new knowledge and information & skill development (CPE Policy 2006, AASW). A person with overseas qualifications can apply for consideration of recognition of their qualifications via a formal application for assessment by the AASW.


A four-year Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) is required for entry into the field. A Masters Degree in Social Work (MSW) is usually required to provide psychotherapy treatment. In Canada social workers may provide treatment but cannot diagnose. Some provinces require registration in order to legally use the title "Social Worker".


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