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Forensic Social Work Certificate: Program Overview

Graduate students enrolled in a Master of Social Work (MSW) program or active social work professionals may obtain a certificate in forensic social work from many colleges or universities. Graduate certificate programs in forensic social work are generally designed for those already have - or are currently working towards - a master's degree in social work.

Essential Information

Forensic social work concentrates on the intersection of social work and criminal justice, law enforcement or corrections. Some schools may also require students with no related experience to complete a field experience in a forensic setting, such as a police department, domestic violence center, corrections department or law firm. Skills labs may cover how to work with lawyers and provide testimonies in court. Completion of this program alone does not qualify students for general licensure as a clinical social worker.

  • Prerequisites: Students must typically have an Master of Social Work (MSW) or be concurrently enrolled in an MSW degree program to enroll; letters of recommendation and proof of a professional social work license may also be required.
  • Program Length: the certificate program can usually be completed in about a year
  • Other Requirements: seminars, labs and/or field experiences are required in addition to coursework

Graduate Certificate in Forensic Social Work

Forensic social work programs examine issues that overlap the social work and legal fields, especially within a religious, cultural or ethnic context. Some programs focus on performing social work within the criminal justice sphere, covering domestic violence, criminal counseling, juvenile justice and conflict mediation. Students may be required to complete a capstone experience and to participate in mock court or clinical research. Classroom learning covers how forensic social work findings are reported to law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, as well as how evidence is presented in court. Certificate program curricula usually require seminars in family and criminal law. The curriculum generally explores how principles of forensic investigation are applied to immigration, child welfare, mental health and public health situations where social workers typically step in. Common course topics include:

  • Interviewing and evaluation techniques
  • Ethics and legal issues in social work
  • Forensic science techniques in social work
  • Social work and domestic violence
  • Forensic social work in the criminal and juvenile justice systems
  • Cultural issues in forensic social work

Career Outlook and Salary Info

Graduates of a forensic social work program often work as social workers within the criminal justice systems. Their duties may be similar to a child social worker who works with child custody, neglect and child abuse cases. Forensic social workers also conduct counseling tasks similar to mental health social workers as they help diagnose and treat individuals in the criminal and juvenile justice system.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that total employment of social workers is projected to grow 19% from 2012-2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). Those who specialize as mental health and substance abuse social workers could see possible job growth of 20% during that same period while those who specialize as child, family and school social workers could see a 15% job growth. In May 2014, the BLS reported that the mean annual wage for all mental health and substance abuse social workers was $45,820. Child, family and school social workers earned a mean annual wage of $46,180 at that same time.

Licensure and Certification Info

All states require social workers to have some form of licensure, certification or registration to practice, according to the BLS. Though requirements vary by state, most stipulate that social workers have at least two years of clinical experience and complete a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Forensic social workers may also wish to join the National Organization of Forensic Social Work to keep up on industry trends and professional networking opportunities.

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