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How to Become a Social Services Worker: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a social services worker. Research the education and career requirements, training, licensure information and experience required for starting a career in social work. View article »

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  • 0:00 Should I Be a Social…
  • 0:45 Career Requirements
  • 1:29 How to Become a Social Worker

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Should I Become a Social Services Worker?

Social services workers, also known as social workers, may be certified, registered or licensed professionals who help people deal with problematic issues affecting their daily lives. Such issues may include substance abuse, disability or illness, domestic violence, stress or emotional problems, or lack of access to adequate housing and other supportive resources. Many of these client problems are very serious in nature and may be hard to deal with on a daily basis. Some social work organizations are understaffed, which might lead to further stress on workers. Social services workers often must travel to clients' homes to meet with them or conduct investigations.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's degree is required for clinical social workers
Degree Field Social work, psychology, sociology, or related field
Licensure and Certification A state-issued license or certification is required
Experience 2 years or 3,000 hours of supervised experience required for clinical social workers
Key Skills Compassion, time management, organizational, listening, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills
Salary $58,560 per year (2015 median for all social workers)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), O*NET OnLine, PayScale

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How to Become A Social Worker

Step 1: Earn a Degree in Social Work

Social services workers generally obtain a Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSW) or a Master of Science in Social Work (MSW) through a program that's accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Some programs allow students to focus on specific areas of social work, such as individual, child, family, organizational, or community practice. Coursework may include classes in social work theory and practice, human behavior, social diversity, family law and policy, child welfare, and substance abuse.

Volunteer or Intern to Obtain Practical Experience

Aspiring social services workers completing bachelor's programs can benefit from participating in volunteer and internship opportunities while in school. Students may serve at local human rights organizations, outreach programs, or similar institutions to gain hands-on experience working with people in need. In some instances, volunteer or internship experience is required in order to earn a degree in social work.

Step 2: Gain Work Experience

Social workers with bachelor's degrees can find work opportunities in most direct-service social work positions. As part of their daily work, they may assess client needs and strengths, respond to child endangerment or human welfare crisis situations, evaluate service plans, refer clients to community resources, and help clients apply for government assistance. An internship or other supervised experience is required for MSW holders. Graduates of MSW programs can gain experience through fellowships in social work. Fellowships, which can last 9-24 months, provide graduates with supervised experience working with patients in a clinical setting. This post-MSW work experience is generally required to attain state licensing.

Step 3: Obtain a State License

States have differing requirements for licensing social services workers. The Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) title is typically reserved for social workers with an MSW who have passed an exam offered by the Association of Social Work Boards and met work experience and other eligibility requirements. A social worker's state license must be renewed periodically, depending on each state's requirements.

Step 4: Consider Earning a Credential

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) has three levels of credentialing. The basic professional credential is the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) designation, which is available to qualified candidates with an MSW, at least two years of supervised postgraduate social work employment, and 20 additional hours of related continuing education. The NASW also provides the Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW) credential for candidates who are already ACSW members, hold a current state social work license and an MSW, have at least three years of supervised postgraduate clinical employment, and 30 contact hours of continuing clinical social work education. The organization's highest designation is the Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW), which requires current QCSW certification and an additional three years of full-time experience performing clinical social work, among other eligibility requirements.

Step 5: Maintain Credentials

Social workers are required to renew their professional licenses and certifications periodically, and continuing education is commonly required for renewal. Social workers can continue their education through advanced classes and training seminars to learn new skills and techniques to aid in their work. Additionally, continuing education can help a social worker stay current with industry trends and changes in laws regarding social work.

Join a Professional Organization

Becoming a member of a professional organization, such as the NASW can provide social services workers with access to a variety of benefits to further their careers. Some of the benefits may include professional development resources, networking opportunities, and access to continuing education options.

Social services workers, also known as social workers, must obtain at least a bachelor's degree in social work, psychology, sociology, or related field; though clinical social workers must have a master's degree. Two years of experience and a state license is generally required as well.

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