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Washington DC Social Work License Requirements

Washington DC is home to over 650,000 people and over 10,000 social workers.1,2 If you wish to become a social worker in Washington DC, you will need to understand the licensing requirements enforced by the Washington DC Department of Health Board of Social Work. The Board of Social Work administers all social work licenses in the district. Continue reading to understand the different social work licenses and certificates and their respective requirements.

How to Become a Social Worker in Washington DC

Educational Paths

Washington DC social workers must be licensed to call themselves social workers. Social workers must possess a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) to practice. To practice clinical social work or to practice independently, you will need a master’s in social work (MSW). Read below to learn the differences in the two social work degrees.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

A bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)-accredited school is necessary to practice social work in Washington DC. BSW programs expose students to professional social work practice through classroom and hands-on experience. Courses in human behavior and the social environment, social welfare policy, research, social work practice and field education are typical courses undergraduates will take while in a BSW program. In Washington DC, students with a BSW may apply to become licensed social worker associates (LSWAs).

Master of Social Work (MSW)

In Washington DC, you will need a master’s in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited school to become a licensed independent social worker (LISW) or licensed independent clinical social worker (LICSW). Programs accredited by the CSWE will share the core curriculum while but will have unique electives and field placement opportunities. Most MSW programs offer “advanced standing” for students who hold a BSW, allowing them to complete the graduate program in half the time it normally takes (one year versus two years). With an MSW, you will have the terminal degree for social work in Washington DC, meaning you will have the highest level of education necessary to perform all social work jobs in the state.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Washington DC

Social workers in Washington DC are required to be licensed in order to practice. The Washington Board of Social Work administers four social work licenses. Those include the licensed social worker associate, licensed graduate social worker, licensed independent social worker, and licensed independent clinical social worker licenses. LISWs and LICSWs are able to practice social work independently and can supervise other social workers. The text below outlines the four different licensure options in Washington DC and the requirements for each one.

Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA)

The entry level social work license offered by the Washington DC Board of Social Work is the social work associate license (LSWA). To apply, you must be at least 18 years old and have a bachelor’s degree from a CSWE-accredited school. Once you meet the education requirement, you must:

1. Complete the application.

LSWA candidates must apply
to the Washington DC Board of Social Work to become licensed. As a part of the application process, you must answer the 10 qualifying questions and submit additional documentation for every “yes” answer recorded. In addition to paying the $230 application fee (as of January 2016), you must submit the following documents:

  • An official transcript from your college or university
  • Two passport-style photos (2″ x 2″) with your name and social security number on the back
  • Three character reference forms (at least two references must be professional references)

If you are applying for licensure and you passed the ASWB examination over five years ago, you must apply for licensure via the re-exam license application. This application fee is $85. Along with the application, you must submit:

  • Two recent passport-style photos (2″ x 2″)
  • Social security number

2. Take and pass the ASWB bachelors exam.

After submitting your application, you will become eligible to sit for the bachelor’s level Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam. You must register for and take the ASWB bachelor’s level exam. The $230 exam (as of January 2016) is designed to test the candidate’s knowledge of general social work practice. In Washington DC, candidates must score at least 75 to pass. Candidates may take the ASWB exam a maximum of three times per calendar year. If you fail the exam twice (consecutively), the Board of Social Work may require you to take an approved review course prior to being allowed to sit for the ASWB exam again. If you fail the exam four times (consecutively), you may be required to take a Board-approved review course before you can retake the exam. If you fail the exam six times (consecutively), you may be required to complete one year of supervised social work practice before you can sit for the exam again.

3. Receive your LSWA.

Once you have satisfied the above requirements, you will become a licensed LSWA in Washington DC and can practice general social work under supervision.

Licensed Graduate Social Work (LGSW)

Individuals who hold a master’s degree in social work can apply to become a licensed graduate social worker. For this license, you must be at least 18 years of age. Once you satisfy the initial requirements, you must:

1. Complete the application.

Applicants hoping to become an LGSW must apply
for licensure to the Washington DC Board of Social Work. The application has 10 qualifying questions and costs $230 (as of January 2016). In addition to the fee, you must submit the following documents:

  • An official transcript from your college or university
  • Two passport-style photos (2″ x 2″) with your name and social security number on the back
  • Three character reference forms (at least two references must be professional references)

If you are applying for licensure and you passed the ASWB examination over five years ago, you must apply for licensure via the re-exam license application. This application fee is discounted to $85. Your application must include two recent passport-style photos (2”X2”) and your social security number.

2. Take and pass the ASWB masters exam.

Once you submit your application and gain Board approval, you may register for and take the ASWB master’s level exam. The $230 exam (as of January 2016) consists of 170 multiple choice questions; candidates must score a 75 in order to pass. Candidates may take the ASWB exam a maximum of three times per calendar year.

3. Receive your LGSW.

Upon passing the ASWB exam and completing the other steps required for licensure, you will become a licensed graduate social worker and can practice social work under supervision.

Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW)

If you wish to practice social work independently, you can apply to become a licensed independent social worker (LISW). LISWs may practice social work independently, but must practice clinical social work under supervision. To become an LISW, you must hold an MSW or doctorate in social work and must hold lower level social work license for two years prior to applying for licensure. Once you satisfy those requirements, you must:

1. Gain the required experience.

LISW candidates must complete 3,000 hours of post-graduate experience in two to four years.
One hour for every 32 hours of work experience must be supervised. If your supervisor practices in a different location from you (also known as off-site), you must have a written contract for supervision and keep documentation of supervisory sessions (with dates), duration, and focus of supervision for at least five years. Your supervisor must be an LISW or an LICSW.

2. Complete the application.

LISW candidates must complete the application
for licensure. The application has 10 qualifying questions and costs $230 (as of January 2016). In addition to the fee, you must submit the following documents:

If you are applying for licensure and you passed the ASWB examination over five years ago, you must apply for licensure via the re-exam license application. This application fee is discounted to $85. Your application must include two recent passport-style photos (2”X2”) and your social security number.

3. Take and pass the ASWB advanced generalist exam.

LISW candidates must take and pass the ASWB advanced generalist exam. This exam tests an applicant’s knowledge of advanced social work practices, methods, and interventions. The exam costs $260 (as of January 2016) and consists of 170 questions. Candidates must a 75 in order to pass.

4. Receive your LCSW.

After completing the steps above and passing the ASWB advanced generalist exam, you will become a licensed independent social worker and may practice non-clinical social work independently.

Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)

To become a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in Washington DC, you must have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited school or doctorate in social work and you must have been licensed at the lower level for two years. Once you meet those requirements, you must:

1. Gain the required experience.

LCSW candidates must complete 3,000 hours of post-graduate experience in the diagnosis and treatment of people or groups with psychosocial problems. This experience must occur within two to four years and one hour must be supervised for every 32 hours of work. If your supervisor practices in a different location from you (also known as off-site), you must have a written contract for supervision and keep documentation of supervisory sessions (with dates), duration, and focus of supervision for at least five years. Your supervisor must be an LISW or an LICSW.

2. Complete the application.

LCSW candidates must complete the social work application
for licensure. The application has 10 qualifying questions and costs $230 (as of January 2016). In addition to the fee, you must submit the following documents:

If you are applying for licensure and you passed the ASWB examination over five years ago, you must apply for licensure via the re-exam license application. Unlike the regular LCSW application, the re-examination application is $85 (as of January 2016). Your application must include two recent passport-style photos (2”X2”) and your social security number.

3. Take and pass the ASWB clinical exam.

LCSW candidates must take and pass the ASWB clinical exam. This exam tests an applicant’s knowledge of clinical social work practices, methods, and interventions. The 170-question exam costs $260 (as of January 2016); candidates must score a 75 in order to pass. Candidates may take the ASWB exam a maximum of three times per calendar year. If you fail the exam twice (consecutively), the Board of Social Work may require you to take an approved review course prior to being allowed to sit for the ASWB exam again. If you fail the exam four times (consecutively), you may be required to take a Board-approved review course before you can retake the exam. If you fail the exam six times (consecutively), you may be required to complete one year of supervised social work practice before you can sit for the exam again.

4. Receive your LCSW.

Once you complete the three steps above, you will become a licensed clinical social worker and may practice clinical and non-clinical social work independently.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Washington DC

Washington DC does not have formal reciprocity with any other state in the US. If you were a licensed social worker in another state, you must apply to the Washington DC Board of Social Work. To become licensed social worker by endorsement, you must submit:

  • Two recent passport-style photos (2″ x 2″) with your name and social security number on the back
  • A copy of your current social work license
  • Verification of licensure from your original jurisdiction (must be mailed directly to the Board in a sealed envelop)
  • Social security number or a sworn affidavit stating that you have no social security number
  • Your official ASWB score
  • The $230 fee (as of January 2016)
  • The application instructions sheet

If all of the supporting documents are not received within 90 days, the Washington Board of Social Work will consider your application abandoned.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Social work licenses in Washington DC expire biennially on July 31 of every odd year. Social workers must renewtheir licenses and complete 40 hours of continuing education (CE) hours during the two-year period. Of the 40 required CE hours, six CE hours must include a face-to-face ethics course, three CE hours must be in Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) training, and no more than 12 CE hours may include home study, online courses, or any other independent study. As of January 2016, the fee to renew all social work licenses was $145.

Washington DC Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

Washington DC employs over 10,000 social workers, most of whom are employed in the subfield of child, family, and school social workers (5,790).2 In fact, Washington DC has the sixth-highest concentration of employment for child, family, and school social workers in the country.3 Average annual social worker salaries range from $54,900 to $73,130 in the DC metropolitan area.2 Projections show that social worker jobs in Washington DC will increase by 15.4% by the year 2022, amounting to 150 jobs per year.4 With the high range of salaries and projected job growth, Washington DC will make a good place to start a social work career.

TypeNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers5,790$57,260
Healthcare Social Workers2,080$58,620
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers1,430$54,900
Social Workers, All Other720$73,130

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2014.2

Social Work Associations in Washington DC

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I begin practicing independently once I become registered as a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)?

Answer: Yes, once you meet the requirements for an LISW or LICSW and gain approval by the Board, you may begin practicing social work independently. You must be an LICSW to practice clinical social work independently

Question: For the 3,000 hours of work experience required, can I count experience I gained years ago to become an LCSW?

Answer: Yes. As long as the social work experience was completed in no less than two years and no more than four years.

Question: What kinds of qualifications are required of the person supervising my experience?

Answer: Supervisors must be licensed LISWs or licensed LICSWs.

Question: What kind of degree do I need to practice social work in Washington DC?

Answer: To practice social work in Washington DC, you will need either a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited school. To practice independently, you need a master’s degree in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

References:
1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Washington DC: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/11
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2015 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_47900.htm
3. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes211021.htm
4. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm