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The District of Columbia recognizes four categories of social work licensure. A social work professional with education at the baccalaureate level is licensed as a Licensed Social Work Associate (LSWA). He or she is qualified to carry out duties such as case work and community organization while working under supervision. Other social work licenses require education at the master’s level.
The Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW) credential is awarded to master’s level graduates who have passed the licensing examination and met other basic requirements. Like the LSWA, it is a non-independent license. After a period of supervised practice and further examination, the social worker can qualify for one of two independent licenses: Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) or Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW).
Social workers can have many roles, but there are some that only LICSWs are qualified for: autonomous diagnosis and treatment of psychosocial issues. They can perform psychotherapy, either in agency settings or on their own.
Social Work Educational Standards
Programs are to be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), whether taught at the bachelor’s or master’s level (CSWE Accredited Master’s of Social Work Programs in DC). An exception is made for international programs. Social work degrees awarded by international schools must be evaluated by the Foreign Equivalency Determination Service; this unit is also under the banner of the CSWE.
LISW and LICSW requirements are first differentiated at the student level. An individual who will seek the clinical credential will need at least 12 hours of clinical coursework. At least 6 must be at the graduate level. (Prospective clinical social workers sometimes choose to begin their social work education at the bachelor’s level and then seek advanced standing in social work master’s programs.)
The Examination Process
Examination is required for licensure at any level. All examinations are made available by the Association of Social Work Boards. The clinical examination is appropriate for the LICSW while the advanced generalist examination is appropriate for the LISW.
Candidates receive their examination permission by applying to the Board. A student may be approved to take the exam who is in his or final term of an accredited program. Approved candidates contact the ASWB. Ultimately, they will schedule their own examinations. Fees vary by exam, but are over $200.
In order to be approved to take the clinical examination, the social worker will need to have met the clinical coursework requirement.
According to 2017 regulations, Board approval is valid for two examination attempts or 120 days. Additional requirements may be imposed by the Board after repeated examination failures. Typically, remediation consists of a review course. If the failures continue, the individual may need another year of supervised practice.
Re-examination will also incur additional fees.
Supervised Practice Requirements
Independent credentials are awarded only after 3,000 hours of supervised practice. An LICSW will gain his or her supervised practice participating in the treatment and diagnosis process.The LGSW will need 100 hours of face-to-face supervision. The supervisor will be an independent social worker or independent clinical social worker, as appropriate. Supervisor and supervisee will be in very regular contact. The supervisee is expected to be under immediate supervision for an hour for every 32 supervised practice hours.
In some cases, this professional will not be on-site at the supervisee’s workplace. In this instance, supervisor and supervisee are to have a written contract in place before the onset of supervision.
The supervision period is to last two to four years. The supervised practice hours must have been accrued in the five years prior to application for the independent license.
There may be more than one supervisor. The ‘applications’ section of the website includes a worksheet to keep track of general and face-to-face supervision.
The Application Process
Applications, checklists, and instructions are available for download from the website of the DC Department of Health (https://dchealth.dc.gov/service/social-work-initial-license-application-package).
An applicant will need two passport photos, taken in the recent past.
The applicant should also submit an official transcript. If the degree has not yet been conferred, the applicant may submit a written request from his or her school noting the degree and expected date of conferral – this will allow for early examination.
The Board will require three references (two professional, one personal).
An experience evaluation form will be needed to complete the application package for independent licensure.
The applicant will submit a $230 combined application and licensure fee.
DC requires criminal background checks. Applicants can have their fingerprints made electronically by the approved vendor (https://dchealth.dc.gov/node/120532). In early 2018, two locations are listed: metro DC and Alexandria, Virginia. It is also an option to visit the Metropolitan Police Department.
The DC vendor is able to scan hard copies of fingerprints; this is an option for applicants living outside the area.
Out-of-State Social Workers
Out-of-state social workers can be licensed by endorsement if licensing requirements were at the time equivalent to those of DC regulations. An endorsement candidate will need to have passed an equivalent examination.
The social worker is to request that official license verification be sent directly to the Board. A copy of the license should also be included with the application.
Washington DC can accept supervised practice hours that were legally obtained in another jurisdiction in the relatively recent past. The supervisor will have needed to hold an equivalent license or have been qualified for one if he or she did not hold one. (Some states, notably, do not license nonclinical social workers.)
In some cases, an out-of-state social worker will need to first pursue licensure at the non-independent level. The social worker can then meet standards as required by the DC Board.
There is a continuing education requirement that applies to all social workers except for those with new licenses. While much of the requirement can be met through discretionary courses, DC has set some specific requirements, including ethics.
Currently, licenses expire (or are renewed) on odd numbered years.
The District of Columbia Board of Social Work is under the banner of the Department of Health. Applicants with questions may call 1-877-672-2174.
Regulations are available online (https://dchealth.dc.gov/node/129242). They are subject to change. The current copy is dated 2017; this is as of 2018.