The Pennsylvania social work practice act identifies scope of practice for social workers at different levels.
Pennsylvania awards licensure to social workers at the master’s level. There are two license types: Licensed Social Worker and Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Professionals with degrees at the bachelor’s level can work as social workers; their scope of practice is more restricted. A recent law provides for voluntary licensing. This may become an option after new regulations are written.
Foundations for Social Work Licensure in PA
A prospective LSWs is to earn a master’s degree in social work or social welfare or a doctoral degree in social work. Social Work master’s programs are to be accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, or CSWE (Master’s of Social Work programs in PA). International degrees can be accepted if reviewed and found equivalent by the Council on Social Work Education.
Licensure is dependent on successful examination. The candidate will test through the Association of Social Work Boards. A Licensed Social Worker will take the master’s level exam. Candidates can receive examination permission when they are in the final semester of a qualifying program.
Some candidates will need to make more than one attempt at the examination. The licensing agency notes that the ASWB imposes a 90-day wait period. A candidate who does not meet the requirement during the initial six months will need to secure an extension from the Board. Directions are provided in the frequently asked questions section for Licensed Social Workers (http://www.dos.pa.gov/ProfessionalLicensing/BoardsCommissions/SocialWorkersMarriageanFamilyTherapistsandProfessionalCounselors/Pages/Frequently-Asked-Questions.aspx).
Requirements for Clinical Licensure
In order to achieve Licensed Clinical Social Worker status, an individual must accrue 3,000 hours of post-master clinical practice. The supervision period may last two to six years. The Board cannot credit more than 1,800 hours in a 12-month time span; the minimum number of creditable hours is 500. The supervisee may perform some duties as part of his or her job that are not creditable.
In order to be credited, supervised work activity in a particular setting must comprise 30 – 50 hours a week for three months or at least 15 hours a week for six months.
Half of the experience must be comprised of service provision in particular areas noted in state code. These include psychotherapy, assessment, psycho-education and other psychosocial therapeutic interventions, consultation, group therapy, and family therapy.
The individual will have a clinical supervisor. The supervisor will perform the following, among other services: direct observation or review of recordings, discussion of cases, recommendations for professional development and skill development, and evaluation. State code stipulates that the supervisor will make himself or herself available for consultation and also encourage the supervisee to engage in inter-professional consultation as indicated.
Supervisors are professionals with at least five years of experience. In some cases, an individual will have more than one. At least 1,500 hours are to be under the supervision of a clinical social worker. The remainder may be under another qualified and experienced professional.
Some supervisory activities may be delegated as allowable under state code. The supervisee is to have at least two hours of meetings with a supervisor or delegate for every 40 hours of clinical experience.
The Application Process
The application process for LSWs and LCSWs is now online. Prospective licensees can find instructions for their license type within the system. The Board has included a link to frequently asked questions about the Pennsylvania Licensing System (http://www.dos.pa.gov/ProfessionalLicensing/BoardsCommissions/SocialWorkersMarriageanFamilyTherapistsandProfessionalCounselors/Pages/General-Board-Information.aspx#.VG-ZZlZOk5s).
The licensing agency will require official transcripts. Applicants who secure examination permission before completing their degree will need to make sure that their school submits the official transcript after the degree has been conferred.
Applicants are expected to submit two references.
Application fees are currently $25 at the LSW level, $45 at the LCSW level.
Examination permission is granted after application. Currently, applicants receive notification of examination eligibility by mail. The examination fee is paid to a third party. A prospective LSW can expect to pay $230; a prospective LCSW can expect to pay $260. An authorized candidate will be able to select from testing centers located around the nation. Examination is by appointment. Information about the examination process is available from the ASWB (https://www.aswb.org/).
Licenses are subject to biennial renewal. Social workers have continuing education requirements.
Endorsement of Out-of-State Clinical Social Workers
Clinical social workers may be endorsed into Pennsylvania without examination if they hold an appropriate degree, have passed an acceptable examination, and have completed 3,000 hours of supervised practice that met the standards of their own jurisdiction. They must be in good standing.
Social Work Practice at the Bachelor’s Level
An amendment in late 2014 removed a previous category of licensure “provisional social worker” which was reserved for professionals with education at the bachelor’s level who were pursuing master’s degrees in social work. The act referenced licensure of bachelor’s social workers and noted that an individual would not be able to use the title Licensed Bachelor Social Worker without a license.
According to the act, bachelor’s level social workers are generalists who can perform various services including case management, supportive counseling, client education, community organization, and program implementation. They work under direction. They do not provide services that the state defines as clinical.
Pennsylvania social workers are regulated by the State Board of Social Workers, Marriage and Family Therapists and Professional Counselors. The Board can be reached by phone at (717) 783-1389 or by email at ‘st-socialwork at pa.gov.
Laws and rules are available online (http://www.dos.pa.gov/ProfessionalLicensing/BoardsCommissions/SocialWorkersMarriageanFamilyTherapistsandProfessionalCounselors/Pages/Board-Laws-and-Regulations.aspx#.VG-alVZOk5s). They are subject to further revision.
The Pennsylvania Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers is a source of information about current legislative activity (https://www.nasw-pa.org/page/86?).