Guide to Becoming a Social Work Case Manager

Case managers typically have a bachelor's degree. Some get a master's or certification. Learn how to become a case manager in our step-by-step guide.
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  • Case managers work in organizations and government departments to connect people to services.
  • They may specialize in healthcare, corrections, child welfare, or another human service field.
  • Case manager jobs typically require a bachelor's degree.
  • Some case managers have a master's degree in social work.

Case managers often work with people who have fallen on tough times, connecting them to support services.

One of the many professions in social work, case managers connect people to helpful programs and monitor their progress. Ultimately, they aim to use community resources effectively and help people get the support they need.

Learn the steps to become a case manager, where case managers work, and how much they make throughout their careers.

What Is a Case Manager?

Case managers help people navigate and/or access health, mental health, criminal justice, child welfare, and other social service systems. These professionals collaborate with clients' family members, healthcare providers, licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), and other community organizations.

On a given day, case managers may:

  • Screen new clients to assess their strengths, needs, and preferences.
  • Create a plan to improve clients' quality of life.
  • Help prevent or manage crises in a client's life.
  • Refer clients to services.
  • Monitor clients' progress with services.

Registered Nurse Case Managers vs. Social Work Case Managers

Some case managers are registered nurse case managers. They provide medical services in addition to regular case management. This article is about social work case manager jobs, which focus on social and emotional support rather than medical care.

Featured Programs in Social Work

Steps to Become a Case Manager

Step 1: Earn a GED or High School Diploma

Many case manager positions require some degree. Degree programs typically admit applicants with a high school diploma or GED credential.

Step 2: Gain Experience in Case Management Settings

Before starting a degree program, you can volunteer or assist case management professionals.

Look to supportive housing organizations if you want to work as a housing case manager. If you want to work with children and families, become a youth mentor. You can also volunteer with the American Red Cross as a caseworker.

Step 3: Complete a Bachelor's Program

You don't need a specific bachelor's degree to become a case manager. However, employers typically hire candidates with degrees related to social services and mental health. Typical case manager degrees include:

Make sure your college has accreditation from a recognized agency. In addition, BSW programs need accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education.

Step 4: Earn a Master's Degree

You may need a master's in social work (MSW) for some case manager jobs. These professionals may also offer clinical services, like talk therapy, as long as a licensed clinician supervises them.

MSW grads can work as case managers to rack up the supervised hours they need to become an LCSW.

Step 5: Advance Your Career With Certification

The National Association of Social Workers and the Commission for Case Manager Certification jointly offer certification pathways for social work case managers, including:

  • Certified social work case manager
  • Certified advanced social work case manager

Certified social work case managers must:

  • Hold a BSW.
  • Have at least three years of supervised experience.
  • Have a state BSW-level social work license, pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam, or have four years of supervised experience plus 20 continuing education units.

Certified advanced social work case managers must:

  • Hold an MSW.
  • Have at least two years of supervised experience.
  • Have a state MSW-level social work license or pass the ASWB exam.

Case Manager Salary

Case managers may make less than other social workers with master's degrees. Payscale reported average social services case manager salaries of $40,050 in March 2022. That's lower than the median for social worker salaries, which was $51,760 as of May 2020 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Here's how case manager salaries stacked up across years of experience:

Case Manager Salaries by Experience Level
Years of Experience Average Case Manager Salary
1-4 $38,970
5-9 $41,330
10-19 $42,640
20+ $47,670
Data from Payscale, March 2022

Types of Case Manager Careers

Child and Family Case Manager

These professionals may work in foster care or government departments of family services. They visit people in their homes, connect families to resources like childcare and nutrition programs, and counsel individuals dealing with family separation.

Child and family case managers typically need a BSW or bachelor's in human services.

Healthcare Social Work Case Manager

In hospitals, social work case managers help patients navigate complicated healthcare systems. They collaborate with patients, nurses, physicians, and community organizations. Typically, they help clients awaiting treatment, recovering, or transitioning through different care settings.

These professionals need extensive knowledge of healthcare benefits and programs. They may become certified to demonstrate their expertise to employers.

Mental Health Case Manager

Mental health case managers work with clients who may need treatment for mood or personality disorders or other mental health issues. They help clients connect to psychiatric service providers and monitor their progress.

These professionals may have a bachelor's degree in counseling, psychology, or social work. Some have a master's degree and license in social work or counseling.

Substance Abuse Case Manager

These case managers help people dealing with substance use issues. They may help recovering clients find housing, transportation, and employment. Some substance misuse case manager jobs require candidates to be licensed clinical alcohol and drug counselors.

Correctional Case Manager

Some case managers help people in or recently released from correctional systems, like prison or juvenile detention. They help clients reintegrate into communities and find any support they need, from housing to healthcare to counseling.

These case managers typically have degrees in human services, psychology, or criminal justice.

Geriatric Case Manager

Geriatric case managers help assist older people through late-life transitions. They may:

  • Assess individuals' social, financial, and physical needs as they age.
  • Educate families on assisted living and home health options.
  • Collaborate with physicians and nurses to arm families with resources.

The National Association of Social Workers offers the social worker in gerontology credential. This credential is available to BSW grads who have experience working with older adults and completed gerontology-specific coursework.

Frequently Asked Questions About Case Management in Social Work

What is the role of a case manager?

Case managers assist people receiving services from various organizations, such as:

  • Hospitals
  • Mental health care providers
  • Housing organizations
  • Court services

They help people manage life transitions, avoid crises, and access resources. Case managers create plans to help people become more self-sufficient in the long term. They monitor clients' progress and coordinate services with other support professionals.

What is the difference between a social worker and a case manager?

Social work encompasses many different jobs. Some social workers focus on counseling and psychotherapy or policy analysis and research. Social workers who are case managers primarily help people navigate complex systems, like healthcare, foster care, or the court system. They know what resources are available. They connect individuals to different service providers and monitor their progress.

Licensed social workers need an MSW. Case managers tend to have a BSW or a bachelor's degree in a related field.

How do you become a successful case manager?

Typically, case managers have at least a bachelor's degree. Some also have a master's degree or license to provide clinical services.

In addition, case managers use the following skills in their day-to-day jobs.

  • Relationship Building: Case managers must build trust with clients. They also collaborate closely with other health and social service professionals.
  • Problem Solving: These professionals work with clients in crises. A lot of their job is helping clients overcome major hurdles and navigate complex social services systems.
  • Expertise: Case managers work in complex, regulated systems —healthcare, corrections, and more. They need to know all the protocols and available resources in their field.

What is an example of case management?

We like this example from Hudson Valley Community Services. This organization coordinates care for people living with complex health conditions.

When a client got out of prison, he had no job, housing, or connections. Case managers called social service agencies to help him access public benefits. They organized transportation for him to meet his parole officer. They also found him a place to stay for the night. Later, they checked in with the client to monitor his progress and ensure his access to services.

Resources for Case Managers

  • American Case Management Association: ACMA focuses on healthcare case management. It offers professional development resources, creates networking opportunities, and advocates for healthcare case managers.
  • Case Management Society of America: CMSA is an international organization supporting case managers' education and networking.
  • National Association of Case Management: This organization supports social work case managers in community-based organizations. It provides conferences and free webinars. Check out its Career Center to find jobs and post your resume. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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