California Social Work License Requirements
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- This guide explains the process of obtaining and renewing social work licensure in California.
- California only offers licensure at the licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) level.
- MSW graduates can complete their LCSW requirements as an associate clinical social worker (ASW).
California ranks among the top employers of social workers in the country. Not all social work positions in the state require licensure, but you'll find more employment prospects by becoming a licensed clinical social worker. Explore this guide to learn about California’s social work requirements for licensure and what you can expect to earn as an LCSW in the state.
California State Board of Social Work
The California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) is the state regulatory agency responsible for licensing, examination, and the establishment and enforcement of professional standards for licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) and associate social workers (ASW). The BBS evaluates all license applications, issues and renews licenses, and takes disciplinary action as needed.
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California Social Work Education Requirements
If you want to find employment as a clinical social worker or have your own private practice, you must fulfill the state’s requirements to become a licensed clinical social worker. The educational requirement for LCSW licensure in California is a master of science in social work (MSW) degree accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).
Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)
An MSW serves as an important step to becoming an LCSW in California. MSW coursework generally takes two years to complete and emphasizes social policy, research, and clinical practice.
Some MSW programs offer advanced standing to applicants who have a bachelor of social work (BSW), shortening the time needed to complete all requirements. As part of your MSW training, you will acquire hands-on professional experience by completing at least 900 hours of supervised clinical placements.
Requirements for Initial California Social Work Licensure
Before becoming a licensed clinical social worker in California, you must be registered as an associate social worker. As an ASW, you can complete the supervised clinical hours you need to fulfill LCSW requirements. Both the ASW and the LCSW require completion of a CSWE-accredited MSW degree.
Associate Clinical Social Worker (ASW)
In California, the ASW credential allows graduates of accredited MSW programs to gain the clinical social work experience required for licensure as an LCSW. You can apply for this credential without any prior social work experience. The BBS requires you to register as an ASW before you can begin acquiring qualifying supervised clinical hours. ASWs can only provide services as employees or volunteers; they cannot work independently or bill clients directly. Registration requirements include:
- A $150 application fee payable to the BBS
- A criminal background check
- Official transcripts verifying completion of a CSWE-accredited MSW degree
- Successful completion of the LCSW California Law and Ethics Exam
Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
Social workers in California need an accredited MSW degree and an LCSW license to counsel clients without supervision. You need the LCSW license to practice as a clinical social worker, operate a private practice, or hold a clinical administrative position. The BBS requires the following for LCSW licensure:
- A $250 application fee payable to the BBS
- A criminal background check
- Proof of completion of the following courses: child abuse assessment and reporting; human sexuality; alcoholism and chemical substance abuse and dependency; aging, long-term care, and elder/dependent adult abuse; spousal/partner abuse assessment, detection, and intervention; and suicide risk assessment and intervention
- Successful completion of the national clinical exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)
- Completion of 3,000 supervised hours within two years over a minimum of 104 weeks
Transferring Your Social Work License to California
California does not currently have a reciprocity agreement with other states. Out-of-state social workers who want to transfer their licenses to California must be graduates of an accredited MSW program, hold a current and unrestricted clinical social work license for at least four years, and pass the California Law and Ethics exam. Applicants holding their license for less than four years need to document completion of 3,200 hours supervised by an LCSW and a passing score on the ASWB clinical exam.
How to Maintain Your Social Work License in California
In California, social workers may renew their ASW credential annually for a total of five times. This gives social workers six years to complete the requirements for LCSW licensure.
BBS regulations require LCSWs to renew their license every two years. The initial application fee is $120 and the renewal fee is $75. The first renewal requires 18 continuing education hours. For each subsequent renewal period, LCSWs must complete 36 continuing education hours.
The BBS accepts courses for continuing education credits from providers approved by the Association of Social Work Boards, the American Psychological Association, and the National Board for Certified Counselors. Mandatory CE units include a seven-hour HIV/AIDs course (required for the first-time renewal) and a six-hour law and ethics course taken in every renewal period. LCSWs must also take one-time courses in telehealth and suicide risk assessment and intervention.
Frequently Asked Questions About Social Work in California
Do social workers need to be licensed in California?
Although California does not require licensure to work in some areas of social work with supervision, an LCSW license is required to provide independent clinical services to clients, offer psychotherapy, and operate independently in private practice.
What are the requirements for social work licensure in California?
LCSW licensure in California requires an MSW from a CSWE-accredited program, a minimum of 3,000 total supervised hours completed over 104 weeks, and a passing score on the ASWB clinical exam.
Is social work in demand in California?
According to data shared by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California employs more child, family, and school social workers and healthcare social workers than any other state. It also ranks second in the employment of mental health and substance abuse social workers.
Additionally, Projections Central reports that child, family, and school social workers; healthcare social workers; and mental health and substance abuse social workers in the state are projected to grow by 9.7%, 12.2%, and 10.1%, respectively, between 2020 and 2030. For comparison, the average projected growth for all occupations in the U.S. over that time period is 7.7%.
What is the average salary for licensed social workers in California?
BLS numbers show that social workers in California earn significantly more than the national average for social workers. Healthcare social workers rank as the highest-paid in the state, making an average annual salary of $88,380. This is followed by mental health social workers (who earn $81,720 annually) and child, family, and school social workers (who earn $66,340 a year).