Becoming a School Social Worker: School is in....Where to Start
School social work is a profession with more than a 100-year history. Over time, the role has expanded from its original goal of linking home, school, and community. So, too, community and educational institutions have become more complex: This means more opportunities to help students succeed and thrive – and more rigorous professional standards.
If you are interested in school social work, plan on earning a degree at the master's level. Although some states will allow bachelor's level social workers to work in the schools, the majority require master's degrees. Accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) can be fundamental. Some states require it.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) recommends a master’s degree from an accredited social work program as the entry point into the profession. NASW further states that a professional who works in this capacity should have specialized training in educational systems. If the training is not provided by the program, the individual will need to seek it out separately.
The USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work offers a CSWE-accredited online Master's in Social Work. The GRE is not required to apply to the [email protected] program. A Bachelor's degree is required. Learn more about this program.
Fordham University's top-ranked School of Social Work offers an online MSW program that prepares students for relevant, integrated practice with all populations. GRE scores not required. Request information today.
CSWE lists more than 40 accredited programs with concentrations in school social work; all award degrees at the master's level. Washburn University-Kansas notes that a student can meet standards in most states by enrolling in a social work program that includes an appropriate practicum experience and as few as two other courses that are specifically focused on practice within educational settings. However, individual states may choose to set requirements above the norm. Some mandate particular course content.
If you already hold a master's in social work you can pursue a post-master certificate with coursework in school social work. If you are new to the profession, prepare for a competitive admission process.
Meeting Licensing and Certification Requirements
You will need to allow time to complete the licensing or certification process. Some states require you to hold both a social work license and a certificate that authorizes you to work in the schools. New York, for example, requires school social workers to hold both a Pupil Personnel Services certification and a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) credential. The state professional association notes that a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) license is not mandatory, but can increase employment options (https://nyssswa.org/certification-licensure/).
In some states, you will need only a certificate from the Department of Education. While education departments often use the term “certification”, the credential is, in essence, a license. Social worker may fall under the same broad classification as school counselor and other “non-classroom” positions. The credential may be classified as pupil personnel or special services.
You can expect to take one or more tests along the way. You may need to take the generalist social worker examination offered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). You may need to take the Praxis II examination in school social work; Praxis tests are designed specifically for educators. Some states have their own examinations. Colorado, for example, uses the PLACE Exam.
You can expect a background check at one or more points along the way. There is often more than one level of educator certification or licensing. You may at first be classified as provisional. After successful job experience and participation in a professional development program, you will achieve professional licensure. Again, the particulars vary.
The School Social Work Association of America has provided a link to a resource that summarizes the basic requirements in a number of states (http://www.sswaa.org/). You can find out whether the state issues a school social work certificate and/ or requires a social work license and whether there is a practicum requirement. The Department of Education in your own state may be the best source of information about minimum standards. Your state may also have a SSWAA chapter. By participating in professional activity at the local level, you can do more than learn minimum standards – you can find out what it takes to actually succeed.
The National Association of Social Workers also has a school social work section and plenty of resources to help you apply social work interventions in a school setting (https://www.socialworkers.org/Practice/School-Social-Work). You can read about a day in the life of a school social worker on the NASW site “Help Starts Here” (http://www.helpstartshere.org/kids-and-families/schools-and-communities). You may obtain additional resources from the National Alliance of Specialized Instructional Support Personnel (http://www.nasisp.org/Issues.html).