Social Work Licensure in Arkansas

In Arkansas, social workers require state licensure to practice. To accommodate the many different types of social work professionals, the state offers three social work license options. Unlike many other state licensing systems, Arkansas offers licensure to professionals with a bachelor's degree. Furthermore, Arkansas allows social workers in the process of becoming licensed to work under a provisional license. Before you can earn any of these licenses, however, you must obtain a social work degree in Arkansas or another state that provides programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

The first level of social work licensure in Arkansas is the licensed social worker (LSW). Candidates of the LSW need a bachelor's degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program. The licensed master social worker (LMSW) and licensed certified social worker (LCSW) require a master's in social work from a CSWE-approved program. For each license, candidates must pass the appropriate exam. Those who want to become clinical social workers in Arkansas must also complete 4,000 hours of supervised work after earning a master's degree. The Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board also grants licenses to social workers from other states who meet Arkansas' requirements. In addition to these requirements, all applicants must pass a criminal background check.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Arkansas

Each level of licensure requires a social work degree in Arkansas. While those with bachelor's degrees can practice as social workers, career paths may vary for those with master's-level licensure. LSWs often find employment as case managers, child services social workers, and roles that support master's-level professionals. LMSWs often fill positions that require more expertise than LSWs, but these professionals cannot practice in a clinical setting. For example, professionals with the LMSW credential may work as social workers within hospitals and schools. LCSWs remain the only social workers in Arkansas who can practice clinical social work. These licensed professionals can help diagnose and treat clients in mental health facilities and substance abuse rehabilitation.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Many social work schools in Arkansas offer CSWE-accredited bachelor's degrees that can lead to licensure, including many online programs. These social work programs in Arkansas give students a broad understanding of social services, psychology, professional ethics, and the diverse communities that social workers serve. Professionals with a bachelor's in social work and the associated license in Arkansas can practice in a variety of settings, including family services, substance abuse rehabilitation, and healthcare. These professionals often work under the supervision of LMSWs or LCSWs in roles, such as case managers, social work generalists, and care coordinators. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people in these roles earn between $36,000 and $40,000 per year on average.

Master's in Social Work

Learners seeking to become LMSWs or LCSWs in Arkansas should earn a master's degree from one of the CSWE-accredited programs. Working professionals, such as those in bachelor's-level positions who want to advance their careers, can take advantage of the online social work programs in Arkansas. These master's degree programs allow students to dive deeper into an area of social work and become experts in their field. Furthermore, a master's degree in social work allows graduates to work as clinical social workers and increase their earning power. For example, counselors in social services can earn between $47,000 and $53,000 per year on average.

Doctorate Degree in Social Work

A doctoral degree in social work prepares students for careers in social policy, research, or management. Degree candidates can choose between earning a Ph.D. in social work or a doctor of social work (DSW). While the Ph.D. prepares students to research and work in academia, the DSW option helps graduates work as administrators and evaluators. This degree benefits a specialized group of people who want to become leaders in the field or train the next generation of social workers in Arkansas. Many doctorate students work as they earn an online social work degree at this level.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Arkansas

In Arkansas, social workers choose from three licensing options: LSW, LMSW, and LCSW. With the LSW credential, professionals can work in support roles within the social services system and manage cases. As a LMSW, professionals serve as a manager in social services, in more specialized roles and in higher-paying social worker jobs. The LCSW license reflects the highest social work credential in Arkansas. As such, these professionals often make more than their LSW and LMSW peers. LCSW-licensed professionals can go into private practice and work in a clinical setting.

Licensed Social Worker

  1. Bachelor's in Social Work: Arkansas first requires LSWs to earn a bachelor's degree from a CSWE-accredited program. This ensures that LSWs obtain the foundational knowledge and ethical training to properly conduct their duties. As with many bachelor's programs, earning this degree takes about four years for a full-time student.
  2. Pass Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Exam: The Arkansas board requires LSW candidates to take the bachelor's-level exam from ASWB. The exam costs $230 to take and consists of 170 multiple-choice questions. A passing score shows the board that the candidate possesses the knowledge to succeed as a social worker. Applicants can take the exam three times in a year.
  3. Pass Criminal Background Check: Due to the sensitive nature of social work, Arkansas requires licensed social workers to pass a criminal background check. Anyone found guilty -- or those who plead no contest to certain crimes, such as theft, sexual assault, aggravated assault, or stalking -- may not be eligible for licensure without a waiver. The background check process can take four to eight weeks for completion.

Licensed Master Social Worker

  1. Master's Degree in Social Work: To earn this credential, social workers must first graduate from a CSWE-accredited graduate program in social work. This requirement helps ensure that the applicant can pass the master's-level exam with the knowledge needed for more specialized work. It can take an additional two years after undergraduate school for students to finish these programs.
  2. Pass Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Exam: The master's-level ASWB exam standardizes this diverse field to ensure that all clients receive high-quality care. It can take anywhere from a few months to a year for graduates to prepare for this exam. Some learners choose to study for the exam during graduate school.
  3. Pass Criminal Background Check: LMSWs work with vulnerable populations and must be trustworthy. As such, Arkansas runs a criminal background check on all applicants. Licensure candidates with a criminal history can apply for a waiver. All applicants should allow a month or two for processing.

Licensed Certified Social Worker

  1. Master's Degree in Social Work: LCSWs can work in clinical settings to diagnose and treat clients. Since this work requires an in-depth understanding of psychology, LCSW candidates must have a master's degree from an accredited program. This graduate degree can take about two years post-bachelor's work, depending on the person's experience and the program.
  2. Supervised Clinical Experience: After earning a qualifying master's program, applicants must complete 4,000 hours of supervised social work. This requirement gives professionals the opportunity to get hands-on clinical experience without sacrificing patient wellness. For most social workers, it takes about two years to finish this step.
  3. Pass Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Exam: To ensure that patients receive great care, Arkansas requires LCSW applicants to pass the clinical-level ASWB exam. Students can take the exam when ready.
  4. Pass a Criminal Background Check: All social workers in Arkansas must be of sound moral character, especially those treating clients. As such, the state board requires licensure applicants to pass a background check. If a candidate's history reveals violent crime or theft, a waiver may be available. Regardless of a person's standing, the background check process can take at least one month.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Arkansas?

Becoming a social worker in Arkansas can take between four and eight years, depending on the level of licensure sought. A full-time student seeking to become an LSW may spend four years earning the credentials. However, someone who wants to become an LCSW may need eight years for completion. After all, these professionals must complete a bachelor's degree that takes four years, a master's degree that can take up to two years, and another two years of supervised work in the field. Many social workers start their careers at the bachelor's level and then earn additional credentials through online social work programs in Arkansas. While this path allows social workers to begin working sooner, this particular course can delay the LCSW license by a few years.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in Arkansas

While Arkansas does not offer any formal reciprocity agreements with other states, many social workers from outside the state who want to work in Arkansas can do so without examination. These licensed professionals should review the standards for the Arkansas licenses first. If the standards in their home state are as strict as those in Arkansas, they may qualify for a license. The application can take a few weeks to process.

However, if the home state does not have strict enough requirements, the social worker may need to complete additional steps before applying. For example, some states do not require bachelor's-level social workers to obtain a license or pass the ASWB exam. Before such a social worker transfers to Arkansas, they should be sure to take the exam and apply for the proper license. The exam costs $230, and the application fee for licensing in Arkansas stands at $100 for all candidates.

License Renewal

All licensed social workers in Arkansas must apply for license renewal every two years. Within each two-year period, social workers must complete 48 hours of eligible continuing education. This requirement ensures that all practicing social workers remain up-to-date on the latest practices and research. At least three of the credits must come from a professional ethics course. Social workers can use internet courses and home studies for up to 20 hours of the requirement.

The Arkansas Social Work Licensing Board sends reminders to current social workers about two months before they need to renew. At that time, social workers must submit the renewal application before the expiration date on the current license. In the application, professionals must provide proof of their continuing education credits and pay an $80 fee. Late renewal applications come with an additional $80 fee. The licence may not be renewed after three months past the due date.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Arkansas

Although online programs allow students to attend schools from around the world while living in Arkansas, locals should consider staying in state for their education. First, Arkansas schools offer residents reduced tuition rates. Secondly, local institutions offer students the opportunity to network with professionals, which can help when job-hunting. Finally, Arkansans may find that attending a school in their home state makes licensure easier, as courses focus on areas specific to the region.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

The variety of social work specializations suits different personalities and interests. For example, someone passionate about helping addicts recover can become a social worker in a rehabilitation facility. On the other hand, someone skilled at navigating complicated systems may thrive as a healthcare social worker. Because many of these areas require a master's degree, it's often best for someone with a bachelor's-level certification to earn a graduate degree. Not only can the higher degree help the professional earn more pay, but also allow them to pursue a more fulfilling career.

  • Health Educators and Community Health Workers: Community health workers strive to help the surrounding area become healthier and happier through targeted programs and education. These professionals work in government agencies, hospitals, charities, and physicians' offices. To enter this field, professionals need a bachelor's degree and relevant certification.
  • Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors: Every day, people suffer with mental illness and substance abuse. Licensed social workers help discover the underlying problem and design treatment plans for these patients. Social workers in this field must earn a master's degree and an LCSW license in Arkansas.
  • Social and Human Service Assistants: Social work requires more than just those on the front lines. Social and human service assistants provide the backup and support that licensed social workers need. These vital professionals can work in any setting that employs social workers, such as hospitals, government agencies, and rehabilitation centers. Although the requirements can vary, a bachelor's degree in social work can help someone perform well in this role.
  • School and Career Counselors: Social workers meet vulnerable children where they spend most of their time -- at school. School counselors and social workers can seek out children in need and identify the right resources for each child. This specialized and sensitive work requires a master's degree.
  • Social Workers: Social workers are needed in a variety of other settings throughout Arkansas. Those who work with families to ensure safe environments for children travel from home to home throughout the day, face tough decisions, and make a difference in many lives. These case managers should hold at least a bachelor's in social work, but a master's can help with career advancement.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Arkansas

According to the BLS, the average salary for someone in community and social services in Arkansas stands at $40,270. However, social workers can earn a wide range of salaries, depending on the level of education and the specialization in which they work. For example, school counselors with master's degrees make an average of $53,340 per year. Meanwhile, social and human services assistants, who do not need to be licensed, earn an average of $29,590 annually.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Arkansas

Health Educators and Community Health Workers $44,180
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $47,290
Social and Human Service Assistants $29,590
School and Career Counselor $53,340
Social Workers $47,660
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Arkansas

Professional organizations can help social work students and professionals network with others in the field and advance their careers. Some organizations offer continuing education courses and certifications to help social workers carve out a niche. These associations also lobby for better working conditions for professionals in social work, allow exclusive access to job opportunities, and provide leadership development courses. Overall, professional organizations allow social workers to advance both their individual careers and the industry as a whole.

  • National Association for Social Workers - Arkansas Chapter: This chapter of the NASW allows professionals to connect with one another and advance the field of social work within the state. Members enjoy leadership resources, access to continuing education, opportunities to network with fellow professionals, and the chance to have their voices heard in decision making.
  • The Association for Community Organization and Social Administration: ACOSA brings together professionals of all kinds who work in underprivileged communities. Through these connections, social workers can discover new client resource, stay on top of innovations throughout community work, and find job opportunities in the region.
  • The Network for Social Work Management: Social work managers face a unique set of challenges in their daily work. This professional network aims to connect managers from across the country. Free membership offers managers the opportunity to attend national and regional events, find a mentor, and participate in the robust online community.
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