Social Work Licensure in Hawaii

Known for its strong tourism and hospitality trades, the state of Hawaii also boasts a formidable workforce of highly qualified community and social services professionals. Social workers in Hawaii earn the second-highest average annual salary among social workers in the nation, with the majority specializing in human and social services, and child, family, and school social work. There are three types of social work licensure in Hawaii, providing graduates of a bachelor of social work (BSW) or master of social work (MSW) program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) a direct path to a lucrative career.

Students aspiring to entry-level, non-clinical social work as a licensed bachelor social worker (LBSW) must earn a BSW from a CSWE-accredited college or university, as well as a passing score on the bachelor's exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). The next level of licensure, the licensed social worker (LSW), requires at least a CSWE-accredited MSW, along with a passing score on the ASWB master's-level, advanced generalist, or clinical exam. Applicants seeking the highest level of certification as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) must hold a CSWE-accredited MSW, take the ASWB clinical exam, and complete 3,000 hours of supervised experience in the field.

Out-of-state practitioners seeking social work licensure in Hawaii should expect an informal reciprocity process when applying for a license in the state. Hawaii considers qualified applicants on a case-by-case basis, provided that the licensing requirements in their home state are comparable to those in Hawaii, and that the student has achieved a passing score on the appropriate ASWB exam.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Hawaii

Many social work schools in Hawaii offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. Each program provides its own unique core curriculum, all paired with some form of field experience to qualify graduates for professional practice and meet the minimum educational requirements for social work licensure in Hawaii. Generally, bachelor's degrees in social work prepare students for entry-level, non-clinical occupations. At the next level, master's programs are the standard for the industry, preparing graduates to pursue their choice of non-clinical, clinical, or specialty social work practice. Aspiring college professors or advanced practitioners should consider a doctor of social work (DSW) or Ph.D. in social work, the latter considered the terminal degree for high-level researchers in the field.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

A bachelor's degree in social work provides aspiring social workers with an introduction to basic field concepts, as well as formal entry into practical field experience. BSW programs accredited by CSWE meet the minimum education requirement for aspiring LBSWs to obtain Hawaii social work licensure. BSW degrees prepare students to take the ASWB bachelor's exam, which can lead to careers as case managers, community outreach professionals, or human services specialists. While earning a social work degree in Hawaii at the bachelor level can lead to initial entry into social work by way of the LBSW licensure process, a student aspiring to higher licensure, such as an LSW or LCSW, must first obtain an MSW. CSWE-accredited BSW programs provide a comprehensive foundation in social work theory and practice, ideal for both beginner social workers and students looking to obtain a bachelor's degree on the path to earning an advanced degree, along with increased qualifications and salaries.

Master's in Social Work

In Hawaii, as in most states, the process of earning a master's degree in social work encompasses a combination of coursework and field experience more immersive than that of a BSW, preparing graduates for standard LSW or LCSW licensure. A CSWE-accredited MSW program not only prepares graduates for the non-clinical and clinical master's exams administered by the ASWB, but also provides students the opportunity to explore specialty fields of social work, including mental health and substance abuse, healthcare, or child welfare on the path to advanced practice in their career. Aspiring social workers with an MSW meet the minimum education requirement to become an LSW in a non-clinical role, or pursue LCSW certification by completing additional clinical experience and passing the clinical ASWB exam.

Doctoral Degree in Social Work

While an MSW is the most common minimum education requirement for a career in social work, some jobs -- particularly post-secondary teachers, government researchers, and executive positions in the field of social services -- may require a doctoral degree, such as a DSW or Ph.D. in social work. Known as the "practice" degree in social work at the doctoral level (as opposed to the more academic Ph.D.), prospective social work doctoral students in Hawaii should look for a DSW program accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Hawaii's regional accrediting body, as CSWE does not accredit doctorates in this field. Candidates holding MSWs or doctorates in social work qualify for the same types of licensure, provided they pass the necessary exam and meet the experience requirements, as Hawaii does not offer a level of social work licensure specifically for doctoral graduates.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Hawaii

Earning a social work degree in Hawaii can lead to your choice of professional licensure in the field. For graduates of a BSW, the pursuit of LBSW social work licensure in Hawaii requires no additional field experience beyond the minimum education requirement. Likewise, a student holding an MSW who is looking to pursue LSW licensure for non-clinical practice may not need to complete field experience if they plan to take and pass the master's-level or advanced generalist ASWB exam. Aspiring clinical social work practitioners in Hawaii must hold an MSW or DSW, pass the advanced generalist or clinical exam, and complete a minimum of 3,000 hours of post-master's field experience to qualify for licensure.

While LBSW certification meets the requirements of many entry-level jobs in the field, the potential for more diverse career opportunities and higher income increases with each successive level of social work licensure in Hawaii. LCSWs endure the most rigorous licensure process, resulting in the field's most lucrative job opportunities, by completing an advanced traditional or online social work program, completing extensive clinical hours in the field, and passing the clinical ASWB exam.

Licensed Bachelor Social Worker

  1. Application: Candidates who are at least 18 years old can apply for LBSW licensure in Hawaii. Students may submit an application to the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs - Professional and Vocational Licensing for a fee of $60. Applicants must have their school send official transcripts directly to the Department.
  2. CSWE-Accredited BSW: Applicants pursuing LBSW licensure must hold a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program.
  3. ASWB Bachelor's-Level Exam: Aspiring LBSWs must pass the ASWB bachelor's exam. Upon receiving a candidate's application, the department sends each applicant an eligibility letter and exam preparation handbook, authorizing the applicant to register for the exam, which costs $230.

Licensed Social Worker

  1. Application: Students must pay a $60 fee, submit their LSW application, and have their school send official transcripts to the Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs - Professional and Vocational Licensing.
  2. Accredited Advanced Degree: Applicants must hold either a CSWE-accredited MSW or WASC-accredited doctoral degree in social work. Hawaii also accepts doctoral degrees accredited by other regional accrediting bodies.
  3. ASWB Master's-Level Exam: Students pursuing LSW licensure in Hawaii must pass the appropriate ASWB exam, depending on their intended practice area. Candidates aspiring to basic non-clinical practice at the master's level must pass the master's exam, which costs $230. Those seeking social work licensure in Hawaii for advanced non-clinical practice, such as in a specialized area or discipline, must pass the advanced generalist ASWB exam, while students pursuing clinical practice must pass the clinical ASWB exam, each of which require a $260 fee.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  1. Application: LCSW licensure candidates must have their school send master's-level transcripts directly to the department. Applicants must also submit the application, along with a fee of $60.
  2. Accredited advanced degree: Applicants must have completed a CSWE-accredited MSW or WASC-accredited doctoral degree in social work. Hawaii also accepts doctoral degrees accredited by other regional accrediting bodies.
  3. Experience: Applicants must demonstrate completion of 3,000 hours of supervised clinical social work experience within a two to five-year period. This experience must include a minimum of 100 hours of direct contact supervision; a maximum of 900 hours of client-centered evaluation, advocacy, and consultation; and at least 2,000 psychotherapy, assessment, and clinical-diagnosis hours. Applicants who hold a board certified diplomate credential from the American Board of Examiners in Clinical Social Work or a qualified clinical social worker or diplomate in clinical social work credential from NASW may waive the experience requirement.
  4. ASWB clinical exam: Candidates for LCSW certification must pass the ASWB clinical exam, which requires a fee of $260.

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

Completion times vary when it comes to social work programs in Hawaii. As the first level of certification for social workers, a student may be eligible for LBSW licensure as soon as they graduate from a BSW program, which typically takes four years. Students aspiring to higher-level licensure, including an LSW or LCSW designation, must account for at least two years of additional education to complete an MSW, and more if they plan to pursue clinical licensure through field experience or a terminal degree, such as a DSW. Some social work schools in Hawaii may offer accelerated programs that allow BSW graduates to earn a master's degree in as little as one year.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in Hawaii

The Hawaii Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs - Professional and Vocational Licensing considers granting licensure to out-of-state social workers on a case-by-case basis. Candidates looking to transfer licensure from out of state to Hawaii may submit an application for consideration, provided their current license is comparable and they can demonstrate a passing score on the appropriate ASWB exam.

License Renewal

Social workers in the Aloha State must renew their Hawaii social work licensure every three years, before the June 30th deadline. The renewal process requires a minimum of 15 continuing education credits approved by either ASWB or NASW, at least three of which must be in ethics. Due to a policy change by the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs regarding license renewal in 2016, social workers who received their initial license between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2016 are exempt from meeting continuing education requirements during this inaugural renewal period.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Hawaii

Aspiring LBSWs, LSWs, and LCSWs can pursue a variety of accredited on-campus and online social work programs in Hawaii. Accreditation ensures students that their social work degree meets the highest national, regional, or programmatic standards of higher education. For social worker in Hawaii, accreditation through CSWE or WASC also ensures a student's path to licensure through the right combination of academic and field requirements.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

While the state offers several licensing options to graduates of almost any level of social work degree in Hawaii, social workers with advanced qualifications and experience will find the most variety among their career opportunities. The field of social work in Hawaii favors those with LSW or LCSW licensure, offering a high concentration of jobs in positions requiring clinical social work qualifications; the BLS projects especially high job growth in two top specialty areas: a 20% increase in healthcare social work and a 19% increase in mental health and substance abuse social work between 2016 and 2026.

  • Child and Family Social Worker: Social workers specializing in serving children and families help children in vulnerable positions, including those experiencing abuse or neglect. They also assist families in determining eligibility and pursuing public services, including food stamps, housing, and childcare. Candidates must hold a MSW and a state license.
  • School Social Worker: School social workers focus on serving students suffering from or involved in bullying, aggressive behavior, or excessive absences, and their families. Teachers and administrators often refer to them to help develop a comprehensive plan to improve students' social and academic development in school. This field requires at least a master's degree in social work; LSWs may pursue additional optional specialty credentials in this area.
  • Healthcare Social Worker: Social workers specializing in healthcare help patients to navigate the support services available to them through the healthcare system. These professionals often help patients transition back into daily life after an illness, medical event, or hospital stay. They may specialize in medical, geriatric, or hospice/palliative care, and pursue commensurate certification in one of these areas. Candidates must hold an MSW and a current state license.
  • Social and Community Service Manager: Similar to a traditional social worker, social and community service professionals in this capacity work at the managerial level to arrange and coordinate social service programs for the public. They may also supervise teams of social workers leading such efforts, or oversee the community organizations that provide them. Some entry-level jobs only require a bachelor's degree, provided the candidate also has more than a few years of work experience, though many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker: Social workers specializing in mental health and substance abuse provide social services to clients suffering from substance abuse, addiction, or conditions impacting their mental health. These social workers may refer clients to support groups, 12-step programs, and/or specialists in a particular area of addiction treatment. Candidates must hold at least a master's degree to enter the field.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Hawaii

Social workers in Hawaii with advanced education and experience are rewarded handsomely for their skills in the field. In fact, Hawaiian social workers are among the top earners in the nation in this occupation, especially in urban Honolulu, where social workers earn an annual mean wage of $78,650. Social workers' salaries increase with individual qualifications and licensure. As shown below, licensed professionals in Hawaii with specialty skills in healthcare and mental health and substance abuse social work are among the highest earners in the field.

Median Salary for Social Workers in Hawaii

Child and Family Social Worker $55,940
Healthcare Social Worker $61,880
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker $72,290
School Social Worker $56,750
Social and Community Service Manager $57,010
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Hawaii

Social workers, especially those interested in collaborative and networking opportunities with peers and mentors, can benefit from joining a professional organization. Whether a social worker specializes in child welfare, community services, or school social work, the perks of membership in a professional organization are many, from advocacy, to continuing education, to career placement. The organizations below are just a small selection of Hawaii's multi-faceted organizations geared toward social workers.

  • Hawaii Youth Services Network: Encompassing several youth service organizations, and a Pacific Islands Training and Technical Assistance Center, HYSN provides support services for displaced and disadvantaged young people in Hawaii. The organization offers both individual and group memberships, offering networking and community advocacy opportunities for social workers specializing in children and family services.
  • National Association of Social Workers-Hawaii Chapter: The Hawaii chapter of NASW offers membership to any state residents with a CSWE-accredited BSW or MSW, or regionally accredited DSW or Ph.D. in social work program. NASW Hawaii offers guidance through the licensure process, access to exclusive industry networking events, and discounts on license exam preparation and continuing education courses.
  • Hawaii Community Foundation: HCF coordinates and manages unique initiatives to ensure proper dissemination of critical social resources in all of Hawaii's island communities. The organization supports educational funding and community education and advocacy efforts, as well as promotes charitable giving and philanthropy within the local nonprofit workforce. Social workers can visit the site's Center for Professional Advisors for a compendium of continuing education and networking tools.
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