Social Work Licensure in Kentucky

When first reviewing the requirements for social work licensure in Kentucky, prospective students may find the information overwhelming. This page exists to help those seeking a social work career in Kentucky to understand the clear path from education to licensure and provide information about available jobs, professional organizations, and opportunities for continuing education. Social work licensure in Kentucky mandates students gather all necessary paperwork, pass the required exam, and submit fees.

Unlike other states with available licenses, Kentucky awards licensure in three categories: licensed social worker (LSW), clinical social worker (CSW), and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). While the first requires a bachelor's degree, the other two mandate master's degrees at minimum. Because Kentucky maintains no reciprocity agreements with other states, social workers moving from elsewhere in the country must supply an application, official transcripts, test scores, and relevant fees to receive licensure, provided applicants hold the proper degree.

Keep reading to learn how to go about receiving licensure and what it takes to maintain certification in Kentucky.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Kentucky

Social work degrees in Kentucky come in various forms to suit learners' needs. Those opting for a bachelor's degree typically enter non-clinical, entry-level roles that allow them to serve clients and help connect them with resources in the community. Those who pursue master's degrees typically aspire to clinical or research positions. At the highest level of education available, the doctoral program in social work exists for degree seekers who want to work in high-level research and/or lab positions and those who aspire to teach at the postsecondary level.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

Completing an online social work degree in Kentucky at the bachelor's level prepares students for non-clinical roles in public, private, and nonprofit settings. This degree covers social work research, human behavior, and social work policies and institutions, with practicum and capstone requirements. Some programs provide options for specializations in areas of mental health, substance abuse, child and families, or social work. Learners who complete a BSW degree can apply to become an LSW in Kentucky.

Master's in Social Work

Within Kentucky, students who complete a master's in social work online can apply for both the CSW and LCSW licensure after graduation. The program qualifies applicants for such credentials by providing a nuanced study of topics, such as social justice practice, group counseling methods, and family therapy practices. Many also provide the opportunity to further specialize in eldercare, military social work, or leadership and development in the social sciences. This degree meets the needs of individuals who want to increase earning potential, take on managerial/leadership positions, and/or work in a clinical setting. More information can be found about the most affordable online MSW degrees and what to expect while in the program.

Doctorate Degree in Social Work

Social work programs in Kentucky leading to a doctoral degree focus on preparing graduates for high-level roles that require nuanced skills in research. Whether seeking to work in leadership, management, research, or teaching, students who complete these programs qualify for the most specialized positions available. Some of these specializations often include organizational leadership, innovation and change, and education. Students pursuing this terminal degree often hold a few years of work experience already and a clear sense of what they plan to do with the degree.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Kentucky

When considering options for becoming a licensed social worker in Kentucky, graduates hold many options, depending on the level of degree completed. Unlike other states providing a larger range of licenses, the Kentucky Board of Social Work focuses on three options that suit the largest number of roles available.

  1. Licensed Social Worker (LSW): Graduates of social work schools in Kentucky offering bachelor's degrees can pursue LSW licensure. These professionals work in a variety of nonprofit and governmental positions, connecting clients with meaningful services to meet their unique needs.
  2. Clinical Social Worker (CSW): This intermediary license allows social workers to begin providing clinical social work services while completing the required hours to become an LCSW.
  3. Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW): This license allows social workers to serve in unsupervised clinical positions.

Licensed Social Worker

  1. Bachelor's Degree: When applying to the Kentucky Board of Social Work, applicants must provide official transcripts from the accredited college or university attended that shows a "conferring or awarding" of a degree at the bachelor's level in social work.
  2. Application: Alongside concrete evidence of education, all individuals hoping to practice social work in Kentucky must provide a completed application with current employment details (regardless of whether or not the job revolves around social work) and a description of the work being done.
  3. Take the Exam: Applicants must schedule a test with the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) and pay exam fees. After passing the exam, applicants must also send in a copy of the unofficial score report, including a check for $75 to the Kentucky State Treasurer.

Clinical Social Worker

  1. Application and Fee: Individuals aspiring to become clinical social workers in Kentucky must complete an application obtained through the Kentucky Board of Social Work that provides employment history. Applicants also provide a $25 application fee to the Kentucky State Treasurer.
  2. Graduate Degree: Upcoming and recent graduates must gather official transcripts from any colleges or universities attended, demonstrating the conference of a master's and/or doctoral degree in social work.
  3. Pass the Exam: Applicants register with the ASWB to take the CSW exam, pay a $230 examination fee, and schedule a testing date. Unofficial score reports must go to the Kentucky Board of Social Work, along with a check for $125 made out to the Kentucky State Treasurer.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  1. Application: Those applying to become LCSWs must provide a fully completed application demonstrating their work history both in and outside social work. Applicants must also provide a $25 check or money order to the Kentucky State Treasurer.
  2. Supervision Documentation: Applicants need their supervisors to complete experience documentation noting the completion of 200 supervised hours, 100 of which must have been on an individual level. LCSWs with supervisors licensed outside Kentucky must provide verification of licensure.
  3. Pass the Exam: Applicants must register for the LCSW examination through the ASWB, pay the $230 testing fee, and find a suitable testing date. After receiving word of passage through the unofficial score report, test scores should be sent to the Kentucky Board of Social Work. A check should also be sent to the Kentucky State Treasury for $200.

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

The time required to receive licensure depends on the individual. Factors affecting licensure include how quickly the applicant pulls together all required forms, schedules testing, and turns in scores and payment. In the case of those seeking to move from CSW to LCSW, licensure depends on how long it takes applicants to complete the required 200 supervised hours. Students applying directly after graduation may find the licensing process takes them longer than average, since many new graduates apply at the same time. For specific timeline information, students should contact the Kentucky Board of Social Work.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in Kentucky

When applying for social work licensure in Kentucky from outside the state, applicants follow many of the same steps as Kentucky residents. According to the Kentucky Board of Social Work, all out-of-state applicants -- regardless of the type of licensure sought -- must provide the following: a completed application; official transcripts from any accredited colleges attended showing completion of a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in social work; a $25 application fee made out to the Kentucky State Treasury; and official score reports from the ASWB showing a passing grade on the examination correlated to the type of licensure sought.

Applicants must also provide official verification of any social work licenses previously held through the state's board of social work. Verification needed includes either documentation demonstrating independent clinical level licensure for at least five years or documentation of at least 200 clinical supervised hours.

License Renewal

Social work licenses in Kentucky expire every three years, requiring renewal. To accomplish this, students pay fees to the Kentucky State Treasury ($75 for LSW, $125 for CSW, and $200 for LCSW), provide a completed renewal form to the Kentucky Board of Social Work, and prove completion of at least 40 hours of continuing education throughout the previous three years.

Details required when filling out the information about continuing education include the course title, the presenter's name, the sponsoring organization's name, provider/approval number, dates attended, and the number of continuing education credits awarded. According to the KYBSW, application renewal typically takes two weeks before individuals receive their official verification of license renewal.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Kentucky

When attending an accredited public school, students living in Kentucky pay far less in-state tuition than elsewhere. Rather than receiving initial licensure in another state and paying additional fees to receive licensure in Kentucky, students can find employment more quickly. By completing educational requirements in the state, students build a network of teachers, practitioners, and other meaningful contacts that prove helpful when seeking employment.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

A wide spectrum of social work jobs exist to ensure individuals get the help and support needed, while providing social workers with countless career paths based on interests. Regardless of the job chosen, common denominators of all social workers include a passion for helping people live their best lives. Many professionals elect to complete a master's degree in this field, as it opens up more career opportunities and the potential for higher salaries. The following list highlights a few social work career options.

  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers: Individuals in this line of work help those dealing with behavioral issues and substance abuse disorders find access to treatment and support resources, provide counseling, and support families through difficult times. A bachelor's degree is required at minimum, although some positions call for a master's degree and special certification.
  • Healthcare Social Workers: Working alongside medical professionals as a team, healthcare social workers provide support, advisement, referrals, counseling, education, and treatment plans to patients dealing with a variety of maladies. Healthcare social workers also help families create long-term care plans. Entry-level roles require bachelor's degrees, while those on the clinical side require master's degrees.
  • Child, Family, and School Social Workers: These professionals work in schools, adoption agencies, foster homes, private practice, and other environments to support the well being of children, enhance academic excellence, and provide families with support along the way. Degree level and licensure requirements depend on individual roles.
  • Marriage and Family Therapists: Whether providing counseling for troubled couples, helping individuals in relationships find support and clarity, or working with parents and children to better understand family dynamics, these professionals can be found in both private practice and counseling centers. This role requires a master's degree and specialized licensure.
  • Rehabilitation Counselors: Addressing the developmental, emotional, mental, and physical disabilities that keep individuals from living independently, rehabilitation counselors connect clients with helpful services, provide referrals, offer counseling, and empower clients along the way. A master's degree is required alongside specialized licensure. Some states require certification as well.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Kentucky

As demonstrated below, salaries for graduates of social work programs in Kentucky vary based on education and chosen field. Other factors to consider when reviewing salary expectations include the type of company, job location, and years of experience. However, the vast majority of social workers enter the field because of their passion for the work rather than income potential. The following table highlights the salaries for a few career options.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Kentucky

Child, Family, and School Social Workers $40,370
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counselors $36,590
Healthcare Social Workers $49,150
Marriage and Family Therapists $37,340
Rehabilitation Counselors $37,840
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Kentucky

Professional organizations benefit students and both newly minted and experienced social workers by bringing them together for meaningful events, networking sessions, annual conferences, opportunities to gain CEUs, and meetings regarding Kentucky social work information. These organizations regularly provide details about job openings, with career services designed to propel graduates into meaningful roles after graduation and licensing. Check out a few of the social work organizations available to Kentucky social workers below.

  • Kentucky Association of School Social Work: In addition to hosting events around the state for networking opportunities and continuing education credits for school social workers, KASSW offers a School Social Worker of the Year Award, an annual conference, and regular newsletters to all members. Students studying social work at a Kentucky college pay a discounted membership rate.
  • National Association of Social Workers - Kentucky Chapter: NASW's KY Chapter offers monthly newsletters, CEU programs, licensure information, state-level legislative advocacy, and regularly scheduled events to bring members together. Members may stay current on information through posts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.
  • The Kentucky Society for Clinical Social Work: Offering a professional network for clinical social workers in the state, KSCSW focuses on providing continuing education programs, regularly scheduled networking events, and timeline legislative action on issues affecting clinical social workers. Individuals interested in joining can access more information through the organization's social media pages.
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