Social Work Licensure in Virginia

In Virginia, the State Department of Health Professions' Board of Social Work licenses social workers at both the bachelor's and master's levels. A case worker with an associate degree in social work can provide some social services without a license, but only under the supervision of a licensed social worker (LSW). To qualify for social work licensure in Virginia, an applicant must have at least a bachelor's degree, preferably in social work. However, aspiring LSWs with only a bachelor's social work degree in Virginia must first register with the Board of Social Work, apply for supervision approval, and complete 3,000 hours of post-baccalaureate experience in casework management and supportive services. LSW applicants with a master's degree in social work are exempt from this supervised experience requirement. Virginia doesn't have reciprocity agreements with other states, but it does offer application by endorsement for social workers who hold a current and active license from another state and have passed Virginia's examination requirements for licensure.

Types of Social Work Degrees in Virginia

A bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) is the minimum education requirement for Virginia social work licensure. In general, BSW graduates must work under the supervision of an LSW or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), and are qualified for entry-level positions. A master's degree in social work is the terminal degree in the field. Under the supervision of an LCSW, a social worker with an MSW can engage in psychotherapeutic and diagnostic practice. There are two types of social work doctoral degrees: the Ph.D, which is considered a research degree, and the doctor of social work (DSW), which is more practice-based.

Bachelor's Degree in Social Work

In addition to general education requirements, BSW students take career-specific courses such as social policy analysis, human behavior, social welfare, and mental health theories. They also do supervised fieldwork during their junior or senior year. Most BSW programs, including social work programs in Virginia, require their students to complete at least 400 hours of supervised fieldwork. This can take place in hospitals, veterans' centers, agencies, schools, or other social service settings. BSW graduates typically provide general social agency services in three areas: child, family, and school social work; healthcare; and mental health and substance abuse. The average starting salary for a BSW graduate in the United States $38,038 per year.

Master's in Social Work

MSWs typically take two years to complete, though some schools offer accelerated programs. Part-time curriculums are also available, both on-campus and through online social work programs. In addition to completing required coursework, MSW students must undergo supervised field instruction or an internship. Most programs require at least 900 hours of supervised field instruction. MSW candidates can specialize in a clinical area such as mental health or substance abuse, or focus on a practice method specialty such as public policy or social service administration. The average salary for a social worker with an MSW degree is $47,312.

Doctoral Degree in Social Work

A doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in social work may not lead to further licensure, but it's helpful for professionals hoping to work in academia. Most universities look for this degree when hiring professors or choosing a department dean. Ph.D. programs in social work typically focus on research, emphasizing topics such as quantitative scientific methods and social work research outcomes. A DSW, however, is more practice-focused and emphasizes clinical specialties such as psychotherapy and mental health diagnosis and treatment. The average salary range of social workers with a post-master's degree is between $74,000 and $115,000.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Virginia

There are only two levels of social work licensure in Virginia: LSW and LCSW. To set up a private practice, a social worker must be an LCSW. Social workers can provide general social agency services with only a BSW, but must first undergo additional training and supervised work experience. Social work licensure in Virginia also requires applicants to pass an exam administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB).

Licensed Bachelor Social Worker

  1. Bachelor of Social Work degree: Aspiring social workers must have at least a BSW before applying for Virginia social work licensure. Applicants must obtain their degree from a program that has been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), or is in candidacy for accreditation. Bachelor's programs typically take four years, and consist of general and field-focused coursework and supervised field instruction. Most BSW programs require students to complete between 400 and 600 hours of supervised field instruction. Settings for field instruction vary and ideally reflect the types social service available to students upon graduation.
  2. Supervised Experience: Though a BSW already requires supervised fieldwork, graduates must have additional post-baccalaureate experience to get licensed in Virginia. This consists of a minimum of 3,000 fieldwork and/or client contact hours under the supervision of an LSW.
  3. ASWB Bachelor's Exam: BSW degree holders can apply to take the ASWB's Bachelor's Exam even before they have completed the required 3,000 hours of post-graduation experience. Applicants will learn the results of the test on the day of the exam at the testing site. Successful applicants receive their license in seven to 10 days.

Licensed Graduate Social Worker

  1. Master of Social Work degree: Aspiring social workers must obtain their MSW from a CSWE-accredited institution in order to apply for Virginia social work licensure. Master's students with a BSW start their master's program as advanced standing students, and can earn an MSW after only one year of full-time enrollment. Students who hold a bachelor's degree in another discipline are classified as foundation students, in which case an MSW usually takes two to three years.
  2. ASWB Bachelor's Exam: In Virginia, LSW candidates take the same ASWB exam regardless of whether they hold a BSW or an MSW. MSW students can usually register for this exam as early as the second semester of their graduating year. Since an accredited MSW program may already include 900 hours of supervised field and clinical experience, MSW candidates do not have to undergo post-master's field supervision to become licensed.
  3. Board Approval: An LSW applicant must wait for approval from the Virginia Board of Social Work before registering to take the ASWB exam. Candidates must take and pass the exam within two years of Board approval. Candidates who fail the exam must wait 90 days before taking it again.

Licensed Certified Social Worker

  1. Apply for supervision: LCSW candidates must gain approval for supervision from the Board of Social Work. Candidates must make sure their LCSW supervisor fulfills the eligibility requirements of the Board, which include having an active LCSW Virginia license, three years of clinical social work experience post-licensure, and at least 14 hours of continuing education from an approved provider.
  2. Clinical practicum: In addition to an MSW, the Board of Social Work requires LCSW candidates to complete at least 3,000 hours of supervised experience before licensure. For every 40 hours of experience, 15 must be client-contact hours. This supervised experience also includes a minimum of 100 hours of face-to-face supervision. Candidates must complete this requirement within three years of receiving their MSW.
  3. ASWB Master's Exam: LCSW candidates may apply for and take the clinical exam only after fulfilling the supervised practicum requirement. As of 2015, the exam fee is $260, with an added $25 application fee. Test-takers must correctly answer at least 93 of the exam's 170 questions in order to pass.

Private Independent Practice Certification

  1. National Provider Identification Number: LCSWs who offer psychotherapeutic services in their private practice must acquire an NPI number in order to submit paper or electronic claims for insurance reimbursement. The National Plan and Provider Enumeration System accepts and processes applications for NPI numbers. The NPPES issues both individual and group NPI numbers.
  2. Professional Liability Insurance: Just like other professionals in private practice, LCSWs are required to obtain and maintain professional liability insurance. The type and amount of coverage partly depends on the type of social work services an LCSW offers. The NASW Assurance Services website has additional information on liability insurance for social workers.
  3. Choose a Practice Area: While LCSWs can offer general psychotherapy and clinical services in private practice, they often choose to practice within a specific area or with clients from particular backgrounds. Keep in mind that some practice areas may impact liability insurance requirements.

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

Aspiring license applicants with only a BSW must complete at least 3,000 hours of supervised field and client contact experience before they become eligible for social work licensure in Virginia. This can take two to three years. They can apply to sit for the ASWB Bachelor's Exam before completing these hours. LCSW applicants must complete two to three years (3,000 hours) of supervised post-master's clinical experience before they can apply for licensure.

Out of State Licensing Reciprocity in Virginia

Virginia accepts license application by endorsement from social workers with a valid and unrestricted license from another state. The applicant's original jurisdiction must complete an Out-of-State Licensure Verification, which the applicant will submit to the Virginia Board of Social Work, along with other required documents. Some jurisdictions require that the licensure verification document be mailed directly from their office, though Virginia does accept online verification submissions. Applicants must also contact the ASWB to submit their test scores to the Board. They must also submit the Post-Licensure Active Practice form, which only a licensed practitioner can complete. In this form, a licensed practitioner must attest that the applicant has engaged in active clinical social work practice during at least 36 of the last 60 months. The license application fee is $100.

License Renewal

As of December 2015, social workers in Virginia are required to renew their licenses annually. LCSW renewal applicants must complete 30 hours of continuing education, while LSW renewal applicants must complete 15. License renewal costs $110.

Virginia has two categories of continuing education hours. Category l hours consist of organized learning activities, a Board-approved agency or sponsor must verify them. LCSWs are required to complete a minimum of 20 Category l hours every renewal period. LSWs must complete at least 10 Category l hours. Category ll hours are self-study, which may include attending professional conferences, publication, or group study. Category ll hours do not require supervision. LCSWs can claim a maximum of 10 Category ll hours during a renewal period, while LSWs can claim up to five. Both LSWs and LCSWs can satisfy their continuing education requirements with only Category l hours.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Virginia

A social work degree from a Virginia college or university offers graduates an advantage in working with the state's rural and urban populations — two disparate groups with diverse social service needs. Work opportunities in the community and social services sector in Virginia are projected to increase 14.81% from 2014-2024. Nationally, however, the projected growth rate for this sector is only 6%. Overall, the job market for social workers in Virginia is positive. Virginia colleges and universities are responding to this trend by offering CSWE-accredited social work programs for students who wish to enter the field, and the state requires aspiring social workers to graduate from a CSWE-accredited program in order to qualify for licensure.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Social workers have chosen a helping profession, in which they assist their clients in overcoming addictions, repairing relationships, and accessing services. Those holding a BSW or MSW can choose from a variety of career paths, depending on their background, training, and professional preference. Like most states, Virginia allows recent BSW graduates to provide general social agency services under the supervision of a licensed social worker. To work independently and engage in psychotherapeutic and diagnostic practices, most BSW graduates earn an MSW and apply to become an LSW or LCSW.

Career options available to social work program graduates include:

  • Social and Human Services Assistant: These entry-level social workers focus on identifying and obtaining benefits and community services for clients, plus developing and conducting programs to facilitate rehabilitation. BSW graduates are qualified for this position, as are motivated graduates of an associate degree in social work.
  • Child, Family, and School Social Worker: This type of social worker focuses on improving the social and psychological functioning of children and their families within school settings. They also work with teachers to coordinate and monitor projects, and sometimes assist with adoptions. Most employers look for candidates with at least a BSW for this position.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker: In this role, social workers assess and treat clients with emotional, mental, and/or substance abuse problems. Duties and responsibilities may include providing individual and group therapy, case management, crisis intervention, and client advocacy. BSW graduates may qualify for this role, but most employers look for an LCSW with an MSW.
  • Community and Social Services Specialist: Social workers engaged in this field design and direct the activities of community outreach organizations and social service programs. They articulate and implement program policies and coordinate with other community advocates, such as counselors and probation officers. Community and social services specialists are often licensed and have an MSW.
  • Healthcare Social Worker: Healthcare social workers support patients and families facing acute, chronic, or terminal illness. They provide patient education and counseling services, plus case management, advocacy, and intervention. This type of social service work often requires an LCSW.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Virginia

The average social worker salary in the United States is $43,619. As the table below shows, Virginia's social workers earn above-average salaries in all but one category of work (social and human services assistant). Positions that require workers to have advanced degrees and licensure generally offer higher salaries than positions that accept BSW graduates. Your location will also impact your salary. Social workers practicing in big cities with dense and diverse populations (like New York City) usually command higher salaries than their counterparts in smaller, more rural communities.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Virginia

Child, Family, or School Social Worker $51,110
Healthcare Social Worker $57,240
Community and Social Services Specialist $53,960
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker $52,080
Social and Human Services Assistant $32,240
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Virginia

Professional organizations provide members with networking, mentoring, and social opportunities. Most also take on advocacy roles and keep their members informed of developments and issues that affect their practice at both the state and federal levels. These organizations can help provide job seekers with leads and professional recommendations, and some offer member discounts for regional and national conventions.

  • Virginia Society for Clinical Social Work: The VSCSW provides professional development opportunities and relevant information regarding the practice of social work in Virginia. It hosts seminars, both online and onsite, on topics such as licensure regulations, continuing education hours, and malpractice insurance. It currently has four chapters throughout the state.
  • National Association of Social Workers – Virginia Chapter: The Virginia Board of Social Work has designated the NASW-VA as a pre-approved provider of professional continuing education programs. Participation in these programs can count toward continuing education hours for licensure renewal. The NASW-VA also organizes social and professional gatherings for its local and regional members.
  • Virginia Association of School Social Workers: The VA SSW hosts the annual School Social Work State Conference, which features prominent speakers in the field of school social work. It also holds workshops every spring in each of its six regional chapters. These workshops are free for members.
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