Social Work License Requirements in California

A career in social work provides people with the opportunity to help their community by making sure members have access to the resources they need to improve their quality of life. Unlike other states, California social workers do not need a license unless they plan to work in private practice without supervision. This makes it much easier to pursue a career in social work as there are no exams, applications or fieldwork hours that need to be completed. Those who choose social work as a career can provide counseling to people across a variety of fields, including job placement, substance abuse, and mental health.

Check out our lists of the best BSW programs and best MSW programs in California.

Social Work Licensure Requirements in California

There are two educational paths that social work students can choose from in the state of California: a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) or a Master of Social Work (MSW). While either degree can help provide graduates with the tools needed to pursue a career in social work, various aspects of the industry require different levels of education. It is for this reason that those interested in social work in California should decide on a general career path before beginning their education. Social work courses typically focus on case management, social welfare, social work research methods, intervention methods, human behavior, substance abuse, healthcare, child maltreatment, family therapy, and cultural diversity. Additionally, social work students are usually required to gain hands-on experience in the clinical field.

For careers that require social work licensure in California, candidates will need to earn an MSW through a school or graduate program that is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CWSE), pass several exams, and accumulate thousands of hours in clinical work. California only offers one social work license: a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). This license allows social workers to work in clinical environments through private practice.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

Those interested in pursuing LCSW licensure in California must first obtain an MSW from a CSWE-accredited school or graduate program. Candidates must then register as an Associate Clinical Social Worker by submitting an application to the California Board of Behavioral Sciences. Additionally, candidates are required to submit a passport-quality photograph, their fingerprints, verification of education, and proof that required coursework in California Law and Professional Ethics has been completed.

After registering as an Associate Clinical Social Worker, candidates have six years to complete the remaining California licensure requirements. These include supervised clinical hours, additional coursework and exams. A total of 3,200 hours of work experience must be completed within 104 weeks, of which 2,000 must be performed in the areas of clinical psychological diagnosis, assessment, treatment and counseling. Of those 2,000 hours, 750 must be spent performing individual or group psychotherapy. Additional coursework includes child abuse assessment and reporting, human sexuality and California Law and Professional Ethics. Numerous exams must also be taken, including the California Laws and Ethics examination and the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) Clinical Exam. After all of the requirements have been met, licensure is approved by the Board.

Social Work License Reciprocity in California

Since California social workers are not required to have a license, those with out-of-state licenses who are looking to move to California do not have to apply for licensure. They can work in a supervised, nonclinical environment as long as they have a BSW or an MSW. Unlicensed out-of-state applicants will need to complete an 18-hour course on California Law and Professional Ethics before registering as an Associate Clinical Social Worker. From there, candidates can choose to pursue a career in social work in California or work toward LCSW credentials. Those who have social work licensure from another state can apply for LCSW licensure as long as they hold an equivalent out-of-state license, a master’s degree, have proven experience, pass the California Board of Behavioral Sciences exam and complete any additional coursework that the Board requires.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

Unlike many other states that require annual social work license renewal, California requires that licenses be renewed every two years. In order to qualify for renewal, the Board must receive proof that licensees have completed 36 hours of continuing education. The only exception is for new license holders, who are only required to complete 18 hours of continuing education. Coursework subjects include child abuse assessment and reporting; HIV and AIDs; and alcoholism and substance dependency. Social workers can also choose online courses, or exchange work for credit if they teach a class or participate in a review committee.