Illinois currently licenses social workers at two levels: Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). The thing that distinguishes professionals practicing at the two levels is not always educational level. There are both baccalaureate and master’s level social workers practicing under the LSW title; a key difference is that baccalaureate social workers must have post-graduate supervised work experience to qualify for the credential.
Social workers with graduate education, meanwhile, can become LCSWs after a period of supervised work experience.
LSWs are permitted to work in the following service areas: casework, community organization, social group work, or social work education, research, or administration. The Department recognizes that casework and social group work may entail clinical duties. However, social workers must carry them out under the professional responsibility of a clinical social worker, psychiatrist, or psychologist.
LCSWs are independent -- they can go into private practice.
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The Board's website contains additional information that you should review. Click Here to go to the Illinois Department of Financial & Professional Regulation website.
A prospective social worker should begin by enrolling in an accredited social work program at the bachelor’s or master’s level. The next step depends on the degree conferred. A candidate with a master’s can apply immediately to take the master level examination through the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). The LSW application packet includes an educational verification form that must be filled out by someone at the degree-granting institution (Click Here to download the application form). The cost of applying to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation is $50. This is separate from the cost of the exam.
A baccalaureate social work graduate must work in the field for three years before applying to take the exam (and wear the title of LSW). The duties must be social work related. During this this period, the prospective social worker must be supervised by an LSW, an LCSW, or other approved individual. The supervisor and supervisee should meet together for an hour per week.
Eventually the supervisor will need to verify the experience, rate the applicant, and note the percentage of time spent working in different areas of service. The candidate must be rated at least within the satisfactory range.
The National Association of Social Workers recommends that bachelor’s and master’s social workers alike get out into the field and begin. Even volunteer work may count as experience.
A prospective clinical social worker should enroll in an accredited graduate program. After graduation, the candidate can take steps to become licensed as an LSW. This will entail applying to the Department and taking the master level examination through the ASWB.
You may also want to read the article "Master’s Degree in Social Work: Developing Skills and Competencies" if you have any questions about Master's of Social Work programs.
Graduates of master’s programs must accrue 3,000 hours of experience (properly supervised) while graduates of doctoral programs need accrue only 2,000. Candidates should work between 15 and 40 hours a week. The supervisor must be a clinical social worker. If there is not an appropriate person at the workplace, the supervisee (or the employer) may contract with an LCSW for services. Group supervision is permissible.
Candidates who have already taken an exam may have their scores sent directly from the ASWB. This time the required test is the clinical level one.
An applicant who is licensed in another jurisdiction that has similar requirements may be issued a license by endorsement. Social workers who are applying by this method pay a $200 application fee. Candidates who have taken an exam in another jurisdiction may have their scores sent directly from the ASWB. The Department refers to this pathway as ”acceptance of exam”. It is a separate licensure path and does not incur the additional fee.
Licenses are renewed every two years.
Questions may be emailed to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (Click Here for their website). The National Association of Social Workers - Illinois is an additional resource.
If you are still in High School, hold a High School Diploma/GED, or hold a bachelor's degree, check out suggested steps to take along the path to become a Social Worker in Illinois.