Social Work Licensure in Wisconsin

The Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counseling, and Social Work Board of the Department of Safety and Professional Services is the regulating authority for social workers in Wisconsin. Like many other states, Wisconsin issues four types of social work licenses, although the licenses go by slightly different names.

Wisconsin issues a certified independent social worker (CISW) license for social workers who plan on entering private practices. The three other Wisconsin licenses include certified social worker (CSW), advanced practice social worker (CAPSW), and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Wisconsin also issues a social worker training certificate (SWTC) for graduates who did not earn a social work degree but who wish to pursue a career in the field. This certificate is only valid for a 24-month period and cannot be renewed.

Applicants for Wisconsin social work licensure must have at least a bachelor’s degree in social work to be considered, unless they apply for licensure through the SWTC route. Although Wisconsin does not have direct reciprocity agreements with other states, the board reviews applications for social work licensure in Wisconsin from out-of-state license holders on an individual basis.

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Types of Social Work Degrees in Wisconsin

Earning an accredited bachelor’s in social work (BSW) degree prepares graduates for careers in social services performing case management, client interviews and assessment, and program development. Without further study, BSW graduates must work under the guidance of a licensed social worker and are often limited to entry-level roles. Earning a master’s in social work (MSW) degree opens up many more opportunities for career advancement and further licensure.

While an MSW is considered a terminal degree in social work, some professionals choose to earn a Ph.D. in social work or a doctor of social work (DSW) degree. A Ph.D. in social work emphasizes academic research and prepares graduates for careers in academia, while a DSW is a practice-oriented degree.

Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work

Students can earn a social work degree in Wisconsin online and on-campus. Bachelor’s degrees require students to complete general education and major-specific courses, as well as a supervised field experience. These field experiences are usually comprised of 400 to 600 hours of work, where students can carry out certain social service roles and responsibilities. A bachelor’s degree in social work is ideal for those who want to work in social services as generalists, case workers, group therapy coordinators, or program and services coordinators. According to PayScale, the average salary for a social worker with a BSW in the U.S. is $38,038 per year.

Master’s in Social Work

Master’s in social work programs generally accept students with a bachelor’s degree in other field. They are accepted as foundation students and required to enroll in foundational social work classes. MSW students with BSW degrees are enrolled as advanced standing students. All MSW students are required to complete supervised fieldwork as part of the program. Foundation students complete 900 to 1,200 hours of internship or supervised fieldwork, while advanced standing students complete 450 to 900 hours. The average annual salary for social workers in the U.S. with an MSW is $45,000.

Doctoral Degree in Social Work

There are two options for social workers who want to earn a doctoral degree. A Ph.D. in social work is a research-intensive program that prepares graduates for careers as educators, researchers, and scholars. There is also a doctor of social work degree that is ideal for professionals who are looking for a more practice-focused program. This program includes courses in managing large complex systems, leading public discourse, and financial management for social change. The average salary for U.S. social workers with a post-master’s degree is between $74,000 and $115,000.

How to Become a Licensed Social Worker in Wisconsin

Students should earn a social work degree in Wisconsin that is accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE), who is the sole accrediting agency for social work education in the U.S. Social work licensure in Wisconsin begins by earning a CSWE-accredited BSW degree. Graduates with a BSW degree can get licensed as CSWs, and as such, they can set up a private practice, but they cannot provide clinical social work services. MSW graduates can apply to become either a CAPSW or a CISW. Both licenses allow social workers to practice psychotherapy as long as they are under proper supervision. Wisconsin also issues an LCSW, which permits holders to practice psychotherapy in unsupervised settings.

Certified Social Worker

  1. Wisconsin Open-book Exam: CSW candidates must pass this test before they can apply for the bachelor’s exam that is administered by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). Applicants take this test to familiarize themselves with the status and administrative codes that regulate the social work profession in Wisconsin. The test is taken online, and test-takers can exit and return to the test over a period of three months.
  2. ASWB Bachelor’s Exam: Students are eligible to take this test shortly before graduating from a bachelor’s in social work program, but only if they have already passed the Wisconsin open-book exam. Wisconsin issues a temporary license to new applicants who have not yet taken the ASWB bachelor’s exam but have completed all the other requirements for licensure as a CSW.
  3. Substance Abuse Specialty Authorization Program: CSW applicants must complete this training from a board-approved provider. This training is comprised of a minimum of 180 contact hours and must cover the following topics: understanding addiction, treatment knowledge, application to practice, and professional readiness. Candidates must also submit proof of attendance and completion of each course or seminar.

Certified Advanced Practice Social Worker

  1. Master’s Degree in Social Work: Social workers applying to become CAPSWs must have an MSW degree from a CSWE-approved school. There are several on-campus and some online social work programs in Wisconsin with CSWE approval. Foundation students typically complete an MSW program within two to three years, while advanced standing students can earn their degree in 12 to 18 months.
  2. ASWB Master’s Exam: Applicants who register for this exam must already have an MSW, but they are not required to have post-master’s field experience. This test includes 10 sections and covers topics such as direct and indirect practice; human development and behavior; and assessment, diagnosis, and intervention planning.
  3. Wisconsin Requirements: CAPSW applicants must also pass the Wisconsin open-book exam if they have not taken it within five years from the date of their licensure application. They must also complete the substance abuse specialty authorization program if they are applying for initial licensure in Wisconsin.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

  1. Educational Experience: LCSW applicants must have a master’s degree or higher before they can apply for licensure. They must also show proof of having completed a minimum of 1,500 hours of supervised clinical work experience as part of their post-baccalaureate program. At least 500 of these hours must involve supervised face-to-face client contact.
  2. Supervised Experience: Wisconsin requires LCSW applicants to accrue 3,000 hours of post-master’s experience within two years. This must be done under the supervision of a licensed clinical social worker. Of these 3,000 hours, 1,000 must consist of face-to-face clinical social work with clients. Approved clinical settings for this supervised experience include outpatient mental health clinics and inpatient treatment facilities.
  3. ASWB Clinical Exam: The questions on this exam focus on mental health and clinical practice. The test is designed to test competencies in four key areas: assessment diagnosis and treatment planning; psychotherapy, clinical interventions and case management; human development, diversity, and behavior in the environment; and professional ethics and values.

Certified Independent Social Worker

  1. Supervised Experience: CISW applicants must complete the same supervised experience requirement as CAPSWs. Ideally, client contact will emphasize Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) diagnosis and treatment. Supervisors can be an LCSW or a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist approved by the board.
  2. ASWB Advanced Generalist Exam: Applicants can only register for this exam after fully complying with the supervised experience requirement. Wisconsin issues a temporary license for licensure candidates who have met all requirements except for taking the ASWB advanced generalist exam. The temporary license expires after nine months or when the applicant successfully passes the exam.
  3. Malpractice insurance: Wisconsin Act 80 requires licensed social workers and other professionals engaged in clinical diagnosis and therapy to obtain professional liability insurance. Professionals must carry an insurance of at least $1,000,000 for a single occurrence, and $3,000,000 for all occurrences in a single year.

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

Since there is no supervised experience requirement for BSW graduates applying to be CSWs, they can be licensed as soon as they complete all the requirements for licensure, which can be done within one year of graduation. Social workers applying to become LCSWs or CISWs have to complete 3,000 hours of supervised clinical experience over a period of two years, after they have earned an MSW degree. This means it can take up to four years for LCSW and CISW applicants to receive their license.

Out-of-State Licensing Reciprocity in Wisconsin

The board does allow for reciprocity for social workers who are licensed in other states and who wish to obtain social work licensure in Wisconsin. However, this on a case-to-case basis only. As a rule, they consider licensure candidates from states whose licensing standards are largely equivalent to the standards in Wisconsin. Therefore, out-of-state applicants for Wisconsin social work licensure must submit the rules and regulations of their home state to the board for review.

Applicants must also pass the Wisconsin open-book exam and complete a verification of credential form. Although Wisconsin issues temporary licenses to resident social workers, it does not issue temporary licenses to out-of-state applicants requesting reciprocity. Applicants must submit a completed application form that corresponds to the licensing level being sought with the required fee of $160. Since each application is considered on an individual basis, the Board does not have a set time of processing requests for reciprocity.

License Renewal

Wisconsin’s license renewal date is on February 28 on every odd year. Applicants can renew their license online or by requesting a paper renewal form. As of October 2015, it costs $85 to renew a social work license in Wisconsin. Late renewals cost $110. All renewal applicants are required to fulfill a continuing education requirement of 30 hours. This must be completed within the first full two years after licensure.

Four of these 30 hours must be in the area of ethics and professional boundaries, which is relevant to the licensee’s field of practice or specialization. The board requires continuing education hours in this segment to be conducted in an interactive learning format, such as a live synchronous presentation and discussion. To fulfill the continuing education requirement, applicants must attend classes, programs, seminars, or workshops sponsored by board-approved providers.

Accredited Social Work Programs in Wisconsin

There are 19 CSWE-accredited colleges and universities offering social work degrees in Wisconsin, with some schools offering online social work degrees as well. Coupled with the state’s strict licensure policies, these social work programs give Wisconsin social workers the knowledge base, training, and credentials needed to provide top-notch social services to the state’s residents. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an overall job growth rate of 16% for all social workers between 2016 and 2026. Overall, employment opportunities for social workers in Wisconsin are plentiful, especially for licensed social workers offering clinical services.

What Can You Do With a Social Work Degree?

Social workers help clients who come from all walks of life and from different backgrounds. As a result, social workers can find careers in several areas, including general healthcare, public education, and mental health. With careful planning and preparation, BSW graduates can begin their social work careers almost immediately after graduation. However, because they provide a range of vital services to diverse populations, social workers often need to complete an MSW degree and meet licensure requirements if they want to advance their careers.

  • Healthcare Social Worker: Healthcare social workers help individuals and their families cope with the psychological, emotional, physical, and mental repercussions of dealing with a chronic or terminal illness. The services they provide may include patient and family counseling, health intervention and promotion, and referrals for other services. Most healthcare social workers have an MSW.
  • Child, Family, and School Social Worker: Social workers who specialize in this field work with students, families, teachers, and school officials to improve the academic, psychological, and social functioning of school children. They also assist with foster home placement and often deal with problems such as truancy and teen pregnancy. Most child, family, and school social workers are CAPSWs with at least an MSW degree.
  • Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker: A mental health and substance abuse social worker provides assessment, diagnostic, and treatment services to individuals with mental health or substance abuse problems. Since they provide clinical services, practitioners must be CISWs or LCSWs. CAPSWs can perform the duties of this position, but only under proper supervision.
  • Community and Social Service Specialist: Community and social service specialists are usually graduates with an accredited BSW. Their duties may include: facilitating the delivery of social and support services to clients; organizing activities for youths, the elderly, and other social groups; and conducting public workshops on topics relevant to the population base they serve.
  • Social and Human Services Assistant: This is an entry-level position that is ideal for those with an associate or bachelor’s degree in social work. These professionals help clients identify, locate, and access benefits and services. They can also assist licensed social workers in developing and implementing programs relevant to specific areas of social work service.

Salary Expectations for Social Workers in Wisconsin

Social workers in Wisconsin earn salaries that are generally at or above the median salary of social workers in the U.S. Entry-level positions earn lower than the national median salary of $47,980. However, both child, family, and school social workers and healthcare social workers in Wisconsin have higher salaries than the national median social worker salary. In general, Wisconsin social work positions requiring licensure and MSW degrees have salaries that are competitive with the national average.

Average Salary for Social Workers in Wisconsin

Child, Family, and School Social Worker$48,950
Healthcare Social Worker$51,210
Community and Social Service Specialist$38,870
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker$47,470
Social and Human Services Assistant$35,300
Source: BLS

Professional Organizations for Social Workers in Wisconsin

Social work is a diverse field. Social workers perform a wide range of duties in a variety of settings, which can make it difficult to find opportunities to socialize or network with peers. The professional organizations for social workers in Wisconsin provide them a platform to do just that. They also organize regional conferences and sometimes sponsor their members to attend national symposiums. A well-organized professional organization is also an excellent source of job leads, mentoring opportunities, and the latest industry news and developments.

  • Wisconsin School Social Workers Association: WSSWA members regularly receive the latest news affecting their practice on the local, regional, and national levels. The organization also provides professional development opportunities for its members throughout the year and a variety of resources to enhance social work practice in Wisconsin.
  • National Association of Social Workers – Wisconsin Chapter: NASW-WI provides members with relevant information on a wide range of important topics such as continuing education, changes in Wisconsin social work licensure regulations, and national conventions. The association keeps members connected and informed through their regular newsletter. It also offers updated scholarship information for college students.
  • Wisconsin Nursing Home Social Workers Association: WNHSWA provides educational programs that promote the personal and professional growth of its members. It also offers scholarships to students who are pursuing a social work degree with a focus on long-term care. The organization continuously advocates for quality services for nursing home residents.