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In every state across the US, social workers provide essential services to individuals, families, and communities. They employ their emotional intelligence in various settings, from schools and healthcare organizations to corporate entities, with the altruistic mission of improving lives and promoting the greater good of society.

In many states, the integrity of the field is safeguarded by social worker protected title statutes. Such statutes guarantee that anyone who claims to be a“registered social worker” has professional designation and is equipped with a certain standard of education, experience, and licensing required by the state.1

But in California, title protections are only extended to social workers in advanced positions that require licensing from the state’s Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS). Here’s why professionals in the field are pushing for more thorough title protection.

What Is Title Protection in Social Work?

Title protection in social work refers to a system of statutory protections that ensure only qualified individuals may use the title of “social worker”.2 As such, they allow people who rely on social work to assume, with a reasonable level of certainty, that anyone who advertises themselves as a social worker has received the proper social work education and is qualified to provide the services. 

Social worker title protection mandates that a certified social worker has fulfilled certain education, training, and licensing requirements. Although the United States Constitution leaves it up to the individual states to determine what those requirements are, they generally include the following:3

  • Formal education – A bachelor’s of science in social work or master’s of science in social work degree is required in all states. The degree must be granted by an institution that’s accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.
  • Practical experience – Experience requirements vary by state but generally include between one and five years of service in supervised settings at a social work practice.
  • Official examination – In most states, licensing for social workers depends on the successful completion of specialization-specific exams administered by the ASWB.

In California, social working licenses are issued by the BBS.4 Licensing is contingent upon the completion of an accredited MSW program, plus several additional courses, assessments, training programs, and examinations, depending on the license type.

However, California only requires licensing for two types of social workers: licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) and associate clinical social workers (ACSWs). All other social workers in the state are exempt from BBS licensing—and, therefore, from state-level title protections. Alliant International University has provided additional information about the process of becoming a social worker in California.

Why Title Protection Is Necessary in Social Work

Proponents of social worker protected title laws believe that applying protections only to licensed social workers and not to those working at other levels does a disservice to professionals in the field and the populations that rely on their services. 

In support of their position, supporters argue that title protections are important for a licensed clinical social worker because they:5

  • Ensure professional capability – By limiting the scope of who is allowed to use the title of social worker, title protections ensure that all title-holding professionals are equipped with the proper educational background, supervised experience, and relevant licensing. 
  • Uphold ethical compliance – Title protections indicate that anyone claiming to be a social worker is aware of the code of ethical standards as stipulated by the National Association of Social Workers.
  • Reinforce education requirements – Education standards are important in social work, but their usefulness is only as strong as their enforcement. Title protections are one way of ensuring that social workers have obtained the necessary degrees, such as a BSW or MSW.
  • Protect vulnerable populations – By guaranteeing that advertised social workers are properly educated and licensed, title protections help guarantee that the vulnerable populations that require social work services are met with fair and just support.
  • Protect the integrity of the field – California’s current title protections only apply to LCSWs and ACSWs. Proponents argue that expanding those protections to apply to all levels of social work helps ensure that standards of service and ethics are met across the entire field. 

The History of Title Protections in Social Work in California 

The issue of social worker title protections is not a new issue in California. Field professionals and state legislatures have broached the subject many times since the late 1990s. Various bills have been brought before state officials as recently as 2013 in an effort to expand title protections beyond LCSWs and ACSWs.6

However, not everyone supports expanding the reach of the state’s current title protection laws. For example, the Service Employee International Union argued in 2013 that expanded protections would unfairly penalize long-time professionals who have worked successfully for years without certain qualifications. 

That argument went a long way to blocking the 2013 bill. Today, social worker title protections remain an important topic of discussion in California. 

Join the Social Work Force with Education from Alliant International University

Continuing your college education by enrolling in an MSW program is an excellent way to master the intricacies of social work and build the varied skills that clients expect of professionals in the field.

The California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University offers a comprehensive master’s of social work degree program that can form the educational basis you’ll need if you plan on joining this service-driven workforce. 


Sources: 

  1. “Social Work Title Protection Information.” National Association of Social Workers, Missouri. https://naswmo.socialworkers.org/Advocacy/Legislative-Issues/Social-Wor…. Accessed May 12, 2023.
  2. “What is Title Protection and Why Does California Need Title Protection for All Social Workers?” National Association of Social Workers California News. May 10, 2022. https://naswcanews.org/what-is-title-protection-and-why-does-california… Accessed May 12, 2023. 
  3. “Social Work Law.” Encylopedia.com. https://www.encyclopedia.com/medicine/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcript…. Accessed May 12, 2023. 
  4. Deering, Maura. “California Social Work License Requirements & Programs: Become a Social Worker in CA.” Social Work Guide. May 10, 2023. https://www.socialworkguide.org/licensure/california/#steps. Accessed May 12, 2023.
  5. “What is Title Protection and Why Does California Need Title Protection for All Social Workers?” National Association of Social Workers California News. May 10, 2022. https://naswcanews.org/what-is-title-protection-and-why-does-california… Accessed May 12, 2023. 
  6. “What is Title Protection and Why Does California Need Title Protection for All Social Workers?” National Association of Social Workers California News. May 10, 2022. https://naswcanews.org/what-is-title-protection-and-why-does-california… Accessed May 12, 2023. 

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