Continuing Education for Social Workers

In the United States, almost every professional career requires some form of continuing education (CE), and social work is no exception. Continuing Education for social workers consists of events and classes which insure that practitioners are kept up to date with recent developments, are able to explore new topics in which they may be interested, as well as meet the licensing requirements of the state in which they work (Each state licensing board has their own criteria for approving courses, so licensed social workers must be aware of their state’s board requirements. Individual state mandates can be found at: http://www.aswb.org/licensees/.). Licensed social workers are held personally responsible for enrolling in and completing courses approved by their jurisdictions.

M.J. Cummings LCSW, has been in private practice for over 25 years in a small town in northern California. Two of the mandates she must adhere to are, for example:

  • All CE must be taken from current Board approved providers.
  • Licensees must complete 36 hours of continuing education within the preceding 2 years of their license renewal date.

When we asked her how she felt about the CE requirements she shared the following;

“While some of my colleagues are not too thrilled about CE requirements, I find them refreshing and enjoyable. I start out by reading the latest CE and License Renewal brochures published by the state of California. I try and spread out the hours over the 24 months and I pick topics that interest me. I try and look at it in a positive way.”

The NASW Explains Why Continuing Education is Essential to the Career

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is;

“The largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world (with 132,000 members); the NASW works to enhance the professional growth and development of its members, create and maintain professional standards, and advance sound social policies.”

The NASW explains that in order to be practicing social work in an ethical manner, every social worker must continue to receive education with regards to current research, theory, and techniques. In other words, social workers must be vigilant with regards to continually improving themselves professionally; which in turn serves to maintain the integrity and standards of the profession. The requirement of Continuing Education has dual benefits; the social worker grows and develops personally and professionally, and at the same time, society is enriched with the constantly improving services available.

The NASW Offers New Online Options

In order to facilitate Continuing Education for the busy social worker, NASW has recently launched a new online Continuing Education resource for social workers. These classes are available in the “Professional Education and Training Center”; and they are accessible 24 hours a day. Courses are offered in a variety of formats; webinars, webcasts, podcasts, and presentations. Each of them is accredited by the NASW, and all are discounted for members of the NASW.

When asked her impressions regarding the new online options Cummings commented;

“First I’d like to say that I am very glad I practice in a state which allows the NASW courses to apply to my CE requirements. Not all states do. Another thing to note is that the NASW requirements for CE can be different than those of the individual states. California requires me to complete 36 hours of CE every two years; the NASW guidelines for members require 48 hours every two years. This is something one would take into consideration when weighing the benefits members enjoy versus paying for courses. Personally, I appreciate the other aspects of NASW membership; the courses are just frosting on the cake.”  

The ASWB as a Source for Locating Continuing Education

Another option for finding Continuing Education courses is through the Association of Social Work Board (ASWB). The ASWB is the nonprofit association of social work licensing boards in the United States and Canada and is not affiliated with the NASW. The ASWB founded the “Approved Continuing Education” (ACE) program which was created to help licensing boards evaluate a CE provider’s ability to provide social workers with “effective, relevant continuing education.” An ACE provider which has amassed ACE approval has demonstrated that they have been rigorously reviewed and found to offer superior continuing education courses according to the ASWB’s “best practices.”

The ASWB website offers more than 2,000 social work Continuing Education courses and can be viewed at: http://www.aswb.org/ace/. Here, the social worker is able to choose from traditional forms of educational courses (in-person at brick-and-mortar facilities) or online (learn at home) courses. The categorical topics offered include: Individuals, Couples, Families, Children, Professional Relationships, Values and Ethics, Human Development, Diversity, Behavior in the Environment, Communities and Groups, Public Administration, and Policy and Practice Administration.

While Continuing Education could at times feel like an additional burden to overworked and time-conscious social workers, immersion in newly discovered knowledge might also be the breath of fresh air they so desperately need. No matter what, with the state and associational requirements for Continuing Education, society can look forward to continual growth and improvement in the ever-changing field of social work.