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Kentucky Social Work License Requirements

Kentucky is a good place to start a social work career, with a population of 4.4 million that has seen steady growth over the past several years.1 The number of social work jobs in Kentucky is similarly expected to increase in upcoming years, and multiple subfields of social work report average annual salaries above Kentucky’s median household income.1,2,3 If you are interested in becoming a social worker in Kentucky, you’ll need to understand the state licensure requirements and paths.

The Kentucky Board of Social Work regulates social work licenses in the state. Continue reading to learn more about the different options for social work licensure in Kentucky and the specific requirements for each.

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How to Become a Social Worker in Kentucky

Educational Paths

Social workers interested in working in Kentucky will need a social work license in order to practice. The minimum degree required is a bachelor’s in social work degree (BSW) and a master’s in social work (MSW) is required for clinical and independent practice. Read below for specific details on each degree and the licensure options they allow.

Bachelor of Social Work (BSW)

The Kentucky Board of Social Work requires that all licensees possess a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). This accreditation ensures that social work programs adhere to the same standards and that students are learning the basic requirements for the practice of social work. BSW programs prepare students for the social work field through classroom education and field experience. Most students will take courses in human behavior, social work policy, professional ethics, and practice methods in their BSW programs. After receiving this degree, you become eligible to apply for the Licensed Social Worker (LSW) credential in Kentucky.

Master of Social Work (MSW)

If you wish to practice independently or at the master’s level, you will need a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited program. After obtaining your bachelor’s degree, you should look for MSW programs that offer a focus area that interests you and review electives offered to ensure that your graduate-level education is well-rounded. In MSW programs, you are likely to learn about social work policy and social welfare, social work research, and crisis management and intervention. You will also gain hands-on experience practicing social work with individuals, families, and communities. All MSW programs will have a fieldwork component that gives students real-world experience and helps them understand what social work looks like in practice. If you previously completed a BSW from a CSWE-accredited school, you may be eligible for “advanced standing” in an MSW program, decreasing the duration of the graduate-level program from two years to one year.

After receiving an MSW, you will be eligible to become licensed as a Certified Social Worker (CSW) or a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in Kentucky.

Steps for Becoming a Licensed Social Worker in Kentucky

The Kentucky Board of Social Workers oversees the three social work licenses offered in the state: Licensed Social Worker (LSW), Certified Social Worker (CSW), and Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Each license has different requirements and allows social workers to provide different types of services. Provided in the sections below are more details about these three licenses and how to earn them.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)

In Kentucky, the Licensed Social Worker (LSW) credential allows an individual to provide non-clinical social work services without supervision. Possessing a BSW from a CSWE-accredited program is the first step to becoming an LSW in Kentucky. After you have obtained this degree, the steps below outline how to become licensed as an LSW.

1. Complete the LSW application.

To initiate the licensure process, you must first complete and submit the Board’s social work licensure application, completing all sections relevant to licensure as an LSW. The application requires an official transcript from your college or university and three references that can attest to your professional abilities. A $25 application fee (as of January 2019) must be included with the application. It generally takes several weeks for the Board to process these applications. If they review your application and determine that you meet all criteria for LSW licensure except the completion of the required exam (see Step 2 below), they may issue a temporary license that will allow you to practice for up to 240 days until your full license is issued.

2. Pass the ASWB Bachelor’s exam.

Once your application is approved by the Board, they will send an email informing you that you may schedule your ASWB Bachelor’s exam. The Bachelor’s exam is a 170-question multiple choice exam, though only 150 of the items are scored. As of January 2019, the registration fee for the Bachelor’s exam is $230. After completing the exam, you will receive an unofficial score report at the testing site. You must send this report, along with a $75 license fee, to the Board to complete your application.

3. Receive your LSW license.

After completing the application and passing the ASWB Bachelor’s exam, you will become licensed to practice social work in Kentucky as an LSW. With this designation, you can practice non-clinical social work.

Certified Social Worker (CSW)

To become licensed as a Certified Social Worker (CSW) in Kentucky, you must have an MSW from a CSWE-accredited school or a doctoral degree in social work. Like the LSW license, the CSW license allows a social worker to independently provide non-clinical services. However, CSWs are also able to practice clinical social work under supervision, and becoming a CSW is a prerequisite to earning an LCSW license in Kentucky. Below are the steps to applying for CSW licensure in Kentucky.

1. Complete the CSW application.

Individuals wishing to become CSWs must submit the social worker application to the Kentucky Board along with a $25 application fee (as of January 2019) and an official transcript from their MSW program. If you have completed all requirements for CSW licensure except the exam (see Step 2 below), the Board may issue a temporary license that will allow you to practice for up to 240 days until you have passed the exam.

2. Pass the ASWB Master’s exam

The ASWB Master’s exam is required to become a CSW in Kentucky. Once your application is approved, you will receive an approval letter by email from the Board allowing you to schedule your exam. The Master’s exam is a 170-question multiple choice exam on the master’s-level practice of social work, and registration fees are $230 as of January 2019. After completing the exam, you will receive an unofficial score report from the testing center. You must mail this to the Board along with the $125 CSW licensure fee.

3. Receive your CSW license.

After applying for licensure, receiving approval from the Board, and passing the Master’s exam, you will become a licensed CSW in Kentucky. In addition to providing non-clinical social work services, CSWs may practice clinical social work under the supervision of an LCSW approved by the Board.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

To independently provide the full range of non-clinical and clinical social work services in Kentucky, you must possess an LCSW license. An MSW from a CSWE-accredited program (or a doctoral degree in social work) is required for LCSW licensure, and applicants must also accrue supervised clinical social work experience as a CSW before applying to become an LCSWs Once you hold a CSW license, you can become an LCSW in Kentucky by following the steps below.

1. Gain the required experience.

The Board requires LCSW candidates to gain supervised clinical social work experience prior to becoming licensed. To meet this requirement, you must have at least two years of full-time post-graduate experience (minimum 30 hours per week), or three years of part-time post-graduate experience (minimum 20 hours per week). During this time, you must be supervised by an LCSW who has been licensed for at least three years and has completed the required three hours of Board-approved training on supervision practices and methods. Before beginning to accrue any supervised experience for licensure, your proposed supervisor and supervision contact must both receive Board approval. While completing this experience, you must receive at least 200 hours of supervision, at least half of which must be individual (rather than group) supervision.

2. Complete the LCSW application.

After the supervised clinical experience requirement is met, LCSW candidates must submit the social work licensure application to the Board. Along with your application you must supply an official transcript, the supervised experience documentation form, three professional references, and the $25 application fee (as of January 2019).

3. Pass the ASWB Clinical exam.

To become licensed, you will also need to register for and take the ASWB Clinical exam. The exam tests the candidate’s knowledge of clinical social work practice through 170 multiple-choice questions. As of January 2019, the cost to take the exam is $260. After you have passed the exam, you must send your unofficial score report to the Board along with a $200 licensure fee.

4. Receive your LCSW license.

Once you have completed the steps listed above, you will become a licensed clinical social worker in Kentucky. LCSWs can practice clinical and non-clinical social work independently and may supervise other social workers after three years of licensed (clinical) experience and after taking the Kentucky Social Work Board supervisor training course. Although you may meet the requirements for licensure after passing the Clinical exam, you must continue to practice under supervision until the Board has issued your license.

Social Work License Reciprocity in Kentucky

Kentucky does not have formal reciprocity for social work licensing with any other state. If you are licensed as a social worker in a state other than Kentucky, you will have to apply to become a licensed social worker using the same process first-time licensees use and pay the associated fees. As a part of the application process, you must supply an official transcript, your official ASWB exam scores, and verification from the state(s) where you previously held a license. If you are applying to become an LCSW, you must provide documentation showing that you have either received 200 hours of supervision from a licensed clinical social worker or have been practicing independently as a clinical social worker for at least five years. For more information, see the Board’s frequently asked questions about out-of-state applicants.

Licensing Renewal and Continuing Education Information

All Kentucky social workers must renew their license every three years. As of January 2019, renewal fees are $75 for an LSW, $125 for a CSW, and $200 for an LCSW. Social workers must complete the online renewal form for their license and pay the associated fee. Before renewing, LSWs must complete 15 hours of continuing education during each renewal period, while CSWs and LCSWs must complete 40 hours. All licensees must complete at least six hours of continuing education in the identification and management of suicidality.

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Kentucky Social Worker Jobs and Salary Information

According to May 2017 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 10,810 social workers are employed in Kentucky, with the majority (7,790) working in the area of child, family, and school social work.2 Social workers in Kentucky earn an average salary of $45,335 per year, which is similar to the median household income in the state ($46,535).1,2 Healthcare social workers and social workers in the “all other” category report average annual salaries above this median, at $49,150 and $55,230, respectively.2 Social work jobs Kentucky are on the rise; projections suggest that between 2016 and 2026, jobs for social workers in Kentucky will increase by 8.2%.3 The largest gains are expected for healthcare social workers (16.7%) and mental health and substance abuse social workers (15.7%).3

Type Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Child, Family, and School Social Workers 7,790 $40,370
Healthcare Social Workers 1,710 $49,150
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Workers 760 $36,590
Social Workers, All Other 550 $55,230

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2017.2

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Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can I begin practicing independently once I become registered as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker?

Answer: Yes, once you meet the requirements for an LCSW and receive your license from the Board, you may begin practicing clinical social work independently.

Question: For the two years of supervised clinical social work experience required for LCSW licensure, can I count experience I gained years ago?

Answer: Yes. As long as your social work experience was acquired after receiving your CSW and you worked at least 20 hours per week, you can count experience from any time period.

Question: What kinds of qualifications are required of the person supervising my experience?

Answer: Supervisors must be LCSWs who have been licensed for at least three years and have completed a Board-approved three-hour training course on supervision practices and methods.

Question: What kind of degree do I need to practice social work in Kentucky?

Answer: Social workers need a bachelor’s degree in social work (BSW) or a master’s degree in social work (MSW) from a CSWE-accredited program to practice social work in the state.

1. US Census Bureau Quick Facts, Kentucky: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/ky
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2017 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Kentucky: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ky.htm
3. Projections Central, Long Term Occupational Projections: http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm