How to Become a Social Worker in Kentucky

Photo of a social worker pushing a male client in a wheelchair.

Kentucky needs social workers, and demand for social workers is expected to increase in the coming years. Social work is among the 20 most-needed professions in the state, according to the Kentucky Occupational Outlook to 2024 report. Job growth for social workers is expected to range from 6 percent to as much as 37.5 percent, depending on field. The steps below outline how to become a social worker in Kentucky.

Education Requirements for Kentucky Social Workers

Education is a requirement for social workers in Kentucky. In fact, the Kentucky Board of Social Work mandates that anyone seeking licensure possess a bachelor’s degree in social work from a school accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) at the very least, Social Work Guide says. Such a degree program provides students with training on human behavior, policy and research methods and also provides some field experience. A bachelor’s degree in social work is the requirement to become a licensed social worker (LSW) in Kentucky.

Other Kentucky licenses require a master’s degree in social work from a CSWE-accredited program. A master’s degree allows students to focus on advanced topics in social work. Earning a Bachelor of Social Work degree may qualify a graduate for “advanced standing” in a Master of Social Work program, according to Social Work Guide. Upon receiving a master’s degree in social work, a graduate qualifies to become licensed as a certified social worker (CSW) or a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) in Kentucky.

Licensure in Kentucky

In Kentucky, there are three different forms of licensure that allow an individual to practice social work. Social Work Guide provides information on each.

Licensed Social Worker (LSW)

The LSW is the basic licensure required to perform social work within Kentucky, allowing a license-holder to practice non-clinical social work under supervision. In order to attain an LSW, a candidate must be at least 18 years of age, must possess a bachelor’s degree in social work and must pass the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) bachelor’s exam. The exam carries a fee of $230, and a candidate must also send a $75 licensure fee with the exam. Before taking the exam, a candidate must apply for licensure with the Kentucky board. This process requires a completed application, an official college transcript, three references and a $25 application fee.

Certified Social Worker (CSW)

A social worker who possesses a CSW may command higher compensation and may have access to more career opportunities, because of the higher education requirements of the certification. The CSW carries a licensure fee of $125. The candidate must take and pass the ASWB master’s exam, which costs $230, and must submit an application along with an official transcript, three references and a $25 application fee. Upon receipt of the CSW, a social worker may practice clinical social work without supervision by contracting with a Kentucky Board of Social Work-approved licensed clinical social worker.

Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)

An LCSW is able to practice clinical and non-clinical social work independently without a board-approved contract. In order to attain an LCSW, a social worker must have at least two years of full-time post-graduate experience or three years of part-time experience and must have undergone supervision by a board-approved supervisor. An individual must submit an application, an official transcript, the supervised experience documentation form, official scores from the ASWB, three references and a fee of $25. The applicant must then complete the ASWB clinical exam, which has a fee of $260. An LCSW who holds the license for at least three years may complete a three-hour training course to become a board-approved supervisor.

Other Considerations

Individuals who have satisfied the requirements for a specific license but have not yet taken the corresponding ASWB exam can apply for a temporary permit, which allows them to engage in social work while they schedule and wait to take their exam. An applicant who wishes to do this must complete an application, supply a transcript and pay a $25 fee.

Kentucky does not have an official reciprocity agreement with any other state, so those wishing to become licensed in Kentucky must apply for licensure. Doing so requires an official transcript, official ASWB scores and verification from states where a license was previously held.

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Practicing Social Work in Kentucky

Upon attaining a license, an individual can begin to practice social work in Kentucky. There are many fields of social work, but the most common are:

Healthcare Social Worker

Healthcare social workers practice within the healthcare system. This includes medical social workers, geriatric social workers and hospice social workers. Medical social workers, under the healthcare social work umbrella, provide people with psychological and social support to cope with chronic or terminal illnesses. Their role is to act as educators, counselors and guides, creating, implementing and monitoring care plans for their charges.

Geriatric social workers handle similar issues, but they work specifically with the elderly, often in nursing homes. Geriatric social workers assist with meal delivery, home healthcare and transitions to nursing care facilities.

Hospice social workers assist patients in hospice situations, providing care and counseling to patients, their families and caregivers.

The Kentucky Occupational Outlook to 2024 reports that healthcare social workers are expected to see growth of 37.5 percent by 2024. The average wage for a healthcare social worker in 2015 was $22.01 per hour.

Mental Health and Substance Use Social Worker

Clinically trained social workers provide the majority of the United States’ mental health services, Social Work Guide says. They provide therapy and crisis intervention for people with mental or emotional disorders or for those dealing with substance abuse. Mental health and substance use social workers implement treatment plans, connect charges with necessary services, help schedule appointments and provide assistance with mental health education and substance abuse education.

The average wage for a mental health and substance use social worker was $17.24 in 2015, according to the Occupational Outlook. The field is expected to grow 31.5 percent by 2024.

Clinical Social Worker

Social Work Guide says that clinical social workers are “the largest group of professionally trained mental health providers in the US, providing over half of all counseling and therapy services.” Their role is to diagnose and treat mental illness, to provide counseling and to collaborate with other mental health professionals to develop treatment plans and carry them out.

The Occupational Outlook does not report specific salary and growth figures for clinical social workers. However, the “Social Workers, All Other” category is expected to grow 6 percent by 2024, and the average wage in 2015 was $23.85 per hour.

Child and Family Social Worker

Child and family social workers are case managers for children and their families, helping to improve the family dynamic, prevent abuse and provide support and advocacy for the child, according to Social Work Guide. Child and family social workers may act as liaisons to schools and may manage adoptions and foster care scenarios.

The Occupational Outlook reports the average salary in 2015 for child and family social workers as $18.69, and the field is expected to grow 17.5 percent by 2024.

Starting a Career in Social Work

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