More social workers are needed across the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment rate in this field will increase 16 percent by 2026, which is about 10 percent more than the national average job growth. Factors driving this demand include the rise of aging populations and the growth in treatment for mental illness and substance abuse.
Illinois employs the sixth most social workers in the country, and Chicago is the third largest metropolitan area for these professionals. Although there are plenty of social workers and social initiatives in Chicago working to help vulnerable populations and battle issues like poverty, there is still a clear need for more professionals and assistance.
The path to becoming a social worker is different in each state. The following sections outline the general path to becoming a social worker and look at specific requirements in Illinois.
Becoming a Social Worker
Deciding to become a social worker is a commitment to helping others. Your work will focus on the social service system and how to find solutions to individual or community stressors. The first step to this fulfilling career is a degree in social work, followed by the appropriate licensure, certification and registration.
Entry-level administrative and direct-service positions in social work require a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. You’ll need to complete supervised fieldwork or an internship before being qualified to work as a caseworker or mental health assistant.
Clinical positions permit social workers to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional disorders, as well as provide therapy and develop treatment plans. A Master of Social Work (MSW) is required for clinical positions. Those programs last approximately two years and focus on developing clinical assessment and management skills to prepare you for your chosen specialty. Supervised practicum or an internship is required in all MSW programs.
Licensure, Certification and Registration
Most states require licensure or certification for nonclinical social workers. All states require clinical workers to be licensed, which involves an MSW and at least two years of supervised clinical experience after graduation. Following the period of supervised experience, clinical social workers must pass a clinical exam to be licensed.
Licensing requirements vary by state.
Considering a Career in Social Work?Access the Guide
Becoming a Social Worker in Illinois
There are two types of social work licensure in Illinois: licensed social worker (LSW) and licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). The National Association of Social Workers – Illinois Chapter outlined the licensure steps for each type of social worker.
In Illinois, LSWs are authorized to provide social services in fields such as social casework, social group work, community organization for social welfare, social work research, social welfare association or social work education.
There are two options to meet educational requirements for becoming an LSW in Illinois. One option is having a graduate social work degree approved by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). The second route is an undergraduate social work degree approved by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), along with at least three years of supervised professional experience.
Additionally, you will need to pass the master’s examination for the practice of social work as a licensed social worker. The only other requirements are being of good moral character and applying for licensure to the IDFPR in writing.
In Illinois, LCSWs are authorized to practice clinical work under the auspices of an employer or in private practice.
The primary avenue to becoming an LCSW in Illinois begins with earning a master’s degree in social work from a graduate program approved by the CSWE. At least 3,000 hours of satisfactory, supervised clinical professional experienced are needed after receiving your degree.
You will need to pass the clinical examination for the practice of social work as a licensed clinical social worker. Being of good moral character and applying for licensure in writing to the IDFPR are the remaining requirements for this route to becoming a LCSW.
Alternatively, you may complete a doctoral degree in social work from a graduate program approved by the CWSE. In that case, you’ll need 2,000 hours of satisfactory, clinical professional experience after receiving your degree. Other requirements remain the same.
Interested in Becoming a Social Worker?
Pursue your career goals in social work by earning your online BSW or online MSW at Aurora University. Courses are offered in convenient eight-week modules, allowing you to complete your coursework in a flexible learning environment while managing work and family.
Aurora University offers Chicagolands’s only CSWE-accredited online programs. Our programs features access to faculty members who are practitioners in their fields with experience in health care, child welfare, forensics, addiction and more. You’ll also have access to a dedicated academic advisor who will support you along the way.
Graduates with the BSW degree are prepared for entry-level roles and to apply for advanced standing in Aurora University’s MSW program. Students in the MSW program can choose a specialization in Faith-Based Social Work, Forensic, Health Care or Leadership Administration. Dual MSW/MBA or MSW/MPA degree programs are also available.