Across State Lines
For social workers interested in gaining licensure in another state, it can be quite the journey.
In 2022, the projected number of out-of-state license requests submitted to the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, and Marriage and Family Therapist board is 16%, an increase from around 8% in 2019. This statistic is indicative of a nationwide trend. The increase can be linked to the expansion of telehealth that was occurring prior to the pandemic and accelerated during the height of the pandemic. Greater mobility among therapists and clients is also a factor.
A social work licensure compact (an agreement among 10 or more states to allow persons licensed in one state to practice in another) may be on the horizon, but it is not yet here. And even when it becomes a reality, not all jurisdictions will immediately adopt it. Once jurisdictions do adopt the compact, it could be some time before it is fully operational and able to facilitate licensure across member states.
Without a compact, social workers who wish to hold a license in another state must follow the endorsement or reciprocity process in the state where they want to practice. In other words, they must apply for a license.
Keep in mind that each state establishes its own requirements. The endorsement or reciprocity laws and rules vary by state. What makes licensure so interesting—but also frustrating at times—is that each jurisdiction can set its own requirements for licensure. This places significant responsibility on applicants and licensees to understand the licensure process. This is a feature of the system of federalism in the United States. Each state can develop its own requirements based on its history, politics, culture, and experience in regulating licenses. While applicants are not required to grasp the dynamics of a state, understanding what is expected will be critical in the timely review and processing of their applications.
Those considering applying for a license in another state should take time to familiarize themselves with the jurisdiction’s licensure process as well as the laws and rules. Reviewing the website is a first step, but there are other options to consider.
Organizations such as the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) are a good source of licensure information. ASWB maintains a site that includes links to all licensure boards. ASWB also maintains a website that helps social workers compare licensure requirements of the various jurisdictions, which allows applicants to review the requirements and prepare accordingly. While there is a host of other websites that promote licensure information, it’s important to ensure that the sponsor is reputable before relying on the information.
Some questions to explore when applying in another state include the following:
• What can be waived? For example, if you have held an independent/clinical license for several years or longer, do you have to submit supervision hours?
• What can the licensee submit to the board? What must come from a third party? Identifying these restrictions at the start of the application process can help avoid unnecessary delays.
As in the application process for the initial license, applications are applicant driven. In other words, most of the work will be done by the applicant. The licensure application process is reactive. The state where an applicant was originally licensed, as well as other states where they hold a license, has a limited role when applications are made in other states. The applicant’s “home state,” where they were originally licensed, may be able to provide certain documents or a verification. Applicants will likely need to request a transcript from their college or universities. These are covered by a federal law that limits how third parties may release transcripts. This will likely mean the transcripts must come from the applicants or their degree programs.
Exam scores also may be required. Because exam scores are not part of a board’s application review process, a request to ASWB may be necessary. This is a time when being organized is important. Creating a checklist helps, particularly when you are applying in multiple states. A simple Excel spreadsheet—even a notebook page—can help track what has been submitted and when.
A background check may be required before a license can be issued. If so, find out if the check can be completed out of state. For example, can the applicant’s local law enforcement agency complete the prints and perform the check? Or does the background check have to be processed in the jurisdiction in which the applicant is applying? Background checks usually cannot be waived, so be prepared to take the necessary steps, which can be complicated when you’re applying from out of state.
Applicants with criminal convictions or “hits” on their background checks should be prepared to discuss what occurred. A criminal conviction does not preclude an applicant from obtaining a license, particularly if the conviction occurred before the applicant was originally licensed. Also, legislation has been passed in many states that directs licensure boards not to consider convictions that occurred a set number of years ago or were not of a serious nature.
If you hold an independent license, supervision documentation may be required. This may cause a few headaches, particularly for social workers who have been independently licensed for many years. State requirements vary. For example, some states waive submission of supervision documentation if the applicant has been independently licensed for a certain period. In Ohio, documentation is waived if the applicant has more than two years of independent licensure. However, it is not required from all licensees with fewer than two years of independent licensure if the other jurisdiction’s rules for an independent license are like Ohio’s. Some states have a similar policy to Ohio’s, while others require a specification verification or documentation of completed supervision hours.
Generally, states require the ASWB associate, bachelor’s, master’s, advanced generalist, and clinical exams as a requirement. However, not all states use the exams in the same way. Some states issue the LSW (Licensed Social Worker) license using the bachelor’s or master’s exam, while others have a licensed master’s social work license. Depending on the jurisdiction’s requirements, applicants may have to take an additional licensure exam. For example, what if someone was licensed using their BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) exam results but held an MSW (Master of Social Work)? If the state where they are applying requires MSW graduates to take the master’s exam, they may be required to do so. If an applicant was licensed without an exam or using an alternative exam, they will need to consult with the jurisdiction where they wish to practice.
A license verification, which verifies the holder has an active license and that they have been disciplined, is a standard requirement. Unfortunately, owing to privacy restrictions, verifications do not indicate whether a licensee is currently being investigated by a licensure board. Nor does a verification communicate any information about the social worker’s capabilities.
Also, as demand for out-of-state licensure has increased, verifications have changed. What does this mean for applicants? They will need to confirm the requirements for the state to which they are applying. Does the state require verification directly from the state, or will the state conduct an online license look-up? Many states are eliminating the issuance of verifications and instead relying on the online license look-up. If this is not the case, applicants must request verification from the jurisdictions in which they hold a license. A fee may be required if the board is issuing the verification.
In terms of costs, the licensure process features several. Besides an application fee, many colleges and universities charge a fee to process transcript requests. In addition, ASWB charges a fee for sending exam scores. The processing of background checks also comes with a price tag.
• The number of years an applicant has been licensed is usually not a reason to waive a requirement. Many licensees will state they have “been licensed for X years” and that a certain requirement should not apply to them. While some endorsement rules may allow for waiving some requirements, these are often limited.
• Applicants are responsible for their own applications, meaning it is their responsibility to know what must be submitted and how. Keep in mind that many boards are not staffed in such a way as to support significant follow-up and support. That may mean that an incomplete license application will not appear in a board staff member’s work queue.
• Understand the timelines. For example, can the staff issue the license, or is board review required? While many boards can issue licenses between meetings, some out-of-state applications require board review and approval.
• Create a checklist to ensure all documents are submitted on time and tasks, such as completing background checks, are completed.
• Do not assume. As noted above, there is a good chance that what was required in your home state may be different in the state in which you are applying.
It is quite likely that applicants will wish to maintain these new licenses as well as any other licenses. This will require maintaining and renewing the licenses. Applicants who do, indeed, plan to hold multiple licenses should take the following steps:
• Find out when the license must be renewed. Some states renew based on the license type, while others renew based on a licensee-specific date, such as the issuance date.
• Seek continuing education (CE). The types and amount of CE vary from state to state, with some requiring specific courses to be completed—for example, in cultural competency or ethics—while others impose no requests. This may mean focusing on organizations and CE providers that work in many states.
• Identify the cost of renewal fees.
• If you will not be practicing solely in the “new” jurisdiction, create a renewal reminder.
• Monitor your e-mail closely. Consider creating an e-mail address solely for managing licenses. Generally, it is best to avoid a work e-mail because access can change on short notice.
• Keep abreast of the differences in the laws and rules between jurisdictions. This can be particularly important if the scopes of practice are different.
• Keep a file of all licensure records—for example, exam scores, transcripts, supervision documentation, and CE certificates. Do not rely on state licensure boards to serve as a repository for documents. With free cloud storage services available, there is no excuse not to keep these records readily accessible.
Licensure boards are in the business of issuing licenses. The requirements for a license exist to facilitate that process as part of the board’s public protection role. Getting familiar with the requirements and staying organized will assist social workers as they seek to practice in other jurisdictions.
— Brian Carnahan is executive director of the State of Ohio Counselor, Social Worker, & Marriage and Family Therapist Board. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.