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Winter 2024 Issue

Certifications: The Social Work Interstate Licensure Compact
By Taryne Knott, MSSW, LSW; Leslea Townsend Cronin, MSSW, LCSW; and Jane Njagua, CSC-AD, MSW
Social Work Today
Vol. 24 No. 1 P. 30

Over the last 20 years, we’ve moved into a digital world. Since 2020, we leaped ahead due to COVID-19 and, for a time, moved most social services online. This opened a new world for social workers to reach more clients and provide more services. While telehealth laws were quickly passed, state licensure laws created a barrier to maximizing these benefits.

State licensure laws are vastly different in each state. In order to become licensed in multiple states, social workers must abide by each individual state’s licensure laws. This not only is costly but also takes undue time to obtain licensure if they do not meet all the requirements of the state’s laws. This means social workers may be licensed in one state but have to be under supervision for additional hours or take another social work exam, which delays the ability to gain licensure and serve the community.

In addition to the cost burden of obtaining multiple licensures, this process does not consider additional interpersonal barriers. People of color are less likely to do well on the Association of Social Work Boards exam, which has come under scrutiny over the last few years,1 and the exam creates obstacles to putting people who are more like their clients into social work.1 This argument gains strength if a social worker must take different exams in different states, which may reduce the number of diverse social workers.

While there are barriers for social workers to obtain licensure, the real impact is on clients. This includes disruption of services if the therapist or family moves out of state, preventing traveling social workers from meeting needs in rural communities, and long wait lists for therapists. If these barriers were removed, clients would have continuity of care and could receive services quickly by accessing the services of social workers across the country.

What Is the Social Work Interstate Compact?
In 2021, the US Department of Defense was awarded grant money to explore the idea of interstate licensure for social workers working with military families.2,3 In response, NASW officially endorsed the Social Work Interstate Compact Model Bill to improve public access to all social work services while preserving state licensure regulation. This has not been put into legislation, but 17 states have endorsed the Compact Model Bill, and on July 2023, policymakers attended a summit to learn more about it.

Implementing the compact will allow social workers to adequately meet their clients’ needs. With more people working from home with higher mobility, licensure across states will improve the social work profession and, more importantly, benefit the clients. With the availability of stable and consistent access to services, client outcomes can be improved, and continuity of care can be established.

How a Compact License Can Benefit Social Workers in Mental Health
Licensure, in general, is crucial for social workers because it ensures competency and protection of the public. It’s also important because it requires practicing clinicians to uphold and maintain ethical standards. However, applying for a social work license can become a financial burden. On average, it costs $260 to take the licensing exam and an additional $75 for the application fee to the residing jurisdiction.4 A social worker who relocates to a different state must apply for reciprocity, which varies in cost. Rather than apply and pay for reciprocity each time they move to a different state, social workers could take one National Qualifying Exam through the Association of Social Work Boards to obtain a compact license.4

Social workers who live in a state that becomes a compact member can apply for a multistate license through their state’s licensing board.3 Therefore, an interstate compact license is an asset to social workers because it saves them the time and expense of obtaining a new license every time they practice in a different state. This will allow social workers to allocate more time to continuing education, professional development, and networking. The flexibility and ease provided by a compact license would help social workers from military families maintain a stable career and ensure continuity of care to their clients. Social workers can continue their careers without having to go through the challenge of obtaining a new license each time they relocate.

How a Compact License Can Benefit Clients Needing Mental Health Services
The continuity of care enabled by a compact license allows for a seamless transition of care, as the social worker already knows the client’s history, needs, and goals. It promotes trust, stability, and a sense of familiarity, all crucial factors supporting clients’ well-being. With continuity of care, clients can feel confident that their social workers will be there for them no matter where they are. One of the key advantages of compact licenses is improved accessibility. Clients no longer have to worry about finding a new social worker or starting over with someone unfamiliar. This eliminates disruptions in therapy and allows for the maintenance of a therapeutic relationship, which is crucial for positive outcomes in mental health, well-being, and overall client retention. Thus, continuity of care is a significant advantage that promotes client stability and consistency. The compact expands access to social workers to help alleviate the demand for services and shorten the wait times for clients needing services. Social workers are in short supply, and an interstate compact will permit practice mobility and remove barriers for clients in rural areas.2 Furthermore, it will promote convenience for clients and social workers by making teletherapy or virtual sessions more accessible. This flexibility is especially beneficial for clients with mobility issues, limited transportation options, or those who live in remote areas with limited access to mental health services.

Removing the Barriers
Barriers that hinder social workers from working in other states should be eliminated to lower the shortage of social workers in various states and reduce service interruptions to improve client outcomes. Through the use of telehealth, the opportunity to serve clients in other states has greatly increased. Eliminating the need for physical office space, telehealth not only is beneficial to the client but also reduces the cost to the social worker and helps them quickly build caseloads. For example, through online platforms that advertise telehealth therapy services, one therapist can serve multiple states eliminating client wait times and building social work caseloads. With these benefits in mind, the Interstate Compact License could be a game changer in the world of social work and create more opportunities for clients and social workers alike.

— Taryne Knott, MSSW, LSW, is a Doctor of Social Work student at Spalding University’s School of Social Work, and is an intensive outpatient therapist. She earned her Master of Science in Social Work from the Kent School at the University of Louisville, where she focused on drug and alcohol counseling.

— Leslea Townsend Cronin, MSSW, LCSW, is a doctoral student at Spalding University’s School of Social Work in Louisville, Kentucky. She’s the executive director of the homeless coalition of Southern Indiana, focusing on filling service gaps and advocating for systemic change for unhoused men and women.

— Jane Njagua, CSC-AD, MSW, attends Spalding University as a doctoral student of social work, and works for the Global Health Care System as a case manager and addiction counselor. She runs a 501(c)3 organization as the CEO of Global Voice of the Voiceless, which feeds and clothes homeless in Baltimore.


1. A social work licensure exam that people of color fail more often is under scrutiny in Kansas. KCUR website. https://www.kcur.org/news/2022-11-08/a-social-work-licensing-exam-that-people-of-color-fail-more-often-is-under-scrutiny-in-kansas. Published November 8, 2022.

2. Interstate Licensure Compact. National Association of Social Workers website. https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy/Interstate-Licensure-Compact-for-Social-Work. Accessed September 4, 2023.

3. Social Work Licensure Compact. Social Work Licensure Compact website. https://swcompact.org/. Accessed September 4, 2023.

4. Social Work Licensure Compact makes progress in 2023 legislative sessions. Association of Social Work Boards website. https://www.aswb.org/social-work-licensure-compact-makes-progress-in-2023-legislative-sessions/. Published June 26, 2023.