The Iowa Department of Public Health’s Board of Social Work (BSW) issues three types of social work credentials:
Licensed Bachelor Social Worker (LBSW) – This license allows you to engage in social work activities like:
- Psychosocial assessment and intervention
- Direct contact with clients
- Gather social histories
- Help clients establish goals and monitor progress
- Engage in social work administration
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Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) – This license allows you to engage in the same type of activities as an LBSW, and additionally to:
- Provide psychosocial diagnoses and treatments
- Assess psychosocial and behavioral weaknesses and strengths
- Assess psychosocial therapy with individuals, families, couples and groups
Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) – This license allows you to engage in the same type of activities as an LMSW, and additionally to diagnose and treat mental and emotional disorders or conditions. You can also choose to work independently as someone who is self-employed.
Steps Towards Licensure
To qualify for licensure at any level from the Iowa Board of Social Work (BSW) you’ll need to do following:
- Have a degree in Social Work from a school that’s accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE); have your school send your official transcripts to the BSW
- Pass an exam that’s sponsored by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB)
- Create an account and apply online, or apply by mailing in the forms listed below; the application fee is $120
Bachelor Social Worker License (LBSW)
- Earn a bachelor’s degree in Social Work.
- Submit an application for LBSW licensure to the BSW. Once the BSW approves your application it will notify the ASWB that you’re cleared to test.
- Register with the ASWB for its Bachelors exam. Once you pass this the BSW will issue your LBSW license.
Master Social Worker License (LMSW)
- Earn a master’s degree in Social Work.
- Submit an application for LMSW licensure to the BSW. Once the BSW approves your application it will notify the ASWB that you’re cleared to test.
- Register with the ASWB for its Masters exam. Once you pass this the BSW will issue your LMSW license.
- With an LMSW license you have the option to start accruing hours of supervision to count towards fulfilling the LISW’s supervised experience requirement. Before your supervision starts you’ll need to submit a Supervision Plan to the BSW for approval.
Independent Social Worker License (LISW)
- Earn a master’s degree in Social Work.
- Fulfill the LISW’s supervised experience requirement. This is completed over at least two years and is at least 4,000 hours of supervised professional practice as an LMSW, including at least 110 hours of direct supervision. Once you’ve completed this your supervisor will submit a Supervision Report to the BSW.
- Submit an application for LISW licensure to the BSW. Once the BSW approves your application it will notify the ASWB that you’re cleared to test.
- Register with the ASWB for its Clinical exam. Once you pass this the BSW will issue your LISW license.
Renewing Your License
All social work licenses issued by the BSW expire every two years on December 31st of even-numbered years. Renewal notices are emailed out starting two months before the expiration date, and you can renew online or by mail. To be eligible for renewal you need to complete 27 hours of continuing education every renewal period. You’re exempt from the continuing education requirement for your first renewal. The renewal fees are $72, $120, and $144 for the LBSW, LMSW, and LISW licenses, respectively.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Social Worker in Iowa?
It takes four years to earn a BSW degree, and this will qualify you for the LBSW license. By investing two additional years to earn an MSW degree you’ll meet the education requirements for both the LMSW and LISW licenses. With two more years of supervised work experience you can meet all the requirements for the LISW; a total of eight years after graduating from high school.
Social Work Degrees in Iowa
Iowa is home to 17 Social Work degree programs that are accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), including three that are offered online. Meeting the education requirement for every level of licensure in the state requires a degree from a CSWE-accredited program. While the CSWE doesn’t accredit programs at the doctoral level, you can also choose to earn a doctoral degree in Social Work, which represents the highest academic achievement in this field.
Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW)
Right now there are 13 CSWE-accredited BSW degree programs in Iowa, including one that’s offered online. Earning a CSWE-accredited BSW qualifies you for the LBSW license. These programs are at least 120 semester credits and include a field education segment that’s at least 400 hours. A BSW degree is the first step in the natural progression towards an MSW degree that will qualify you for more advanced levels of licensure.
Master’s Degree in Social Work (MSW)
Earning a CSWE-accredited MSW degree fulfills the education requirements for becoming an LMSW and LISW. Currently Iowa is home to four such programs, including two that offer options for online study. These typically total at least 30 semester credits. They also include a field education segment that’s at least 900 hours, a great opportunity to witness social work theory put into action.
Doctoral Degree in Social Work
While a doctoral degree in Social Work won’t fulfill the education requirements for licensure, it will prepare you to be an effective social worker with specialized didactic knowledge. Doctoral degrees are offered as PhD in Social Work programs, which can be research-intensive and take somewhat longer to complete than Doctor of Social Work (DSW) programs, which can have a stronger focus on clinical aspects.
If you hold a social work license in another state that had the same education and examination requirements as Iowa’s then you can apply for licensure in Iowa via reciprocity. The Iowa BSW needs to receive official verification of your out-of-state social work license and your official exam scores from the ASWB. Follow the process detailed above for your licensure level.
Social Work Salary Projections in Iowa
In 2020 the US Department of Labor reports the following average annual career-trajectory salaries for social workers, specifically for Iowa:
- Social and Community Service Manager – $60,230
- Healthcare Social Worker – $53,800
- Mental Health and Substance Abuse Social Worker – $47,720
- Child, Family, and School Social Worker – $46,400
- Social Work Teachers, Post-secondary – $68,970
- Social Worker, All Other – $60,070
Social Work Resources in Iowa
Iowa Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers – Striving to assure the ethical practice of social work in Iowa is at its best, as well as staying abreast of the latest legislative changes in the licensure process, this local chapter is proud to be an important component of the largest association of its kind in the nation.
Heartland Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers – Through a partnership with six other states, Iowa is also part of the NASW’s Heartland Chapter. This regional partnership helps with collaboration for social workers throughout the heartland region and allows for a consolidated response to important issues that are unique to this area.
Iowa School Social Workers Association – This organization sees legislative advocacy and relevant professional development as the best means of providing critical services to students, their families, and schools. Every year the ISSWA hosts an annual conference, and every two years it hosts an ethics training. This organization has been operating in Iowa since 1968.
Iowa Behavioral Health Association – This organization is made up of the state’s leading voices on the topics of addiction treatment programs, substance use disorders, and community mental health providers. Its roots stretch back to the early 1980s, and in 1991 solidified in this organization’s progenitor known as the Iowa Substance Abuse Program Directors Association.
Career Opportunities in Iowa
Iowa Department of Human Services – This state-level organization is a vital link between resources and some of the Iowa’s most vulnerable populations in need. It provides family services, healthcare services, a safe haven for children, and hosts the state’s Mental Health and Disability Services Commission.
Iowa Department of Public Health – Another state-level organization, the IDPH takes a public health approach towards promoting the best outcomes possible for the health and well-being of residents statewide. Social workers are very families with some of the IDPH’s programs and the services they provide, like its Division of Behavioral Health, its Bureau of Substance Abuse, and its Office of Disability, Injury, and Violence prevention.
Des Moines Public Schools – Not only is this school district Iowa’s biggest. It also has a tradition of excellence in education spanning over more than one hundred years. Numbers for the latest school year show a total of 32,545 enrolled students, 77% of whom were on a free-and-reduced lunch program, and 15% of whom were receiving special education. The district hosts over three dozen elementary schools, 11 middle schools, and five high schools.
University of Iowa Health Care – The only comprehensive academic medical center in the state and home to one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, this healthcare system includes a children’s hospital, a college of medicine, and more than 1,500 providers. The healthcare team network is made up of more than 12,000 employees, students, and volunteers.
Optimae LifeServices – Providing health care and human services from locations throughout the state that serve Iowans from 39 counties, this organization traces its founding precursor back to 1986. Today it offers services in the areas of residential care, home health, rehabilitation, and behavioral health.