Scopes of Practice (SOPs) help guide professions by establishing guidelines for how a profession is to be practiced. Social Work SOPs, while varied across states, attempt to define the services and functions that are allowed by different levels of social workers. The Affordable Care Act introduced new regulations that require more social workers and other behavioral health workers to assist in the provision of behavioral health services. As such, social work practice must be regulated to ensure that both the profession’s and the population’s needs are being met.

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Social Work SOPs have been changing over the past decade to more carefully define the requirements of social work licensure and allowable services. These changes are occurring at the state level, but the field lacks a system to track monitor these changes at the national level. Consequently, policy makers have limited opportunity to systematically assess the potential strengths and gaps in the social work profession at the national level. This knowledge is essential for building and monitoring the capacity of the behavioral health workforce. The purpose of the current study is to obtain, analyze and disseminate information about social work SOPs from all fifty states and the District of Columbia, with an emphasis on determining the range of allowable services and professional training requirement of social workers.


The findings of this study show:

  • A need for better and uniform definitions of SOPs for social work professionals.
  • Variation in “clinical” services allowed from state to state.
  • A need for telehealth services to be addressed across the profession.
  • Variability in the practice and supervision hour requirements for licensure and certification across all states.
  • Each state has its own social work governing body and they are not necessarily aligned with each other.

Although changes to SOP authority may strengthen overall social work workforce capacity, potential barriers to SOP changes may include:

  • Resistance to change by the social work governing bodies and professional groups desiring to protect their discipline’s SOP authority.
  • Resistance from social workers who are reluctant to expand capacities without increase in pay.
  • A lack of empirical literature detailing the types of SOP changes leading to high quality and effective care delivery.

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