BY SARAH CHRISTA BUTTS, MSW, AND KAREN E. GOODENOUGH, PhD, MSW, LGSW
An interstate licensing compact for social work has been in development for nearly two years (reference 1). The Department of Defense (DOD) spurred creation of the social work compact, motivated by a desire to ease relocation for military spouses who are licensed.
The DOD generously provided funding to the Council of State Governments (CSG), which facilitated a competitive application process whereby social work and several other professions were selected for new compact development (reference 2). The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) was identified as a primary partner for the social work compact, with support from the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Clinical Social Work Association (CSWA).
An interstate compact is a constitutionally authorized, legislatively enacted, legally binding contract between multiple states. Nine other professions have active interstate compacts for occupational licensure, including other mental health providers, such as psychologists (PsyPACT) and more recently, counselors.
Draft legislation on the social work compact was shared for public comment earlier this year, and thousands of comments were received and reviewed by CSG. NASW submitted comments to CSG (reference 3), along with many other stakeholders. A legislative drafting team, led by CSG, is now revising the legislation considering stakeholder input, with a goal to finalize a model bill in the first quarter of 2023.
Each compact-participating state will need to pass the compact legislation, for social workers in that state to have access to the compact. Further, each state that passes the legislation will appoint a representative who will sit on a compact commission. The compact commission will convene and begin meeting once approximately seven states have passed the social work compact legislation—thus, early adopter states will have additional voice and responsibility as their appointed commission representatives will write the rules of the commission. The compact commission serves as an interstate administrative body for the compact.
Advancing an interstate compact is already a significant undertaking, but several additional factors complicate the compact development for social work currently:
- The social work compact is being developed post-telehealth scaling, and there are added pressures to retain and expand telehealth flexibilities, beyond the COVID-19 public health emergency period. Telehealth is a new and emerging area of social work practice regulation.
- Multiple levels of social work licensure, and social work degree attainment (BSW, MSW, DSW, PhD), along with different associated scopes of practice.
- Troubling data released in the 2022 ASWB Pass Rate Analysis (reference 4), which suggests exam bias in the social work licensing exam, an exam that measures competence to practice professional social work and is written into statute in states across the country. The resultant criticism of the social work licensure exams and efforts to eliminate the exam requirement in some states require careful consideration in the licensure compact development process.
The above issues complicate compact development and the drafting of compact legislation as interstate compacts rely on a degree of consistency and equivalence in requirements across states.
These issues and many more are being considered as part of the current compact legislative drafting and revision process, which remains underway. Finalizing the compact legislation will require compromise as there are many different stakeholders, such as individual social workers, regulators, educators, state legislatures and associations. Compact legislation may be introduced in state legislatures as early as 2023, and there will be a multi-year process of working to enact legislation across states.
The interstate compact for social work will provide an additional pathway to licensure portability and improved interstate practice, but it is not the only solution. Additional pathways to interstate practice are likely to emerge, such as state or federal policies that allow for improved access to mental and behavioral health services across state lines (reference 5).
Sarah Christa Butts, MSW, is director of public policy, National Association of Social Workers (NASW) headquarters’ office in Washington, D.C and co-chair of NASW’s Licensure Task Force.
Karen Goodenough, PhD, MSW, LGSW, is director of the Minnesota Chapter of NASW and co-chair of NASW’s Licensure Task Force
- Social Work – National Center for Interstate Compacts: The Council of State Governments. National Center for Interstate Compacts | The Council of State Governments. (n.d.). Retrieved December 22, 2022, from https://compacts.csg.org/compact-updates/social-work/.
- DOD receives approval for grants to develop Interstate Compacts for Licensure Portability. U.S. Department of Defense. (n.d.). Retrieved December 22, 2022, from https://www.defense.gov/News/Releases/Release/Article/2537098/dod-receives-approval-for-grants-to-develop-interstate-compacts-for-licensure-p/.
- Update on the Interstate Licensing Compact for Social Work and NASW Public Comment. National Association of Social Workers. Oct. 20,2022, from https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=fSvAwJFwleg%3d&portalid=0.
- Contributing to the conversation. Association of Social Work Boards. (2022, November 7). Retrieved December 22, 2022, from https://www.aswb.org/exam/contributing-to-the-conversation/. Association of Social Work Boards 2022 Pass Rate Analysis: 2022-ASWB-Exam-Pass-Rate-Analysis.pdf
- Some stakeholders eye state registries, compacts — not feds — to expand Interstate Telehealth. Some Stakeholders Eye State Registries, Compacts — Not Feds — To Expand Interstate Telehealth | InsideHealthPolicy.com. (n.d.). Retrieved December 22, 2022, from https://insidehealthpolicy.com/inside-telehealth-daily-news/some-stakeholders-eye-state-registries-compacts-not-feds-expand.