Governor Pritzker Signs Landmark Bill to Strengthen Our Mental Health Workforce by Forging an Equitable Path for Social Work Licensure
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Governor J.B. Pritzker has taken a momentous step towards fostering equity and inclusivity in the field of social work by signing House Bill 2365, a groundbreaking bill that establishes an alternative to the ASWB test for clinical licensure. This landmark legislation marks a significant milestone in the quest to create a more equitable path for aspiring social workers, ensuring that opportunities are accessible to a diverse pool of talent across Illinois.
HB2365 builds on the success of previous legislation that removed the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) exam for non-independent clinical licensure, by creating a first-in-the-nation alternative path for independent clinical social workers to complete the licensure process. Under the new law, social workers will need to acquire a master’s degree in social work, obtain 3,000 hours of intense clinical supervision by a licensed clinical social worker, and have attempted to pass the ASWB exam at least once in the past 5 years. Social workers will be given the opportunity to either continue to retake the exam or pursue an alternative path that would add on an additional 3,000 hours of supervised work experience before applying to the state for independent licensure.
The bill’s chief senate sponsor and licensed school social worker, Senator Karina Villa said: “Social workers do so much for our residents. They advocate for our most vulnerable populations, helping to foster a sense of inclusivity and cohesion in our communities. With social worker shortages hitting across the US, it is important to consider what is in the best interest of the people who need these types of services the most. By supporting people who are dedicated to empowering individuals and families, we can improve the quality of life for thousands of Illinoisans.”
The ASWB exam has long been a standard requirement for individuals seeking to enter the social work profession. However, this assessment has, at times, posed a barrier for many aspiring social workers who possess exceptional skills and abilities but face disparities in standardized testing environments. This new law reflects the governor's continued commitment to dismantling systemic barriers and opening doors to a more diverse and talented social work workforce.
The bill’s chief house sponsor, Representative Lindsey LaPointe, MSW, added: " For all of us working to increase access to mental health support in Illinois and nationwide, it's crystal clear that our shortage of clinicians is a central issue. Once law, HB2365 will rapidly increase the social work workforce by removing the barrier of the LCSW exam—an exam shown to be racially and age biased. I'm proud that Illinois is leading the way to broaden and build up the mental health workforce with the ultimate goal of access.”
The bill's implementation will incorporate an apprentice approach to evaluating the competence and capabilities of aspiring social workers, offering them a fair and unbiased opportunity to demonstrate their qualifications. This alternative assessment will take into account a broader range of factors such as practical experience, interpersonal skills, and the ability to navigate real-life scenarios that social workers often encounter on the job.
In the spirit of collaboration, bill sponsors Sen. Villa and Rep. LaPointe worked closely with social work advocacy groups, educators, and providers to develop a framework that ensures the highest standards of professional competency while fostering a more inclusive approach to social work licensure.
National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter (NASW-IL) Board President Latesha Newson, MSW, LCSW, stated: “The National Association of Social Workers, Illinois Chapter, couldn't be prouder to have lent our support and resources to see this become a reality. This is a measure of justice; transformative justice for those who have been locked out of a profession that they are fully qualified and prepared to be in. As social workers, we are charged to remove barriers and challenge systems that perpetuate inequities to change, and we have done just that! We look forward to welcoming new LCSWs as colleagues and the impact that they will make in the lives of the people they serve.”
As the new alternative assessment takes effect on January 1, 2024, it is anticipated that more social workers with disabilities, older social workers, and those from underrepresented backgrounds and marginalized communities will be empowered to pursue their passion for creating positive change and providing critical support to those in need. At a time when Illinois is facing a significant mental health workforce shortage, the state cannot afford to leave fully qualified professionals on the sidelines due to biased testing.
Cassandra Walker, LCSW, CCTP, an organizer for the #StopASWB coalition and owner of Intersections Center for Complex Healing PLLC reflected: “The reckoning around ASWB has been coming for decades, and I am happy to see this first step signed into law here in Illinois. We fought long and hard for those social workers who have been unjustly barred or pushed out of clinical work in their communities. Despite the abuse and attacks used against us, we will keep working to make social work live up to the promises it makes on paper. I hope that other professions and states follow our example and push this work further as it is clear that these kinds of tests are not making us safer, don't measure what they claim, and generally weaken our ability to properly staff organizations in professions which already have massive shortages.”
Governor Pritzker's decisive action in signing this bill underscores the importance of creating a diverse and equitable workforce in the field of social work and will serve as a nation-leading model for other states to follow.
Important Note: The law’s effective date is not until January 1, 2024, and as such, the application and verification process for the alternative path is not yet available. The chapter will post further updates closer to the end of the year when the department has more information. You can learn more about what is in the law here: Learn More About Social Work Exam Alternative Bill HB2365 SA1 (naswil.org)
For more about NASW-Illinois Chapter's legislative efforts, please visit the chapter "News" tab and click on the "Advocacy" sub-tab. Here you’ll find all of our latest news including a recent advocacy update and movements on the many bills which the NASW-Illinois Chapter is currently tracking.
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) is the largest membership organization of professional social workers in the world, with over 120,000 members. The NASW-Illinois Chapter is one of the association's largest chapters representing over 20.000 licensed Illinois social workers and school social workers, with over 5,000 active members. NASW strives to advance social work careers, grow social work businesses, and protect the profession.