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Licensure Testing & Professional Regulation

Licensure Exam Required For Registration

Applicants are required to successfully complete either the ASWB Bachelor level or Master level licensure exam in order to become registered. Applicants will be required to write either the BSW or MSW level exam based on their academic credentials. Click HERE to access the content outlines for both exams.

Testing for Registration

In Canada and many other countries, government has established systems for the regulation of certain professionals. Social work is one of those professions. In making this decision, governments seek to determine whether there is risk of harm to the public from the practice of a profession. In North America, social work is regulated in every province and state. In Canada, registration with a regulatory body has, for the most part, not included the demonstration of competency by way of a licensure exam. Regulators have relied on other mechanism, including graduation for programs accredited by the Canadian Association of Social Work Educators (CASWE). This practice is inconsistent with other self-regulated professions in Canada.

Focus on Public Protection

Universities and CASWE have fundamentally different mandates and strategic priorities than that of professional regulatory colleges. The duty and objects of the BC College of Social Workers is established by the Social Workers Act.  Section 3 of the Act says:

Duty and objects

3(1) In carry out its objects, it is the duty of the college at all times

(a) to serve and protect the public, and
(b) to exercise its powers and discharge its responsibilities under this Act in the public interest.

(2) The college has the following objects:

(a) to superintend the practice of social work;
(b) to govern registrants according to this Act;
(c) to establish qualifications required for registration as a registrant;
(d) to establish and employ registration, inquiry and discipline practices which are transparent, objective, impartial and fair;
(e) to establish, monitor and enforce standards of practice and establish ethical standards to enhance the quality of practice;
(f) to establish and maintain a continuing competence program to promote high practice standards amongst registrants;
(g) to receive and investigate complaint against registrants and to deal with issue of discipline, professional misconduct, incompetence and incapacity;
(h) to administer the affairs of the college and perform other duties through the exercise of the powers conferred under this Act.

By contrast, the mission of social work education, as is defined by the standards for accreditation is: … to promote excellence in social work education, scholarship, and practice with a human rights and responsibility and social justice focus.

Governments have also determined that regulatory colleges must establish qualifications for registration that are minimum standards for public protection. Standards which are set higher than the minimum required to protect the public are deemed to be, and are, barriers to entry. Barriers can have a significant impact on costs to governments and society, as well as costs to individual applicants.

By implementing a licensure examination, the College seeks to explicitly meet its duty and objects in a manner consistent with what is expected or professional regulatory colleges.

Foundation of the examination

Developing a valid and reliable test takes a great deal of work and that begins with a practice analysis. In North America, the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) has conducted the analysis of social work practice since 1981.  Canadian social workers took part in the most recent analysis (2017) in large numbers. The representation of Canadian social workers provided sufficient information for a comparative analysis of practice, at entry to practice, between Canada and the United States. A summary report of the Analysis of Social Work Practice (2017) is available from the ASWB website. Statistical
comparisons of the survey responses gathered from social workers from both Canada and the United States during the practice analysis indicated minimal differences in practice between the two countries. Accordingly, the blueprints for all categories of licensure exams reflect a valid,
reliable interpretation of the social work profession across North America. The Analysis of Social Work Practice then forms the basis for the content of the exam.  Content outlines for all exams offered by ASWB are available from the content outlines page.

Please note that for initial licensure, the BC College of Social Workers will be using either the Bachelor level or Master level exam, depending on the applicant’s academic credentials. We also use the ASWB Clinical examination for registrants who wish to become Registered Clinical Social Workers. However an applicant cannot register directly into the specialty class.

Content development

Each question on the exam is written and reviewed by practicing social workers. These people are selected to reflect diversity in practice setting, ethnicity, race, and geography. Every question is reviewed and approved before ever being used on an exam.  As part of the development process, every question is pre-tested, meaning that the questions are added to tests but not used for scoring purposes. This allows ASWB to ensure that every question performs the way it is meant to perform.

Validity and Reliability

The ASWB exams are considered to be valid and highly reliable because of stringent and structured development and review process.