Forensic Social Work Certificate: Program Overview

Forensic social work concentrates on the intersection of social work and criminal justice, law enforcement or corrections. Graduate students enrolled in a Master of Social Work (MSW) program or active social work professionals may obtain a certificate in forensic social work from many colleges or universities.

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Essential Information

Graduate certificate programs in forensic social work are generally designed for those already have - or are currently working towards - a master's degree in social work. In some cases, schools may accept those with a graduate degree in a related area, while other schools may require applicants to be currently licensed social workers. The program can be completed in about one year and often requires seminars, labs and/or field experiences. Skills labs may cover how to work with lawyers and provide testimonies in court. Some schools may also require students with no related experience to complete a field experience in a forensic setting, such as a police department, domestic violence center, corrections department or law firm. Completion of this program alone does not qualify students for general licensure as a clinical social worker.


Graduate Certificate in Forensic Social Work

Forensic social work programs examine issues that overlap the social work and legal fields, especially within a religious, cultural or ethnic context. The curriculum generally explores how principles of forensic investigation are applied to immigration, child welfare, mental health and public health situations where social workers typically step in. Some programs focus on performing social work within the criminal justice sphere, covering domestic violence, criminal counseling, juvenile justice and conflict mediation.

Students may be required to complete a capstone experience and to participate in mock court or clinical research. Classroom learning covers how forensic social work findings are reported to law enforcement and criminal justice agencies, as well as how evidence is presented in court. Most programs are two semesters in duration.

Education Prerequisites

Students must typically have an MSW or be concurrently enrolled in an MSW degree program to enroll. Letters of recommendation and proof of a professional social work license may also be required. In some cases, applications may be considered from those who hold a master's degree in a closely related field.

Course Topics

Certificate program curricula usually require seminars in family and criminal law. Common course topics include:

  • Interviewing and evaluation techniques
  • Ethics and legal issues in social work
  • Forensic science techniques in social work
  • Social work and domestic violence
  • Forensic social work in the criminal and juvenile justice systems
  • Cultural issues in forensic social work

Career Outlook and Salary Info

Graduates of a forensic social work program often work as social workers within the criminal justice systems. Their duties may be similar to a child social worker who works with child custody, neglect and child abuse cases. Forensic social workers also conduct counseling tasks similar to mental health social workers as they help diagnose and treat individuals in the criminal and juvenile justice system.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that total employment of social workers is projected to grow 16% from 2008-2018, which is faster than the average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). Those who specialize as mental health and substance abuse social workers could see possible job growth of 20% during that same period while those who specialize as child, family and school social workers could see a 12% job growth. In May 2010, the BLS reported that the mean annual wage for all mental health and substance abuse social workers was $41,880. Child, family and school social workers earned a mean annual wage of $43,850 at that same time.

Licensure and Certification Info

All states require social workers to have some form of licensure, certification or registration to practice, according to the BLS. Though requirements vary by state, most stipulate that social workers have at least two years of clinical experience and complete a social work program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. Forensic social workers may also wish to join the National Organization of Forensic Social Work to keep up on industry trends and professional networking opportunities.

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