Forensic Social Worker Degrees and Careers – Becoming a Forensic Social Worker [2024]

What is Forensic Social Work?

Forensic social work focuses on the commonality between social work and the legal justice system. Overseeing criminal offenders and their victims is an enormous challenge for members of the legal field and the social worker system.

Accordingly, the field of forensic social work prepares professional students to meet this challenge by making sure that their clients receive the proper treatment, assistance, and encouragement in the legal process.

Where Does a Forensic Social Worker Work?

The forensic social work field allows you to work with populations affected by juvenile and criminal justice systems; child-custody cases involving separation, divorce, and neglect; mental incapacity; and domestic violence.

In addition, you may provide research or testimony in civil court cases or criminal cases and analyze risk assessments of criminals and trauma assessments of victims. It can be a very stressful job that is emotionally challenging due to the high caseload.

What Does a Forensic Social Worker Do?

Forensic social workers are also referred to as “Criminal Justice Social Workers” or “Correctional Social Workers”. There are various job duties that may be assigned to a forensic social worker such as:

  • Assess and evaluate the mental ability of law enforcement personnel, defendants, witnesses, or others in a trial before they can take the stand.
  • Serve as an expert witness by communicating your experience to lawmakers, judges, lawyers, and law enforcement.
  • Provide consultation or training to attorneys, correctional systems, law students, paralegals, the public, or others.
  • Provide professional opinions regarding arbitration, advocacy, and mediation.
  • Perform research and analysis regarding Behavioral Science.
  • Provide mental health, drug and alcohol, medical, and aftercare treatment for adult offenders.
  • Deal with issues such as rehabilitation, punishment, and prevention.
  • Gather the social histories of criminal defendants in order to evaluate competency, lessen sentences, or assist with treatment.

Related: How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

What are the Requirements to Become a Forensic Social Worker?

Forensic Social Worker Degrees

At the present time, there does not appear to be a degree program that focuses exclusively on a major of Forensic Social Work.

However, some degrees are available that do offer a concentrated field of study within their social work degree programs. Alternately, you can also opt for a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology.

Bachelor’s Degree (BSW). While studying to receive your Bachelor of Social Work degree, you will have a chance to learn about things such as human behavior and social welfare.

  • Entrance Requirements. You will need to send your official high school transcript and a copy of your ACT OR SAT scores to the college of your choice for consideration.
  • Core Requirements. The Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work will normally take four years and require around 129 hours of study depending on the university that you choose to depend. Courses of study will include such topics as: Social Welfare Programs and Policies, Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Social Work Practice, Research Methods, Statistics, and Field Instruction.
  • Important Career Advice. In order to gain relevant job experience, you may want to complete field work under a licensed social worker even if your college of choice does not require it. In addition, you may want to join organizations such as the National Organization of Forensic Social Work, the National Association of Social Worker, etc. Likewise, if you can participate in volunteer opportunities or community service these activities can enhance your resume and give you an advantage in your job search.

Master’s Degree. A typical Licensed Master Social Work (LMSW) degree will take around two years to complete; consists of approximately 60 credits; and is required in order to pursue colleges that are now offering degrees with a concentration in Forensic Social Work. You also have an option of pursuing a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) degree.

  • Entrance Requirements. In order to enter the Master’s program, you will need an accredited Bachelor’s degree with a satisfactory grade point average. Other factors may also need to be determined by the institution of your choice.
  • Core Requirements-Master’s Degree in Social Work with Forensic Concentration. You will need to look for a Master’s program that contains a concentration in Forensic Social Work. This may allow you to be placed in a field internship for a total of 1,000 hours. Some of the typical classes for a Master’s Degree with a forensic social work concentration include: Forensic Social Work and the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Systems; Interviewing, Evaluating, and Offering Treatment as a Forensic Social Worker; and Forensic Social Work and Domestic Violence – Legal, Cultural, Ethnic and Religious Issues in the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Systems, etc.
  • Certificate in Forensic Social Work (optional). Some colleges also have an option to obtain an additional certificate in forensic social work while you are enrolled in the Master’s degree program or upon receipt of your degree.

Doctorate Programs. Although you have an option to pursue a doctorate program, none of these programs appear to currently focus exclusively on the field of Forensic Social Work.

Forensic Social Worker Training

  • Continuing Education Classes. You will need to check with your state regarding any required continuing education courses which will vary according to the type of degree that you have.
  • Forensic Interview Training. Even if you have already completed a Master’s degree, you will probably need some additional training in forensic interviewing. The National Children’s Advocacy Center is a good one to consider since it teaches many things including how to testify in court and issues relating to child development.
  • Certified Master Forensic Social Worker, CMFSW Program. This credential is unique from other forensic social work accreditations because it: demonstrates a high degree of knowledge and skill and may increase your earning opportunities and career advancement. In order to maintain this status, you will need to complete 30 hours of forensic-related continuing education courses every three years.

Forensic Social Worker Licensure

  • State Licensure. Most states will allow you to apply for state licensure after you complete a bachelor’s degree. However, some states require you to first obtain a Master’s Degree in Social Work.
  • Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) Option. If you decide to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) instead of a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), you will need to complete approximately 3,000 hours of practical work experience in the field of social work. In addition, voluntary credentials are offered to you by the National Association of Social Workers if you have a Master’s in Social Work or a Ph.D. These include such certifications as: The Diplomate in Clinical Social Work (DCSW), the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW), or the Qualified Clinical Social Worker (QCSW). These endorsements are very important for those who go into private practice and are required and reimbursed by some health insurance providers. Depending on specialization, they can be renewed every 1-2 years.
  • Certification in Forensic Social Work at a University. You will need to do one of the following in order to acquire standard certification in Forensic Social Work: (1) Be pursuing a MSW from an accredited university or college or (2) Have acquired a MSW along with a valid license in social work. You will need to check with your university to see if the option is offered.
  • Certification in the Forensic Social Work field by a National Forensic Association. Even though it is not required to work in the field, if you choose to become certified through a national forensic association, it may boost your reputation and enable you to take on roles with greater responsibility. There are many professional associations that offer you this opportunity. The National Association of Certified Child Forensic Interviewers is one option that offers you a 40-hour option that you can complete online at a pace that is right for your schedule.

What Skills are Required for a Forensic Social Worker?

  • Excellent writing skills
  • Organizational skills
  • Teamwork skills
  • Time Management abilities
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Communication skills
  • Detail-oriented
  • Patience and Persistence
  • Ethical and objective
  • Ability to Analyze complex information

What is the Salary for a Forensic Social Worker?

As of February 2024, according to ZipRecruiter, the national average salary for a forensic social worker is $78,890 per year. Top earners make over $150,000 per year.

With several years of on-the-job experience, you have the potential to earn more. Areas that affect the pay include items such as: years of experience, location, education, certification, and your area of specialization.

What is the Job Outlook for Forensic Social Workers?

Over the last ten years, the need for forensic social workers has been on the rise. This is primarily because of the widespread necessity of the criminal justice system.

Accordingly, the Social Work field is expected to grow much faster than most occupations according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, the projections show that jobs should increase by 9 percent from 2020 to 2030. This percentage will vary depending on your area of specialization.

What Careers are Similar to Forensic Social Work?

Forensic Psychologist: Forensic psychologists work closely with offenders and people within the criminal justice system. They use psychology principles to assess offenders, including the ongoing risk they pose and any mental health issues which impact upon behaviors. They also work within the criminal justice system to treat these mental health issues to try to change troubling behaviors and rehabilitate offenders.

Criminal Psychologist: Criminal psychologists are primarily concerned with the question of why some people commit crimes. They can often also be involved with helping police catch offenders through profiling. This process uses psychological principles to try to give insight into the type of individual likely to have committed a crime, what their motivations were likely to have been and how likely they are to commit further crimes.

Forensic Counselor: Forensic counselors provide support and counseling services to offenders and people within the criminal justice system. They can also provide support and counseling services to their families. Their goal is to work with offenders to identify and change problem thoughts that give rise to criminal behaviors, using counseling principles. They are involved with the creation and implementation of plans for offender rehabilitation.

Forensic Case Manager:  Forensic case managers provide a point of contact for offenders due for release and the services they are interacting with.

There are many services involved with individuals at the time of their release to give them the best chance at a successful release and rehabilitation into the community. The forensic case manager can make sure that offenders are in contact with all organizations and individuals who can help them after their release and can aid communication and applications where necessary.

Trial Consultant: To help them prepare for a civil or criminal trial, some attorneys will employ the services of a trial consultant. As the title implies, a trial consultant offers their expertise in a consultative role to help the attorney shore up their case for trial.

Even when a case is settled before trial, consultants can be valuable assets as many have expanded their offerings to mediation and arbitration services. Regardless, a trial consultant is a valuable member of the legal team that provides expert insights into everything from human behavior to analyzing evidence to helping formulate questionnaires for potential jurors.

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