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Credentialing of advanced social work practice

Recognising the specialist advance practice skills of social workers is critical to the future of the profession and a priority of the AASW this year.

The AASW is developing a process for the credentialing of advanced social work practice in a range of specialist areas. The objective is the establishment of a clearer career pathway to a specialist field of practice and standards for employers recruiting social workers for specialist roles.

Current AASW credentials

The AASW currently has a process for credentialing accredited social workers and this assures members of the public, employers and funding bodies that these practitioners have reached a core level of practice and maintain currency. We also have a process for accredited mental health social workers that has had success with Medicare and other funding bodies. However, for the future of the profession, credentialing now needs to be progressively expanded to other areas of social work practice, such as disability, child protection, family violence, school social work, oncology, aged care, policy and social advocacy.

The objective is to get funding agencies and employers to recognise the new credentials as way to ensure quality services and for employers to prefer social workers with specialist credentials for recruitment into key roles.

Many social workers already have specialist skills in sectors such as disability, child protection, family violence, school social work, oncology, aged care, policy and social advocacy. They have achieved them through a mix of qualifications, workshops, supervision and practice. Without a formal process for developing and recognising these advanced capabilities, it is hard for employers, funding agencies or consumers to recognise these specialist skills.

New developments

Developments in the field are calling out for more specialist training and this reflects the recommendations of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence and the South Australian Child Protection Systems Royal Commission.

Progressively practitioners are completing a range of social service rather than social work qualifications. They then complete other post-qualifying certificates, diplomas and masters degrees in areas such as mental health, child and family practice and disability. Increasingly job titles are becoming generic and people are employed for their specialist skills, not their core profession.

If the social work profession does not respond to these challenges it will risk its profile in many sectors, including family violence, child protection and mental health, and weaken its credibility. Advanced Practice Credentialing is a key way we address these to enhance our profile in the sector and strengthen our profession for the future.

The first step – industry consultation to mapping capabilities

The AASW is working with key people in each sector to define the advanced practice capabilities for each specialist area. It is consulting with employers, academics and experienced social work practitioners to distinguish advanced practice capabilities from those of new graduates and accredited social workers and recognise the development nature of specialist skills that are built on core social work skills and knowledge. This process will enable the AASW to articulate the skills, knowledge and personal capacities that are needed for advanced levels of practice in each specialist area.

The second step – draft framework and member consultation

Then we will draft a capability framework for each specialist field or practice and send it out for initial consultation to refine it. When the AASW Board has approved it, we will establish a process for credentialing for social workers to apply and be accredited with.

The third step – accreditation process

Being able to articulate the skills, knowledge and personal capacity will help us to map out the different routes through which social workers can achieve these capabilities. Social workers will apply for a specialist credential in a similar way to the current process for Accredited Mental Health Social Work.

We will recognise that many social workers have already achieved these capabilities through many informal routes and develop a pathway that acknowledges this. Training courses for newer social worker could be developed to help them achieve and demonstrate their capabilities in these specialist areas enabling them achieve the credential.

Once a credential has been achieved by the individual social worker, they will need to demonstrate each year currency in their field of practice through ongoing CPD (such as with AASW’s Social Work Online Training platform, supervision etc). This will be a similar process to that of the Accredited Mental Health Social Worker credential.

The fourth step – industry recognition

The AASW’s objective is to advocate for funding agencies and employers to recognise these credentials and equate them with the provision of quality services and for employers to prefer to recruit qualified social workers with specialist credentials, rather than other professionals, for key roles. This recognition will encourage further training and professional development in post-qualifying practice skills and knowledge in specialist fields, creating a clearer career pathway for new social workers wanting to enter a specialist field.

Credentials and further practice-based advanced training will create more consistency in skills and knowledge that will, in turn, give the sector confidence about the contribution social work can make and raise its professional profile.

AASW - Australian Association of Social Workers