Social work is by far the single largest professional discipline providing mental health services in the country -- about 60-65 percent of the care nationwide. With social workers reaching so many people, regulation is crucial to the effective delivery of services.
Regulation is designed to protect the public from unethical or substandard practice. A licensed social worker must meet minimum standards for education and experience, and usually must pass a licensing examination. Many states also require their licensed social workers to maintain and expand their competencies through continuing education. Every state in the country, as well as the District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands, now use some form of social work regulation.
For consumers, the regulation of social work provides two very important protections. First, legal regulation sets up standards for competent practice -- consumers know what to expect. Second, if those standards are not upheld, regulation gives consumers the power to lodge complaints that can result in sanctions or disciplinary actions against the social worker, or complete license revocation.