Continuing Education in Social Work

Written by Sam Medley

continuing education in classroom with laptop

Many of the issues social workers combat are older than the field itself. But with each passing year, they evolve.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposed frightening new layers in the nation’s problems with mental health. Economic recessions and advancements alike continue to push more people to the brink of poverty and homelessness. And while vast swaths of society are more accepting than ever, the most negative, reactionary voices always seem to be the loudest.

Social workers must be able to navigate this ever-changing landscape. Continuing education (CE) courses allow them to do so.

In social work, continuing education is so important that almost every state requires professionals to complete a certain amount of courses before they renew their licenses. If you’re exploring how to become a social worker in California, here’s what you need to know about state requirements, what kinds of CE classes you might take, and where to find approved CE providers.

Social Work Continuing Education Requirements in California

In California, Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSWs) must renew their licenses through the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BSS) every two years. Within those two years, they must complete 36 hours of continuing education courses.

Outside of the hour requirement, the BBS enforces a few more important social work continuing education regulations:

Outside of these requirements, social workers can pursue continuing education in just about any topic that improves their ability to serve their clients.

Some topics you can study in social work continuing education classes include:

Some courses are designed for professionals with little-to-no experience in specific parts of social service. Others are for experienced professionals encountering new dilemmas in their careers. Either way, continuing education ensures no professional gets stagnant and no client goes without the life-saving services they need.

Other Ways to Earn Social Work Continuing Education Credits

While the BBS has very specific CE hour requirements, social workers can fulfill them in a variety of different ways. This includes:

For classes and other guided CE activities, one hour of instruction is equivalent to one CE hour. A semester-long class is worth 15 hours while a course that lasts one academic quarter is worth 10. Reading and self-guided studies vary in how much they’re worth, but the agency providing the material typically lists that information. Fortunately, the BBS says all social work continuing education hours can be earned online.

However, these learning opportunities are only one way to earn CE credits. The BBS lists a number of other activities that count towards the 36-hour requirement:

LCSWs must record and track their social work continuing education hours themselves. In fact, the BBS doesn’t require social workers to submit CE course completion certificates with their license renewal paperwork. However, the BBS occasionally performs CE audits. Because of this, licensees must keep records for at least two years after the renewal period.

Finding Approved Social Work Continuing Education Providers

Unfortunately, the BBS doesn’t maintain a list of all approved CE providers. Instead, they list four different types of providers that meet their standards.

Board-recognized Approval Agencies

Even though the BBS doesn’t approve each and every provider, they recognize a few specific organizations as meeting their CE standards. Two of these agencies are completely dedicated to social work and may be a good place to start when looking for continuing education opportunities.

The first is the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). Since 1955, the NASW has been one of the biggest and most influential professional organizations in the field. Their Social Work Online CE Institute is home to hundreds of classes and a CE hour tracker. Their longer courses can cost up to $360 while their shorter ones are as little as $20. NASW members get discounts on these courses and publications that count towards CE hour requirements. More CE classes can be found through the NASW- California Chapter’s EmpowerEd program.

e-learning class on computer


The second is the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). The ASWB is made up of social work licensing boards in all 50 states including the BBS. While they don’t offer social work continuing education courses themselves, their Approved Continuing Education (ACE) database lists events and classes all across the country as well as many online programs.

CE Providers That Have Been Approved By a Board-recognized Agency

There are a wide range of private companies that offer CE opportunities. Companies that have been approved by BBS-recognized agencies like the NASW and the ASWB generally meet the BBS’s CE requirements.

For instance, the NASW maintains an Approved CE Courses database that includes live events, online courses, and other opportunities offered by approved organizations. Topics range from leadership and research to human rights, clinical practice, and spirituality.

Accredited Colleges, Universities, and Schools That Meet California Business and Professions Code Regulations

The California Business and Professions Code is a set of laws that regulates how different types of professionals, including social workers and other public service professionals, conduct themselves. Its main purpose is to protect the general public from fraud and uphold professional standards.

The Code says licensed social workers can pursue CE credits through schools of social work that have been accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) or programs that are candidates for CSWE accreditation.

Explore CSWE-accredited MSW programs in California.

Fortunately, California is home to about 50 such programs as of 2023 but not all offer continuing education courses. USC’s Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work often hosts seminars and events that count towards CE hours.

Schools Approved by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary Education (BPPE)

The BPPE is responsible for regulating private colleges, trade schools, and vocational schools in California. They promote transparency in the educational sector and protect students from fraud. According to the BBS, CE credits earned from BPPE-approved schools count towards their licensing requirements.

Not many BPPE-approved schools are fully accredited by the CSWE. Some, like Alliant University, are in candidacy status with the CSWE and have not only MSW programs, but also social work continuing education programs open to working professionals.