How do you become a Forensic Social Worker?

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The word forensic originates from the Latin word forensis. During the Roman era, the term referred to the forum, which was their court of law. In the forum, Romans presented and argued legal cases. The word evolved to its current reference to matters pertaining to the legal system, including criminal justice.

Today, when one thinks of forensics, we may think of crime scene investigations foremost. Several popular television shows have glamorized the profession of using scientific methods to determine the perpetrator of a crime. The investigations frequently involve murder or suspicious death. Through the miracle of forensic scientists and crew, they solve a vicious murder within forty-five minutes-deducting time for commercials!

The term forensic, when applied to social work, follows the same definition as outlined in the first paragraph. Forensic social work (FSW) is the application of it to the legal and criminal justice system. The profession involves legal issues pertinent to criminal and civil litigation. Examples are child custody, child abuse, spousal abuse, neglect, juvenile detention, and more. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.


If your ambition is to enter the field of FSW, you will need at least a bachelor’s degree. There are degree choices that will qualify you for an entry-level job. One option is a Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW). The typical BSSW curriculum may have courses in social welfare, family and group dynamics, communities, child welfare, and global society.

A Bachelor of Arts in Social Work is also available. Michigan State University offers a BASW whose curriculum mirrors the BS programs. Some of the courses in their arts’ program cover social policy, global issues, family and groups, and administrative skills. This particular degree emphasizes the practice of social work and leadership in organizations and groups.

Another consideration is a program that offers a choice of concentrations. By choosing the appropriate specialty, you can study courses that relate to future work as a forensic social worker. An example is the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of their Social Science concentrations is Psychology. From the list of courses under the aforestated heading, a shortlist of examples is The Criminal Mind, Abnormal Psychology, Law and Social Policy, Forensic Processes, and Child Development.

A Bachelor’s degree in Forensic Psychology will provide courses in abnormal psychology, criminal law, and clinical practice. The latter, as it pertains to forensics, examines the assessment and treatment of people involved in the legal system. A class of this nature teaches students how to deal with individuals whose actions have brought them into the judicial system.

Since FSW entails the interaction of people with the legal system, forensic psychology may study criminal behavior, social psychology, criminology, conflict management, as well as juvenile justice, corrections, courtroom procedure, constitutional and criminal law.

The logical question is: Why not just enroll in an undergraduate degree in forensic social work? Unfortunately, our research has not located one at this level of education. The next step, after securing a bachelor’s degree in social work, forensic psychology, psychology, or criminal justice, is to commence a graduate program.

Many schools advocate that a master’s degree in social work is essential to work in FSW.  The School of Social Work at Tulane University is one source that expresses the requirement of at least an MSW, preferably with a series of classes that include mental health issues and the justice system. Again, a master’s degree devoted to FSW is rare. Your best option is to choose an MSW program whose curriculum covers topics related to law, criminal courts, the justice system, and legal proceedings. All of these will bode well in your career.

One critical criterion is that some MSW programs require a bachelor’s degree in social work. There might be additional courses for students whose major does not qualify for the graduate degree in social work. Also, focus your search on schools accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

Students who wish to forgo the long and expensive route of earning an MSW should look into a Graduate or Advanced Certificate in FSW. In as few as 15 credits, for example, you enhance your knowledge of civil and criminal justice systems, legal services, mental health facilities, victimology, domestic violence, and more. The University of Massachusetts-Boston offers a Forensic Services Graduate Certificate. The 16-credit program examines social psychiatry, sociology of law, forensic psychology, and counseling practice.

The University of Maryland School of Social Work has a Forensic Social Work Certificate Program. Individuals who have managed to land a job in the field with no college education would benefit from this offering. The certificate aims at the full-time social worker who wants or needs training in the law, clinical social work, domestic issues, and others. Applicants with a college degree will require fewer courses. You should be able to complete the classes within a year.

Related Resources

What Salary Can You Earn With a Master’s in Social Work Degree?

What Can I Do With A Social Work Degree?

How Do I Prepare for a Social Work Degree While in High School?

What Is the Difference Between a Social Work Degree and a Psychology Degree?

What Is the Difference Between a Criminal Justice Degree and a Social Work Degree?

What Classes should I take to Specialize in Forensic Social Work?

What are the Careers in Forensic Social Work?

What are the Benefits of Pursuing a Degree in Forensic Social Work?

Do Forensic Social Workers work in Criminal Matters or Civil Matters?

For Further Reading: 

Top 10 Graduate Degree Programs in Criminal Justice