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Forensic social work is a specialized field under the umbrella of social work — the former deals more with the criminal and legal justice systems. In both professions, the purpose is to provide a service to those in need. The need might be the result of juvenile delinquency, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, and related societal issues that cause a person to interact with the courts. Therefore, many of the benefits relative to forensic social work will mirror those applicable to social work.

Education

The requirement for only a four-year college education can be a benefit for individuals who prefer to launch their career with a bachelor’s degree. Although research on this topic seems to favor a master’s degree, there are employment opportunities with your baccalaureate.

Each state board of social work sets its standards concerning licensing and degree requirements to become a Licensed Social Worker (LSW).  Minnesota, for example, accepts applicants for their LSW with a bachelor’s degree in from a college/university accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

There are higher qualifications for different licenses. In Louisiana, you may apply for a Registered Social Worker license with a bachelor’s degree. The Certified Social Worker/Licensed Master Social Worker and Licensed Clinical Social Worker demands a master’s degree.

An important note (and benefit) of the specialty is that you can add forensic skills to your Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). The School of Social Work at the University of Maryland has a Forensic Social Work Certificate Program. Designed for the fulltime social worker, you can complete the certificate in less than one year.

Diversity

Individuals who want the challenge of an unpredictable job may relish forensic social work. Each day may offer new clients, different settings, and the chance to interact with a variety of professionals. Your work can take you into residences, police departments, settlement homes, mental health facilities, courts, detention centers, jails, and more. In these diverse settings, you engage police officers, lawyers, psychologists, psychiatrists, probation officers, community leaders, for examples.

Within the various roles, forensic social workers are responsible for diagnosing criminal populations, making recommendations about mental status, serving as an expert witness, conversing with law enforcement personnel, referring defendants to community resources, and developing support programs within the criminal justice system.

Diversity applies not only to the roles and nature of this job but also to one’s education. There are choices in your degree. An undergraduate degree in social work is not your only option. Unfortunately, a bachelor’s degree in forensic social work is scarce. The combination of criminal justice and social work marries the two disciplines involved in this type of social work.

Southeastern University, located in Lakeland, Florida, offers a double major in Social Work and Criminal Justice. The 126-credit program consists of 24 hours of criminal justice courses and 50 core hours of social work. The former covers topics as criminal courts, juvenile delinquency, government, and the justice system. The latter includes two field seminars and eight hours of practicum.

Employment

After spending time and money earning a degree, you want assurance that your efforts will translate to a rewarding career. Because of the specialized nature of forensic social work, there is no job data for the occupation. US News reports that Child and Family Social Work ranks #78 on their 100 Best Jobs list for 2019. Clinical Social Worker ranks #83. The former based upon a bachelor’s degree and the latter based on a graduate degree.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics paints a positive outlook for social work. Their latest published data (2016) state that there were 682,100 working in this occupation with a projected growth of 16% or 109,700 jobs added or changed over ten years (2016-2026). This figure equates to the change in over 10,000 jobs each year. As of May 2018, the BLS reported the median salary for social workers at $63,140. Industries with the most employees are federal, state, and local government, excluding schools and hospitals.

Intrinsic Benefits

Extrinsic rewards and benefits are those that are measurable. Examples are compensation, medical, and dental plans, pension plan, and life insurance. Intrinsic benefits refer to job satisfaction, sense of accomplishment, emotional rewards, and other intangibles.

A forensic social worker should derive more benefit from the charitable rewards of the profession than tangible rewards. The hours may be arduous; the work can be demanding and stressful, and it may stretch your patience and resilience to the limit. If you do not possess an inherent sense of altruism for those in need of compassion and empathy, then you may want to consider a different line of work.

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