Unofficial Opinion U2017-3

March 29, 2017
To: 

Representative, District 90

Re: 

A master’s level social work graduate from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education may provide social work services without a license as long as such person does not hold himself or herself out as being licensed or use words, letters, titles, images, or figures stating or implying licensure.

You have asked for my opinion whether Georgia law requires a person who is a master’s level social work graduate from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education to be licensed before rendering or offering services under O.C.G.A. § 43‑10A‑12.  As part of this request, you express specific concern that master’s level social workers are practicing without licenses. My review of the applicable Licensing Law shows that individuals with master’s degrees in social work may only provide services in the field of social work as master’s social workers without licensure under the specific circumstances enumerated in O.C.G.A. § 43‑10A‑7(b).

While your question references the portion of O.C.G.A. § 43‑10A‑12(b) that provides the first two years of practice after licensure as a master’s social worker shall be under direction and supervision, there are circumstances that permit the practice of social work without a license.  Generally, O.C.G.A. § 43‑10A‑7(a) provides that a person shall not practice social work without licensure by the Georgia Composite Board of Professional Counselors, Social, Workers, and Marriage and Family Therapists.  However, O.C.G.A. § 43‑10A‑7(b) provides a list of exceptions to this prohibition, as long as such person does not hold himself or herself out as being licensed or use words, letters, titles, images, or figures stating or implying licensure.  For example, O.C.G.A. § 43‑10A‑7(b)(5) allows individuals with master’s degrees in social work from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education to practice under direction and supervision while preparing to take the master’s social work licensing examination, but only for a period of up to one year following the granting of such degrees.  Similarly, the statute also expressly provides that individuals with Council on Social Work Education accredited master’s degrees in social work who are engaged in the practice of community organization, policy, planning, research, or administration may practice without licensure.  See O.C.G.A. § 43‑10A‑7(b)(13).  There are additional exceptions to licensure for individuals engaged in social work, without specific reference to graduates of programs accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, under specific circumstances contained in the statute.  See generally O.C.G.A § 43‑10A‑7 (b).  While O.C.G.A. § 43‑10A‑12(b) does not pertain to the unlicensed practice of social work, it does add supervision requirements that apply in specific areas of social work after licensure.  Violation of these license limitations may be grounds for disciplinary action, but would not constitute unlicensed practice.

Therefore, it is my unofficial opinion that a master’s level social work graduate from a program accredited by the Council on Social Work Education may provide social work services without a license as long as such person does not hold himself or herself out as being licensed or use words, letters, titles, images, or figures stating or implying licensure.  Practice without licensure by a master’s program graduate social worker may include services that are provided under direction and supervision while the individual is preparing to take the master’s social work licensing examination, but only for a period of up to one year following the granting of the degree, or that are provided by a graduate who is engaged in the practice of community organization, policy, planning, research, or administration or under other specified circumstances listed in O.C.G.A. § 43‑10A‑7‑(b).

Prepared by:

BETSY D. COHEN

Assistant Attorney General