Villa initiative to increase social worker diversity in the workforce passes Senate

SPRINGFIELD – Following findings of testing bias in social worker licensure exams, State Senator Karina Villa advanced a bill out of the Senate on Wednesday to provide social workers with a more equitable avenue for obtaining a license. This is the first bill of its kind in the nation, and many states are expected to follow suit.

“Social workers have dedicated their careers to assisting others, and make our communities a better place to live in,” said Villa (D-West Chicago). “In Illinois, we have social work graduates who have earned a master’s degree, completed intense clinical supervision hours and are currently working in the field, yet they are barred from a path forward, due to a biased exam that is failing them. This initiative will help those who are already helping us.”

House Bill 2365 provides clinical social workers who failed the initial Association of Social Work Boards license exam with an alternative route to obtain a license. To become licensed, a clinical social worker must complete 3,000 hours of supervised clinical social work within 10 years of the applicant receiving their degree. The bill will not only increase diversity in the field, but also help address the current shortage of social workers.

This bill was an initiative of a diverse group of concerned social workers along with the National Association of Social Workers after a study found that people of color, older adults, and people with disabilities fail the licensure exam at dramatically higher rates than their counterparts, indicating unfair bias on the exam. Specifically, this data shows that first time pass rates for the LCSW in Illinois include:

  • White individuals pass at 82.5%
  • Asian individuals pass at 70%
  • Hispanic individuals pass at 59.6%
  • Black individuals pass at 42.4%

Social workers must pay a fee of $260 for every exam. These high costs and unfair testing practices discourage workers who cannot afford to keep retaking the exam. For current LCSW’s, this legislation changes nothing. But for the next generation of social workers looking to pursue an LCSW, this alternative path creates an opportunity for Illinois to bring in social workers from all backgrounds, to reflect the diverse communities they are trying to serve.

“As a social worker, our Code of Ethics requires us as a profession to act, and live out our values if we are truly willing to address the difficult and very real inequities within our own profession,” Villa said. “Illinois has been a pioneer for progress within the social work profession and with the passing of this legislation, Illinois is setting the precedent for equitable social work licensure across the nation.”

House Bill 2365 passed the Senate on Wednesday.