This guide is about case management certifications, including who needs to be certified and how the process works.
IN THIS GUIDE
Social work case managers play an integral role in supporting, and advocating for, clients within and across a range of service settings including mental health and substance use agencies, child welfare and adoption agencies, or in hospice care, hospitals, or nursing homes. They work in social service agency settings, clients’ homes, or a mix of both, as well for nonprofit or for-profit agencies, organizations, and facilities. Social work case managers view their clients’ needs holistically and seek to understand how clients’ ecological systems impact opportunities and challenges. Having an effective case manager can be life changing for a client.
The role of case manager, and the requisite skills and credentials, can vary by specific position, setting, and location. Some agencies employ case managers who do a lot of paperwork, client visits, or meetings, while other employers expect case managers to also provide individual or family therapeutic services or run support/therapeutic groups. Social work case managers not providing therapeutic services may only be required to have a BSW, while those who provide advanced clinical services will be required to have an MSW and specific licensures.
What do social work case managers do?
According to the NASW Standards for Social Work Case Management, “the practice of social work case management is complex, entailing multiple roles and skills.” One of the most important roles for a case manager is helping clients set and meet goals. Case managers continually assess clients’ needs and goals. They also evaluate whether a client is making progress, the services they are receiving are effective, and what the agency can do better to help clients.
Case managers may develop a service or treatment plan for their client. If they lack a particular professional service at their agency or organization, they will refer a client to an outside provider. They also connect people with vital benefits, programs, services, and resources they need in the community such as government benefits, quality childcare, home care, mental health services, or a medical home. Another important task for social work case managers is to coordinate services to eliminate redundancy, increase cost-effectiveness of services, and ensure all their clients’ needs are being met.
Advocacy and leadership are also central to the role of case manager. Social work case managers advocate for their clients’ rights and empower them to advocate for themselves, in court or during hearings (e.g., child welfare). They must understand laws and policies relevant to their clients’ lives and ensure clients’ needs are heard and taken seriously. Social work case managers are held to the same standards of conduct and professionalism as any social worker, as outlined in the Social Work Code of Ethics.
Finally, case managers help clients build or strengthen their personal support network of friends and family. They facilitate connections that help their clients grow, stay healthy, and reach their goals. This can be done by locating or contacting individuals whom their client has lost track of or by inviting friends or family to attend advocacy meetings or hearings. Case worker must build a trusting alliance with their clients, understand the impact various relationships have on their clients’ lives, and exhibit cultural competence.
Agency/organization-based training for social work case managers
Pre-service training for case managers across a variety of settings can provide additional knowledge and skills, beyond what was received in a degree program, to help them be effective in their roles. Competencies and skills may also be developed and maintained through in-service training. Case managers practicing in medical or child welfare settings, for example, may need additional specialized knowledge in service coordination or advocacy, to best serve the populations their work with. They may receive this training through their agency, a foundation, or a university.
Many social work case managers receive valuable training through continuing education programs for social workers. Continuing education is provided online via webinars, or in-person by organizations accredited to deliver CEUs to professional social workers. Some of this continuing education focuses on case management. In New York State, for example, the Commission for Case Manager Certification provides continuing education to social work and nursing case managers.
Professional certification for social work case management
While states generally do not require formal licensing of social work case managers, they may require exams for specific case management positions, such as a child protection case manager. But there are several elective national certifications in social work case management that employers may encourage social workers to obtain. Some social workers or case managers may elect to obtain these certifications in the interest of career development and advancement.
NASW provides two opportunities for social work case managers to become credentialed. BSW level social workers may earn the credential of Certified Social Work Case Manager (C-SWCM). Applicants must have 4,500 paid, supervised, post-BSW hours of professional experience in an organization or agency that provides case management services as well as a state BSW-level license or ASWB BSW-level exam passing score. MSW level social workers may earn the credential of Certified Advanced Social Work Case Manager (C-ASWCM). Applicants must have 3,000 hours of paid, supervised, post-MSW case management experience and a state MSW-level license or an ASWB MSW-level exam passing score.
The Commission for Case Manager Certification offers a national credential for social work case managers (and case managers with related degrees) working in health care settings. BSW and MSW social workers working in hospitals, health clinics, or other healthcare settings may pursue this certification. The exam includes questions about the psychosocial aspects of case management, rehabilitation, reimbursement, among other topics. Those with a C-SWCM through NASW may sit for the CCMC exam for free.
Additionally, hospital social workers involved in health delivery systems and transitions of care (ToC) may earn the Accredited Case Manager (ACM-SW) credential through the American Case Management Association. BSW an MSW level social workers may earn this credential if they have at least 2,080 hours, of supervised, paid work experience as a case manager or in a role that falls within the “case management functions and expectations of a case manager, by a health delivery system.” The ACM-SW exam focuses on screening and assessment, planning, care coordination, intervention, transition management, and evaluation.
Social workers who hold the ACM-SW credential may go on to earn a Case Management Administrator Certification (CMAC). Applicants must have case management or case management administration experience before they can earn this credential (number of years varies by degree). According to ACMA, “65% of case management departments report that case management certification is influential in hiring decisions, and over half prefer the ACM credential.”
College- and university-based social work case management certificate programs
Social workers and other human services professionals may elect to earn a certificate in social work case management through an accredited social work program. Social work case management certificate programs for those without an advanced social work degree are offered by Nassau Community College and San Antonio College, for example.
Other certificate programs are offered to those with a BSW or MSW. Boston University School of Social Work offers a case management certificate program and a person-centered case management certificate program. All learning is self-paced and delivered in an online format. The first certificate program is five courses and focuses on aging and disability, while the latter is six courses including, Understanding Consumer Control, Person-Centered Planning, and Self-Direction.
Rutgers University School of Social Work offers a certificate program in case management that consists of seven webinars. Topics include crisis management, networking skills, and the client/case manager relationship. United Way of Central Maryland and University of Maryland School of Social Work offers a nine-month case management certificate program that provides comprehensive skills training in trauma-informed care, documentation, financial education, mental health first aid, and many other areas.
Career and salary benefits of having a social work case management certification or certificate
According to CCMC, professionals (mostly nurses and social workers) who obtain a CCMC case management certification earned an annual median salary of $80,000 – $85,000 in 2018. This was higher than the average salary for registered nurses and social workers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The demand for social work case managers is growing, especially in the fields of healthcare and aging. Social workers who earn a case management certification or certificate may see their job prospects expand because employers view them as being committed to the case manager role and using their experience to benefit a specific client population. Some employers may even pay for certification or a certificate.