Why doesn’t the United States have a national social work license?

Ask an expert: Why doesn’t the United States have a national social work license?

About our expert: Dale Atkinson is a partner with the Illinois law firm that is counsel to ASWB. He is also executive director of the Federation of Associations of Regulatory Boards (FARB). Atkinson is a frequent speaker at ASWB conferences and training events, helping social work regulators better understand the legal basis for their work in protecting the public.

Dale says: State-based regulation of the professions comes from the concept of federalism as set down in the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  It reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” The U.S. Supreme Court case of Dent v. State of West Virginia (1889) upheld physician licensing and recognized the states’ rights to use regulation to protect public health and safety. You’ll hear this called “police powers.” This recognition of states’ rights has risen to the U.S. system of each jurisdiction having its own authority to regulate the professions.

Might state regulation of the professions be challenged eventually, and in the United States we end up with federal licensure?  I don’t think it’s imminent in the near future.

Read more about how state-based licensure connects with practice mobility in Dale’s Counsel’s Column article, Streamlined Licensure.