Social Work

Remote Social Work Jobs and Where to Find Them

Remote Social Work Jobs and Where to Find Them
Whether social workers can work remotely depends on their specialty. Social workers in some roles, such as case managers and mental health counselors, can do their work effectively via Zoom, a cell phone, and email. Image from Pexels
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Ginny Bartolone February 18, 2022

For those who prefer to telecommute, there are full-time and part-time remote jobs available for licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs), case managers, and administrators in mental health, behavioral health, and healthcare. In addition, universities need adjunct and associate professors to teach remote online courses.

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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, telehealth services and remote work were on the rise. The public health crisis that commenced in the spring of 2020, however, kicked both into overdrive. Telehealth services expanded rapidly to help prevent the spread of the virus (particularly before vaccines were readily available). At the same time, employers closed offices and other workspaces where possible, sending workers home to perform their jobs remotely.

Behavioral health services enjoyed an advantage during this transition: many professionals in the field, including clinical social workers, provided remote treatment long before the pandemic. For example, remote access served rural clients with limited or no local mental health services, connecting them with social workers by phone, videoconferencing, and 24-hour helplines. Remote assistance with everything from accessing social services to mental health crises has been available for decades.

Before 2020, many employers outside of the tech industry resisted allowing employees to work remotely, but the pandemic brought about a dramatic sea change in attitudes regarding remote work. The successful transition to remote work during the pandemic (which occurred without a significant drop in productivity) has made employers far less resistant to it, and a significant portion of the American office workforce now expects to work from home at least part of the work week, if not always. As Stanford University economics professor Nicholas Bloom puts it, “The idea of a full return is dead.”

While not all social work jobs lend themselves to working from home, there are still many remote job titles available—perhaps more than ever. There are remote social work positions for outpatient mental health therapists, caseworkers, human service administrators, and more.

In this article, we’ll explore remote social work jobs and where to find them, how much they pay, and the impact of a master’s of social work on your opportunities. We’ll answer:

  • Can social workers work remotely?
  • What kinds of remote social worker jobs are available and how much do they pay?
  • What is a social work master’s?

Can social workers work remotely?

The social work field encompasses a wide range of roles performed in various settings. Whether social workers can work remotely depends on their specialty. Social workers in some roles, such as case managers and mental health counselors, can do their work effectively via Zoom, a cell phone, and email (assuming their clients have access to WiFi, internet-enabled devices, and a quiet, private place to talk).

However, other social work positions—such as managing a homeless shelter or an inpatient substance abuse program—require one to be in-person to fulfill the job’s responsibilities adequately.

Pros and cons of remote social work

The pros and cons of remote social work depend on the nature of each role. For social work administrators who don’t necessarily need to be in a particular setting to accomplish their work—as long as they have a computer, phone, and internet service—not having to spend time commuting every day to an office is a big plus.

While clinical social workers and case managers can effectively work with their clients remotely, a study reported in The Guardian revealed that many social workers struggled with a work-life balance and their caseload during the pandemic (particularly not being able to leave the stress of their job and their clients’ issues at work) and missed the in-person support of their colleagues. However, the social workers also observed how it had become easier to connect with other professionals (particularly healthcare providers) and that some of their clients found it less intimidating to meet via video conferencing than in person.

As well, a recent British Journal of Social Work article highlighted another significant challenge of remote social work. When a care manager is not physically present with a client, they may not be able to pick up all of the physical or environmental cues present but outside the frame of the camera, such as body language or the state of a client’s home.

Despite these caveats, remote social work can be a good option for some as it offers social workers a more flexible schedule, access to positions outside their region, and the opportunity to gain experience in a range of specialties.

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There are a couple of significant practical considerations:

- A Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in social work
- A license to practice or required social work certification

Credentials vary among careers, states, and territories. Licenses include:

- Certified Social Worker (CSW)
- Clinical Social Work Associate (CSWA)
- Licensed Advanced Practice Social Worker (LAPSW)
- Licensed Advanced Social Worker (LASW)
- Licensed Baccalaureate Social Worker (LBSW)
- Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW)
- Licensed Graduate Social Worker (LGSW)
- Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW)
- Licensed Mental Health Professional (LMHP)
- Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW)

Most of these licenses require a Master’s or Doctorate, along with additional coursework or clinical internships. (source)

A survey of 2017 social work graduates by the National Social Work Workforce Study found that social workers with Master’s degrees and Doctorates made substantially more than those with no advanced degree. (source)

- People with MSW degrees made $13,000-plus more than those with only BSW degrees
- MSWs make more in large cities or urban clusters
- People with doctorates earned $20,000 to $25,000 more than people with only MSW degrees

University and Program Name Learn More

What kinds of remote social worker jobs are available and how much do they pay?

There are a host of remote positions available for licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) to entry-level and higher-up administrative roles. Some positions come with restrictions—such as with local school social workers or jobs in government health systems; the remote employee needs to live in a specific area and hold state licensure. In other scenarios, employees can live anywhere in the country.

In general, the highest-paying social work positions are held by professionals with a Master of Social Work (MSW), who earn somewhere in the range of $60,493 to $73,783 a year. (For comparison, professionals with only a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) earn an average salary of $51,760, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).)

Salaries for remote social workers, as reported by ZipRecruiter, average $58,604. Licensed social workers and those with many years of experience can earn much more.

Here are a few specific remote opportunities to consider.

Clinical social work jobs

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) can treat clients over the phone or via video calls. Administrative tasks like referrals, prescriptions, and bills are handled by a separate central office while the counselor works from home.

Employers include private mental health tech companies like Headway and Talkspace, local hospitals and health centers, and state agencies. Salaries for these positions average around $80,000 a year.

Child welfare workers

Child welfare workers protect vulnerable children and support families in meeting their children’s needs. These specialized social workers can meet with parents and their children remotely and manage related administrative work from afar.

State agencies and child development nonprofit organizations—such as the International Rescue Committee and International Social Services—have both counselor and administrative support positions available. The average salary at these agencies is about $52,000; director-level positions climb to the six-figure range.

Case managers

Whether supporting clients with healthcare choices, providing legal assistance or accessing social services, case managers guide clients through complex systems during remote sessions.

Case managers receive assignments from both agencies and organizations, including Anthem Health, Children’s Bureau, and the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Typical case manager salaries fall in the $40,000 to $50,000 range.

Administrative management

As offices continue to transition online, administrators who arrange casework, process client paperwork, and support clinicians do so from home offices.

Each type of organization mentioned above—including private mental health tech brands, insurance companies, government agencies, and nonprofits—needs administrative support. Mid-level administrators make an average of $51,000, while directors earn upwards of $65,000 each year.

Adjunct and assistant professors of social work

Community, state, and private colleges hire adjunct or tenure-track social work professors to teach remotely online. UMass Global, the University of Alabama, and Southern Illinois University are just a few of the schools hiring today. Academic salaries vary significantly, since adjuncts typically make just several thousand dollars per course.

However, established adjunct social work faculty earn around $60,039. Assistant professors of social work are paid an average of $66,217 each year, while professors of social work earn a median salary of $107,600.

Do I need a master’s in social work?

While one can find social work positions with only a BSW, most advanced and higher-paid positions require an MSW—and this social work degree is necessary if you intend to work as a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW).

What is a social work master’s?

A Master of Social Work (MSW) is a graduate-level degree for advanced social workers, including those who seek licensure to practice clinical social work. The Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) is the sole accrediting organization for social work master’s programs; it also oversees standards for licensure and ethics.

How long does it take to earn this degree?

It typically takes two years to complete an MSW, although some schools offer accelerated programs. If you already have completed a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), consider applying to an advanced standing program; you can apply credits from your BSW toward your master’s degree, saving time and money in the process.

Tulane University, for example, offers several MSW tracks. Students opt for either a 16-month full-time program, a 12-month accelerated program for students with advanced standing, or a part-time pathway completed over 32-months.

Admission requirements and prerequisites

Most social work programs require a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0. Many are willing to consider applicants who don’t meet this standard if they can demonstrate aptitude through alternative means (e.g., standardized test scores). They also require letters of recommendation, a resume/CV, and a personal statement explaining your interest in the program and profession. Some programs require Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) test scores; others are test-optional and some even disregard exam scores.

Curriculum

Social work classes cover a breadth of topics, focusing on the many unique communities social workers serve and how to help them thrive in challenging environments. An MSW allows social work students to focus on their professional specialty while still providing the foundation skills necessary to understand the field as a whole.

Tulane University, for example, provides an introduction to social work in the first semester, then explores social justice, diversity, and the history of social welfare through subsequent coursework. The curriculum also covers research skills, human behavior courses, and community advocacy topics.

In the latter half of the program, students transition to fieldwork that complements their classes. By the end of a four-semester program, the curriculum transitions to hands-on practicums and a research capstone project.

Specialization

Many universities use MSW concentration pathways as a key way to market their department. For example, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor offers both a list of pathways and programs, including interpersonal practice in integrated health, mental health, & substance abuse; the welfare of children and families; and program evaluation and research. Each pathway includes a list of required courses, practicum opportunities, and career opportunities.

At both UMich and competing universities, you’ll also find dual-degree programs, Peace Corps pathways, and social work specialty certificates.

What are the top schools that offer social work master’s?

Questions or feedback? Email editor@noodle.com

About the Editor

Tom Meltzer spent over 20 years writing and teaching for The Princeton Review, where he was lead author of the company's popular guide to colleges, before joining Noodle.

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