We are quite surprised but pleased by our readers' enthusiastic response to our recent blog on forensic social work. Social workers and workers from other professions were so intrigued by the work that forensic social workers do within the criminal justice system that they asked if we would flesh out a little more the career details of the forensic social work specialty. If you're considering a career in forensic social work, here's an overview you may find helpful.
The Big Picture
Forensic social workers toil at the intersection of social work and the legal system.
- A forensic social worker, sometimes called a criminal justice social worker, applies social work principles and expertise to law-related issues and litigation.
- Forensic social workers work in corrections, justice, and social services systems. They interact with those involved with the legal system, like lawyers, law enforcement officers, lawmakers and individuals and families undergoing proceedings in the court system.
- Criminal justice social workers may educate, train, and consult legal professionals and law enforcement officials who may not have expertise about the social and psychological factors impacting those in the legal system. They provide insights into what victims are going through, criminal responsibility, and mental competence.
- They also work with those going through the legal process (for example: criminals, parents, and children).
- Forensic social workers may provide witness testimony as a social worker expert in court.
Forensic social workers impact the criminal justice system on behalf of a wide variety of constituents at varied points-of-entry. Their expertise is required for the equitable application of criminal justice in the case of:
- Child custody issues involving divorce, neglect, parental rights termination and/or separation
- Child abuse and neglect
- Criminal risk assessment
- Domestic violence
- Juvenile and adult justice services
- Mental health incapacitation
- Spousal abuse
- Substance abuse cases
- Trauma assessment of victims
In all the above areas, the status of both victim and offender must be considered to achieve a just application of criminal justice statutes. This is the mission of forensic social worker.
How The Mission is Accomplished
Forensic social workers perform an astounding variety of critical functions in the criminal justice system. They may:
- Advise on program, policy, and social services development
- Conduct behavioral science research and analysis
- Consult, educate and train:
- Attorneys, paralegals, and law students
- Correctional system, criminal justice, and juvenile justice professionals
- Law makers
- Law enforcement personnel
- Members of the public
- Develop solutions for crime trends and systemic social problems
- Diagnose, treat, and make recommendations for:
- Criminal and juvenile justice populations
- Mental status, children’s interests, inability to testify and incapacities
- Perform offender or community safety assessments
- Provide legal matter guidance for victims
- Provide mediation, arbitration, and advocacy services
- Serve as expert witnesses and provide evidence in court
- Screen, evaluate and treat law enforcement and other criminal justice personnel
In a Variety of Settings
- A criminal justice social worker may work with criminal defendants in a clinic, correctional facility, or psychiatric hospital environment. In this type of setting, a forensic social worker may perform intake coordination, mental health evaluations and care or risk assessments. Criminal justice social workers in jail environments may also help prisoners preparing for release to re-enter society by providing resource referrals.
- Forensic social workers who are advocating for crisis and trauma victims may work for crisis centers for domestic violence and rape. They may also be employed by child welfare agencies and meet clients in a home or office setting.
- Criminal justice social workers might work in offices or board rooms with lawyers and legal professionals.
- They also often work in a counseling office, providing counseling to individuals and families who are in the court system.
- They might take the stand in a courtroom as an expert witness.
Forensic social work is a specialty that requires extensive education and experience. If you're considering a career in forensic social work, you begin your education with a bachelor’s degree (BSW) and work in the wider field while continuing your advanced education in a criminal justice specialty. You will go on to get your master’s degree (MSW) and gain additional experience in the field.
Advanced clinical social work requires licensure and becoming a Certified Forensic Social Worker (CFSW), which is a credential for those holding a MSW or Doctorate of Social Work (DSW) degree and work with juvenile and/or adult criminal offenders. With advanced degrees and certification, a full-time forensic social worker can earn more than $85,000/year.
Want to know more about the incredible work accomplished by social workers? Then check out, What Social Workers Do on the FAMCare Blog.