What is forensic social work?

Updated April 17, 2017

Forensic social work is a field that is commonly associated with the mental evaluation of criminal defendants. Forensic social work, however, extends beyond the courtroom as well. A broad description of the field includes any social work activities related to the law or legal system.


Forensic social workers must be familiar with the adversarial legal process and understand how that process relates to their social work responsibilities. Forensic social workers also must have a strong familiarity with the functions of both civil and criminal court cases.


Forensic social workers often serve as consultants for various factions of the legal system. They share their professional expertise with law enforcement personnel, lawmakers, lawyers and judges to create a better understanding of a particular legal situation as it relates to social work.


Forensic social workers often assess the mental capacities of members of a trial before those people take the stand. This includes defendants, witnesses, law enforcement personnel and anyone else involved with the trial.

Expert Witness

Forensic social workers may frequently be called to serve as an expert witness in a trial. Often, mental or domestic evaluations are the source of such testimonies.


The professional responsibility of forensic social workers is to stay within the boundaries of social work. They must be careful not to overstep their bounds when heavily involved in casework.

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About the Author

J.M. Soden has been a freelance writer since 2005. He primarily writes sports articles but also enjoys writing about travel destinations, legal matters and electronics troubleshooting. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Notre Dame in American studies.