Pros and Cons of Being a Child Welfare Social Worker
As a child welfare social worker, you'll have the opportunity to help children and families in need and provide aid to people who are suffering. Consider the following pros and cons to see if a career in this field is a good fit for you.
|Pros of Being a Child Welfare Social Worker|
|Chance to help kids and families in need*|
|Growing field (projected 15% growth in the employment of child, family and school social workers from 2012 to 2022)*|
|Not too much schooling required (a bachelor's degree can lead to entry-level work)*|
|Opportunity to meet people of all backgrounds and ages*|
|Cons of Being a Child Welfare Social Worker|
|Work can be emotionally draining*|
|Below-average pay ($1,000 less than national occupational average)*|
|Long hours and demanding schedules common*|
|May have to meet licensure requirements (varies by state)*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Child welfare social workers have the opportunity to counsel kids and their families as they overcome personal and emotional struggles. Your goal will be to promote the safety and well-being of children, and this may mean you'll be required to remove children from abusive homes and place them in safe houses or foster care. It's common for child welfare social workers to address severe problems, like abuse, neglect, divorce and substance abuse.
You'll regularly work with families and help connect them to community resources or government assistance, like affordable housing or employment. You'll be in charge of case records and may have to frequently organize reports on a child's progress through the counseling process. These reports and information may be used in court and as part of correspondence between government agencies, schools, clinics and family services.
Career Growth and Salary Stats
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the employment of child, family and school social workers should grow by 15% between 2012 and 2022, which is a faster-than-average rate. This is largely due to an increasing demand for child support services and a greater need for cases of child abuse and neglect to be investigated. There may, however, be some limitations in the employment opportunities due to budget cuts, especially at the government level.
Social workers who focus on child welfare are able to make a decent living. The BLS found that in May 2014, child, family and school social workers earned an average salary of $46,180 annually. Social workers who were employed at elementary and secondary schools made the most by earning an average salary of $60,700 annually. In contrast, social workers who primarily focused on individual and family services made a median annual salary of $39,680.
For the most part, you'll be able to find entry-level work as a social worker upon earning a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW). The degree program can last for about four years and should teach you how to provide mental health services to different types of people, ranging from the elderly to families and children. You'll gain an understanding of human behavior and the role of social welfare policy in addressing the needs of people. In addition, your school may require you take part in an internship or field work as a way to develop professional experience providing social work services.
Some social work positions will require you to have a Master of Social Work (MSW) or a related graduate degree. These types of positions may be more specialized and can include management roles, as well. You'll also typically need a master's degree to become a clinical social worker. As part of a master's degree program, you'll gain an understanding on how to influence social policy, serve entire populations and address the changing needs of society. Much like a bachelor's degree program, your school will likely require you to take part in internships and research as a way to apply your classroom lessons to the real world.
Depending on where you want to work as a child welfare social worker, you may need to become licensed. Clinical social workers generally need to be licensed before they can work within a community or government setting. To become licensed, you'll most likely need to hold a master's degree, engage in a supervised clinical experience and pass an examination, like the one administered by the Association of Social Work Boards.
Job Postings from Real Employers
Child welfare social workers are in demand across the country. They may be able to work within government agencies, community nonprofit organizations or schools. For the most part, employers are looking for candidates with at least a bachelor's degree, although management positions require a master's degree that relates to social work. Professional experience is a common requirement, as well. Check out these job openings from real employers posted by the The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in April 2012:
- A government agency in Arizona is looking for a child protective services specialist who can support kids and their families through case management and counseling. The position requires a bachelor's or master's degree, although professional social work experience can be considered in place of a master's degree.
- A nonprofit organization in Texas is hiring a child welfare supervisor who can work with children in the foster care system. Candidate will help children as they are placed in foster care, adjust to their new homes and find permanent homes through adoption. The employer is looking for candidates with a master's degree in social and professional clinical social work experience. Candidate should also have a wide range of skills, from counseling to budgeting and community development.
- A nonprofit organization in New York seeks a director of foster care and adoption who can help disadvantaged children receive counseling services and permanent housing. The job requires a master's degree with previous experience in benefiting the lives of foster children.
How to Get an Edge in the Field
Organizations like the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) regularly provide professional development to social workers at all stages of their careers. As a member, you'll be able to sign up for annual conferences as a way to network with fellow social workers and attend workshops on the latest trends in social work research. Another option is to enroll in online seminars, where you'll be able to access instructional materials through the Internet and further your skills in social work. Some of the seminars may also be streamed online live giving you a direct connection to the instructor and your classmates.
Alternative Career Paths
School and Career Counselor
If you want to help children but don't think becoming a child welfare social worker sounds like the right fit, then you may want to think about a career as a school and career counselor. This career path will give you the opportunity to work with school-aged children and mentor them as they look for career paths and overcome academic or personal challenges. For the most part, school and career counselors are based within a private or public school setting. The job requires least a master's degree. The job outlook for these types of counselors looks good, as the BLS projects an employment increase of about 12% between 2012 and 2022. The average salary in the profession was $56,040 in 2014.
Another option is to become a psychologist. Through the study of mental processes and human behavior, you'll be able to provide counseling and therapy to children and adults facing emotional struggles. You'll need a master's degree or doctoral degree to become a psychologist, as well as a license if you want to be part of a practice. The BLS projects a 12% employment growth between 2012 and 2022. Psychologists are also able to earn a decent living with an average annual salary of $74,030 for clinical, counseling and school psychologists, according to 2014 BLS figures.
Mental Health Counselor
You may also want to think about becoming a mental health counselor. This will give you a way to directly treat the mental struggles of adults through various therapeutic strategies. The job requires a minimum of a master's degree, along with an internship and professional experience. The demand for mental health counselors should grow at a faster-than-average rate. The BLS projects that the employment should grow by 29% between 2012 and 2022. The average annual salary in the field in 2014 was $43,990.