Pros and Cons of Becoming a Child Welfare Worker
Child welfare workers are a specialized type of social workers, who focus on helping vulnerable children and families. Read on to learn about the pros and cons of a career as a child welfare or social worker to decide if it's right for you.
|Pros of a Child Welfare Career|
|Can protect vulnerable children from abuse or neglect*|
|Faster than average employment growth (19% predicted from 2012-2022 for all social workers)*|
|Opportunity help children and families obtain needed assistance*|
|Can work in multiple settings (family services, government, social advocacy organizations, etc.)*|
|Cons of a Child Welfare Career|
|Can witness cases of extreme abuse or neglect*|
|Government budget constraints may affect hiring*|
|May work on a rotating schedules or be on-call**|
|Heavy caseloads can create stress*|
|Employers may prefer to hire social workers who hold advanced degrees (You may have to study for an additional two years to increase employability)**|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics*, Multiple Job Postings (April 2012).**
A child welfare specialist works with children and families to ensure that the safety, health and educational needs of children are met. These professionals observe children, their surroundings and their family situations and keep a record of their observations. They may assist families in applying for services, such as housing, daycare, medical assistance or food stamps. In extreme cases, they could intervene in cases of child abuse or neglect by helping children find foster homes. Other responsibilities may include counseling parents and children, conducting interviews and assisting with court cases. Child welfare workers can work in schools, private practice, hospitals and community health clinics. They often interact with a variety of individuals from diverse cultural, racial and socio-economic backgrounds.
Salary Information and job Outlook
The BLS reported that, as of 2014, the median earnings of child, family and school social workers were around $42,120, although their location and the industry in which they work could affect their salaries. For example, professionals in Connecticut earned an average salary of about $63,020 annually, while those in South Dakota reported earning an average of around $38,5100 annually. Social workers in elementary and secondary schools reported mean earnings of roughly $60,700. Those working in residential care facilities reported earning approximately $38,220 per year.
According to the BLS, there were 286,520 child, family and school social workers employed in May 2014, which was a slight decrease (approx. 1%) from 2010 data. The agency also reported that the social work industry as a whole should experience job growth of 19% through 2022.
Career Skills and Requirements
The BLS indicates that entry-level child welfare work positions are available to graduates who possess a bachelor's degree in social work or a related field. However, a master's degree is required to work as a clinical social worker or in some school and healthcare settings. A common undergraduate degree option is the Bachelor of Science in Social Work (BSSW), although degrees in psychology, sociology or a related field can also lead to positions in the field. While enrolled in in a BSSW program, you may study prevention and intervention studies, as well as learn how to work with diverse populations. In addition to completing coursework, you'll also be required complete fieldwork or an internship, allowing you to observe child social workers and be observed as you work.
Each state board determines the licensure requirements for social workers, and they vary between states. Clinical social workers must be licensed in every state, but licensure is often optional for non-clinical social workers. The Association of Social Work Boards notes that there are four levels of licensure that states can regulate - at the bachelor's level, the master's level (with a master's degree but no work experience), the advanced generalist level (for graduates of a Master of Social Work (MSW) program with two years of supervised experience) and the clinical social worker level (for graduates of an MSW program with two years of direct clinical experience).
A child welfare worker should have strong communication skills, sharp listening skills and honed decision-making skills. These professionals must also be able to analyze large amounts of data and keep forms and records organized.
What Are Employers Looking For?
Frequently, employers hire licensed social workers with years of experience in direct service to clients. Although some employers hire social workers who hold a bachelor's degree, a master's degree might be preferred or even required. The following job postings found on CareerBuilder.com and Monster.com in April 2012 can provide an idea of the requirements and qualifications employers seek:
- A community health center in Massachusetts is seeking a licensed clinical social worker with at least a year of experience for a maternal child health program. Job duties include conducting counseling sessions for individuals and groups, performing assessments and managing cases. Social workers are expected to function as part of a team and work with low-income individuals.
- A social services agency, with positions available in Maryland and Washington, D.C., is looking for a licensed social worker with knowledge of the child welfare system in both areas to work with youths in a foster care treatment program. At least one year of relevant experience and a 4-year degree are required.
- An Ohio adoption agency is searching for a licensed social worker to screen and assist birth and adoptive parents. This individual must be willing to travel and may have a frequently changing schedule. Experience in adoption is desired, and an FBI background check is required.
- A California youth and family service provider is hiring a licensed social worker with at least a bachelor's degree to support foster children and families, develop treatment plans and coordinate medical and psychological treatment. A master's degree and relevant experience at a bilingual agency are preferred.
- A Wisconsin hospital is seeking a licensed social worker with a master's degree in social work or a related area and five years of experience to work with adolescents. This individual should have valid CPR certification and know how to use therapeutic intervention techniques.
How to Stand Out in the Field
Some colleges and universities offer undergraduate or graduate certificates that focus on child welfare. Combined with a BSSW, these certificates can help prepare individuals to work as child welfare workers.
Individuals holding a BSSW who are interested in demonstrating their professional dedication, aligning themselves with a well-regarded professional organization and enhancing their professional reputation can earn the Certified Children, Youth and Family Social Worker (C-CYFSW) credential through the National Association of Social Workers (NASW). To obtain this credential, you need a BSSW, at least 1,500 hours of experience, 20 hours of relevant continuing education courses and a willingness to adhere to a national code of ethics.
If you've obtained a master's degree in social work, you can further stand out by earning the Academy of Certified Social Workers (ACSW) credential, offered by the NASW. According to the organization, the credential is widely recognized for demonstrating experience and knowledge in the field of social work.
Pursue a Master's Degree
Job postings indicate that employers often seek applicants who hold advanced degrees. Hence, if you're willing to attend school for a few more years, you could earn a master's degree in social work and stand out from other social work graduates who have only earned a bachelor's degree. These programs may last as little as two years or as long as five, depending on whether you attend on a full-time or part-time basis.
Alternative Career Paths
If you're interested in assisting children and families, but would prefer to focus on providing counseling or therapy, rather than offering assistance or social services, consider a career as a school counselor or marriage and family therapist.
A school counselor is responsible for helping students to develop social skills and deal with issues that arise in school settings. They may provide group or individual counseling, assess students' abilities, help students develop organizational or time management skills and help older children and teens form career plans. In most states, a master's degree is required to enter this profession. As of May 2011, the BLS reported that there were 244,560 school, educational, guidance and vocational counselors earning a median annual salary of around $54,000. Those working in individual and family services reported mean earnings of around $40,000, while those working at elementary and secondary schools reported mean earnings of roughly $63,000.
Marriage and Family Therapist
Marriage and family therapists work with individuals, couples and families. They develop treatment plans to address issues that can affect entire families, such as addiction, divorce, low self-esteem, stress and layoffs. These professionals may work in private offices or community settings. All marriage and family therapists must obtain a license and a master's degree to practice. The BLS reports that jobs for marriage and family therapists were predicted to grow 41% between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, there were 33,990 marriage and family therapists who earned a median annual salary of about $46,000.