Child Welfare Worker Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A child, family, and school social worker's mean annual salary is around $46,180, but is it worth the education, licensure requirements and debt? Get the truth about the job description, salary information and job outlook to decide if it's the right career for you.
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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).**

Career Information

Job Description

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.

Licensure Requirements

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).

Required Skills

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

Obtain Certification

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.

School Counselor

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.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Human Services
      • MSHUS - Family and Community Services
      • MSHUS - Organizational and Social Services
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor: Human Services/Child and Family Welfare
      • BS in Liberal Studies Leadership
      • BS in Human Services
    Certificate
      • Certificate in Human Services
      • Human Services Certificates in Child and Family Services
      • Adult Gerontology Practitioner Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Indiana Wesleyan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Social Work - Advanced Track
      • Master of Social Work - Standard Track
    Bachelor's
      • B.S. General Studies - Human Services
      • Bachelor of Social Work - Pre-Social Work
      • B.S. General Studies - Liberal Arts
    Associate's
      • A.S. General Studies - Human Services
      • A.S. General Studies - Liberal Arts
    Certificate
      • Undergraduate Certificate - Human Services
      • Undergraduate Certificate - General Studies
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Johns Hopkins University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Liberal Arts
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Widener University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Hybrid Dual Master of Social Work/Master of Education, Human Sexuality Studies
      • Master of Social Work
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Family Dynamics
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice - Human Services
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Sacred Heart University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Social Work - Clinical Specialization
      • Master of Social Work - Community Specialization
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Gerontology
    Master's
      • Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Developmental Psychology
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Seton Hall University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Public Administration in Non-Profit Management
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Penn Foster Career School

    Program Options

    Certificate
      • Career Diploma - Child Care Professional
      • Career Diploma - Guest Service Agent
      • Certificate - Child Psychology

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • MS in Human Services
  • Bachelor: Human Services/Child and Family Welfare
  • Certificate in Human Services

Which subject are you interested in?

Indiana Wesleyan University

  • Master of Social Work - Advanced Track
  • B.S. General Studies - Human Services
  • A.S. General Studies - Human Services
  • Undergraduate Certificate - Human Services

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Liberal Arts

What is your highest level of education?

Widener University

  • Hybrid Dual Master of Social Work/Master of Education, Human Sexuality Studies
  • Master of Social Work

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • M.S. in Professional Counseling with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Childhood and Adolescence Disorders
  • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science with an Emphasis in Family Dynamics

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • BS - Criminal Justice - Human Services

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Sacred Heart University

  • Master of Social Work - Clinical Specialization
  • Master of Social Work - Community Specialization

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology - Gerontology
  • Master of Science in Child and Adolescent Developmental Psychology

What is your highest level of education?