Child social workers are the front line of defense, helping the children of families who are struggling with a variety of social issues, such as poverty, drug abuse, mental illness, unemployment, and homelessness. Their prime directive is to insure the health and well-being of those children, protecting them when necessary, and providing services that help their families.
Working with children in these situations requires compassion, patience, commitment, and resilience. Typically, children are fearful and angry, and it's the child social worker's job to gain their trust, help them find the answers they need, provide methods for coping, and help resolve the foundational problems.
What Does a Child Social Worker Do?
Most child social workers work in family service agencies, schools, state agencies, or the federal government. Their typical clients are underprivileged children living in unsafe conditions who are at risk of neglect or abuse, or who have special needs, such as health issues or disabilities. They also work with children who have behavioral problems, learning disabilities, or who are in need of supervision.
Some child social workers work in schools where they interact daily with kids providing caring counsel and support. They assist parents and administrators on issues such as truancy, bullying, substance concerns, and pregnancy.
Although most issues encountered in schools tend be social and interpersonal conflicts, social workers keep an eye out for more serious issues such as child abuse and neglect. Acting on cues from administrators and teachers, child social workers are proactive in talking with children to find out what might be troubling them.
Recognizing the Signs of Child Abuse
Recognizing signs that a child is being abused is crucial to interrupting the pattern of abuse. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists these as the signs of child abuse to watch for:
- Sudden changes of behavior or school performance
- Hasn't received medical attention for health problems brought to parent's attention
- Learning and concentration problems
- Always wary
- Lacks adult supervision
- Withdrawn, overly passive or compliant
- Comes to school and activities early and doesn't want to go home
- Denies the child has problems at school
- Or, blames the child for problems at school or home
- Tells teachers or other daycare workers to punish the child if he or she misbehaves
- Perceives the child as entirely bad, worthless, or burdensome
- Demands an unreasonable level of physical or academic performance
- Looks primarily to the child for care, attention, and satisfaction of emotional needs
The Parent and Child:
- Rarely touch or look at each other
- Consider their relationship entirely negative
- State that they do not like each other
If necessary, the child social worker confers with the administration to open a case, following up with interviews and family assessments. Understanding the child's environment is vital to understanding his or her problems. Families might be unemployed and unable to properly care for their children, or children could be living in abusive situations.
For each case, social workers devise service or care plans, specifying resources that are necessary for the safety and growth of the children, such as reliable daycare, health care, therapy, and food stamps.
These plans must accurately respond to the home and school environments, as well as the children's emotional and psychological capabilities. This requires that child social workers become acutely sensitive to many issues, such as anger and violence within financially stressed households, the presence of drugs, neglect, or signs of abuse.
The care plan outlines goals for providing children the help they need. The goals result from a series of assessments that help child social workers gauge children's emotional, cognitive, and developmental conditions. These periodic evaluations often lead to revisions of the care plan to accommodate children's growth and changing life situations.
Relationships within children's immediate families have a profound impact on their state of being, so it's important that the family work in partnership with the child social worker to insure adherence to the care plan. Often, the plan includes therapeutic interventions for parents such as therapy, parenting classes, or substance-abuse treatment.
Sometimes parents are not cooperative. Consequences for inaction must also be clear. In these situations, the social worker must assess the level of risk to the children in the house. Interventions must be well documented and all legal actions thoroughly considered. All activities must be in accordance with state and federal laws.
Although permanency, the solution where a child remains in the home of their parents, is preferable, sometimes child social workers need to remove children from their homes to protect them. In these cases, the social worker must be able to provide alternative living solutions, such as foster homes or adoptive families. Every effort must be made to allow for the child’s safety and well-being.
Throughout the process, child social workers are required to keep accurate and timely documentation, gathering statistics and managing the resources such as progress made with therapists or in job training classes. Social workers are also responsible for providing feedback to the family about assessments, examinations, and evaluations that affect their futures, as well as informing them of their rights.
The Goals of a Child Social Worker
Because the job of the child social worker is often critical to the well-being of their young clients, their primary goal is to assess the children’s living situations.
As part of this, child social workers:
- Must clarify their roles in clients' lives, developing positive, helpful relationships, and insuring mutual respect;
- Provide real information and advice to clients, parents, and responsible authorities, such as school psychologists, administrators, or legal authorities;
- Complete assessments evaluating families, the strengths of all members and their abilities to participate in a plan to resolve their problems;
- Create care plans that outline strategic actions, set goals, and identify resources to help families and individuals work toward resolutions;
- Partner with groups that offer help to clients;
- Monitor individuals, families, and resources to insure that progress is being made;
- Plan interventions when necessary;
- Document all case activities, and report on the client’s progress; and
- Advocate for systems adjustments, resource considerations, and policy reforms that will benefit their clients.
Child social workers must be aware that they will often work with dysfunctional families, that sometimes children must be removed from their homes, and that some cases will be emotionally difficult. They must be able to find the inner strength to continue working in children's best interests, and simultaneously find ways to take care of themselves, mentally and physically.
On the other hand, few jobs are as fulfilling as seeing young clients and their families meet their care-plan goals, and solve their problems. Working in a school or within a community gives child social workers the satisfaction of seeing their work come to fruition.
As a career, the child social work job market will continue to grow faster than the general economy, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. In 2010, they listed the average yearly income of a child social worker as $43,850. Those working in elementary and secondary schools during the same period earned an average of $57,100.
If you are interested in exploring child social work, volunteers are always needed. Talk to the social worker at a local school about the possibility of helping with after-school programs or signing up to be a peer counselor. If you are entering college, consider a college or university with a strong social work department as well as studying human and developmental psychology.
Contact schools for information on starting a bachelor’s, master’s or PhD in social work.
Educational Requirements for a Child Social Worker?
According to both the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), social workers practicing in child welfare should hold a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW). Most accredited schools of social work require a specific number of fieldwork hours in order to complete the degree program. These range from a few hundred up to a thousand hours of service.
Increasingly, many facilities require a master's degree (MSW) in social work from an accredited school of social work in order to work with clients. Certainly it is a necessity in order to advance in the field. You can request more information from multiple schools offering degree programs in social work.
All states require licensing. To establish standards for the safe professional practice of social work, states define their professional requirements and levels of social work licensure by law. Typically, four educational categories of practice are regulated.
|Category||Degree and Experience Requirements|
|Bachelors||Baccalaureate social work degree upon graduation|
|Masters||Master's degree in social work (MSW) with no post-degree experience|
|Advanced Generalist||MSW with two years post-master's supervised experience|
|Clinical||MSW with two years post-master's direct clinical social work experience|
Additionally, most states require extensive supervised hours of service to become licensed. Check with your state regulatory agency. Browse licensing requirements for social workers for more information.
Those with only a high school diploma might find clerical or service positions in child social work, especially in smaller towns where the need is greater. Many facilities offer their own training programs – although they aren't degree programs - that enable their staffs to grow as they learn on the job.
Salaries of Child Social Workers
According to the U.S Bureau of Statistics, child social workers with at least a bachelor's degree earned an average of almost $49,000 a year, while those with masters degrees earned between $ 60,000 and $85,000 a year.