Bachelor’s Degree in Child Development

Finding bipartisan agreement in Washington on almost any issue has become notoriously difficult. But one area in which there’s a general consensus involves children and the importance not just of education, but of a full-range of social and psychological services during a person’s formative years. From President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind Act” of 2001, which created a new framework for educational reform, to the comprehensive early learning agenda that President Barack Obama laid out in his 2013 State of the Union address, there’s been widespread, across-the-aisle acknowledgement that kids deserve a fair shot, and that we have a collective responsibility to better foster the social and intellectual development, as well as the emotional and behavioral well-being of our children.

Much of what we know about how to best address the social and psychological, emotional and educational needs of children comes out of the field of child development, on offshoot of developmental psychology that focuses uniquely on the interaction between psychological, physiological, and socio-cultural factors in the early years of life. Think of it as an academic discipline where nature and nurture meet, a halfway point between pediatric medicine and preschool curricula, or a place in which psychological research feeds into social welfare programs and educational programming aimed directly at children. Child development takes into account all of the various challenges of growing up in a complex world, from normative cognitive and behavioral maturation, to nutritional and physical fitness, to overcoming specific impediments such as autism, attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and the impacts of poverty, neglect, and abuse.

A bachelor’s degree in child development from an accredited college or university is the first step toward a career in this growing field. We’ll look closely at the process of earning a degree in child development, as well as at the career opportunities and job prospects for those who have completed a BA or BS in child development.

Fast Facts from the CDC’s 2013 Report on Children and Mental Health:

  • 13%-20% of children living in the United States experience a mental disorder in a given year, and surveillance during 1994-2011 has shown the prevalence of these conditions to be increasing.
  • 8% of teens ages 13-18 have an anxiety disorder, with symptoms commonly emerging around age 6. Of these teens, only 18% received mental health care.
  • 6.8%of children aged 3-17 were reported by parents to have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
  • 3.5% of children aged 3-17 were reported by parents to havebehavioral or conduct problems, followed by anxiety (3%), depression (2.1%), autism spectrum disorders (1.1%), and Tourette syndrome (0.2% among children aged 6-17 years).
  • $247 billion is spent each year on treatment and management of childhood mental disorders.

Benefits of Earning a Bachelor’s in Child Development

A bachelor or arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) in child development, much like an undergraduate degree in social work or counseling, has the advantage of being somewhat more vocationally oriented than a major in psychology or sociology. It is also, by nature, a cross-disciplinary area of undergraduate study that, when properly practiced, draws on the research and practices of behavioral sciences such as psychology and sociology, an understanding of pedagogical approaches in early education, and the biological and physiological realities of human development.

As the World Bank stresses in its guidelines for child development, “All children progress through an identifiable sequence of physical, cognitive, and emotional growth and change. Young children respond best when caregivers use specific techniques designed to encourage and stimulate progress to the next level of development.”

Which gets at another implicit benefit of a bachelor’s degree in child development: for the right kind of person, it is a deeply rewarding field. As the World Bank guidelines go on to stress, the ultimate goal of child development programs is to, “Improve young children’s capacity to develop and learn. A child who is ready for school has a combination of positive characteristics: he or she is socially and emotionally healthy, confident, and friendly; has good peer relationships; tackles challenging tasks and persists with them; has good language skills and communicates well; and listens to instructions and is attentive.”

Bachelor’s in Child Development Concepts

  • Behavioral development from birth to adolescence
  • Social relationships in childhood
  • Emotional development of children with special needs
  • Mainstreaming, inclusion, least-restrictive environment, and individual education programs
  • Examine processes of language development (and theories explaining this development)
  • Analyze the impact of cultural factors in development
  • Cultural identity, process of acculturation
  • Learn how to work with diverse populations

What to Expect from a Child Development Bachelor’s Program

A BA in child development is, in many ways, no different from an undergraduate degree in most other areas of study in that it’s designed to be completed in four years, during which students major in child development, while completing other general education requirements in the arts, sciences, and humanities. The same is true of a BS in child development, although a bachelor of science may have fewer gen-ed requirements, and be more research/laboratory based.

Most child development bachelor’s programs are located either in the social sciences or education departments of colleges and universities. In some cases, it is possible to work toward earning a teacher’s certification as a child development major. There are also programs that allow qualified students to move directly from an undergraduate degree in child development to completing a master of science in nursing in a total of five years. What is important to note is that a bachelor’s in child development is most often considered to be a foundational degree for students preparing for graduate work in education, nursing, medicine, psychology, sociology, and/or public policy. It is also considered to be an excellent complementary or secondary major for students who are already studying psychology, sociology, education, or cognitive development.

While the curriculum and specific courses differ from program to program, a typical bachelor’s in child development will include courses that delve into the following areas of study:

CourseArea of Study
Early Childhood DevelopmentAn examination of the cognitive, behavioral, and sociological forces at the foundation of childhood development.
Cognitive and Behavioral PsychologyThe principles and practices of examining the thought processes that influence behavior, emotional stability, and learning in children and young adults.
Whole Child DevelopmentA methodology concerned with observing and interpreting learning behaviors, cognitive function, and emotional maturation in children through a holistic lens.
Creativity in Child DevelopmentUsing art, music, and various kinds of play to forge cognitive, physical, emotional, and social development.
Normative and Atypical Childhood DevelopmentThe study of how various developmental dysfunctions, from learning disorders to emotional and behavioral problems, are measured against the norm, and the ways in which these problems are addressed.
Children at RiskThe impacts of abuse and neglect, as well as broader social problems, on the social, emotional, and cognitive development of children.
Cultural Diversity and the Inclusive ClassroomApproaches to working with children of various cultural backgrounds.
Social Science Research MethodsAn overview of how research and studies in the fields of psychology and sociology are designed and how the data is subsequently analyzed.

Child Development Internships and Specializations

The best undergraduate programs in child development include some form of supervised internship or practicum, either in a clinical lab or a classroom setting, because working with children requires a unique set of skills and sensitivities. This is true both of bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degree programs. Indeed, the major requirements tend to be fairly similar. The primary difference in the two degrees often has more to do with gen-ed requirements outside of the major, which may include more arts and humanities classes in a BA program.

Child development is an area of specialization in and of itself. However, there are opportunities to tailor a BA or a BS in child development toward particular areas of interest. Below are a few potential areas of specialization within child development:

  • Early Childhood Development
  • Adolescent Childhood Development
  • Childhood Development and Family Counseling
  • Childhood Development Policy Planning and Assessment
  • Childhood Development in Healthcare

Careers, Salaries, and Licensing in Child Development

For reasons that are fairly straightforward and understandable, there are very few professional settings in which working with children does not require official licensure of some kind, usually from the state. And most licenses and certifications involving work with children do require an advanced degree, often a master’s or PhD. The exceptions are supervised assistant positions, which can and often are open to those who have completed a bachelor’s in child development.

For example, while a bachelor’s degree can be adequate for teaching positions at private schools, states require public school educators to be licensed, which usually means enrolling in a post-graduate program that focuses on a particular area of education. Child psychologists and family therapists generally require a PhD for licensure. And clinical social workers have to have a master’s degree in their field. The same is true for those aiming to work with children in the healthcare sector.

There are, however, jobs open to candidates with a bachelor’s in child development, in the realm of education, social services, and research. There are public and private organizations looking for people to help coordinate programs for children at risk, children with developmental disabilities, and children from various minority groups who may be under-served. There are also opportunities in the realm of youth program coordination and administration for after-school and summer programs. But, most of the higher-tier, professional positions in child development do require a master’s degree or higher. And there is a growing demand for professionals who can work with children in various capacities.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook estimates a projected 14 percent growth in jobs for childcare workers through 2022. In terms of income, childcare workers, who in some states only require a high school education, aren’t high on the list: the latest numbers from the BLS indicate that the median annual salary was $19,730, as of May 2014. In contrast, the BLS projects employment of kindergarten and elementary school teachers to increase 12 percent through 2022. These teachers, who must have at least a bachelor’s degree, as well as state certification, earn more than twice as much in median annual income — $50,600 as of May 2014. Below is a chart that looks at incomes in several other fields related to child development:

OccupationMedian Income, May 2015
Teacher Assistant$24,430
Preschool Teachers$28,120
Elementary School Teacher$54,120
Middle School Teacher$54,940
Secondary School Teacher$56.310
Child, Family, and School Social Workers$42,120
School Counselors$54,370
Family Therapists$48,040
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists$68,900

Article Sources