Child social workers arrange and deliver personal, psychological or social services that protect children and families at risk. They go by a variety of titles, including child welfare social workers, family services social workers, child protective services social workers, or occupational social workers.
The central goal of the child social worker is to protect and counsel vulnerable children. To accomplish this they employ an assortment of techniques and resources in a variety of situations, including counseling and possibly even legal alternatives. They are usually employed by service agencies, schools, or state or local governments.
The minimum requirement for employment in the field of social work, regardless of the specialty, is usually a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor of social work (BSW) degree is specific to the field; however, a bachelor’s degree in psychology, sociology, or a related field is acceptable for some entry-level jobs, such as caseworker.
Although a bachelor’s degree is the minimum credential necessary to obtain most positions as a social worker, a master’s degree has become the prerequisite for many occupations in this field. A master’s in social work (MSW) is typically required for clinical work, for example, as well as for may positions which deal with health care.
All 50 states and the District of Columbia have rules and regulations concerning social work. These include the need for the practitioner to register with the state and to obtain specific licenses and certifications before practice can commence, and before the worker can use any of the professional titles associated with the degree or with the practice of the position. These requirements vary on a state-to-state basis. Some states reserve the title “social worker” for degreed and licensed practitioners. The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) offers nationally-recognized voluntary credentials to indicate competence in a specific discipline.
Child, family, and school social workers deliver or arrange a range of services for children at risk or in a crisis situation. Potentially, these services can range from setting up adoptions to rescuing abused or neglected children to dealing with the problems of truancy, teen pregnancy, eating disorders or other behavioral disorders.
In schools, child social workers deal with behavioral, social, and psychological problems similar to those addressed by school psychologists and counselors, with the additional function that they might arrange outside assistance should the situation require it. They might also advise teachers or teach workshops for students. Social workers who concentrate on children’s issues, whether in the home or in an educational setting, are most often employed by agencies that provide family services, or by some level of government, although they might also be employed directly by a school.
In any field of specialization, the successful social worker needs to possess certain key personality traits. Child social workers must above all possess a sincere desire to help children. They need to be able to provide emotional maturity, responsibility, and affection to their young clients, and these traits need to be balanced with objectivity for the child or family’s situation. Child social workers need interpersonal skills that allow them to be sensitive to the suffering of children who are subject to stresses they don’t understand and often can’t express. They also need a healthy supply of patience in order to deal with their clients, their clients’ families, and multiple bureaucracies. They must be excellent communicators, as they will be required to interact with a wide range of people, from children with special needs to other professionals involved with treatment to the management and staff of various assistance organizations.
In a survey performed by the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) in 2005, eleven percent of the organization’s members reported that their core practice was in the field of child welfare, adolescent, or family organization social work, and six percent listed their primary area of practice as school social work.
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that in 2004 approximately 562,000 people were employed as social workers. Of these, 272,000 specialized in the field of child, family, and school social work.
Figures released by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that social work is one of the fastest growing occupational fields in the country, and the job opportunities in this field are expected to increase by as much as thirty percent during the upcoming decade, which is much faster than the average.
The Bureau also reports that the median annual salary for child, family, and school social workers in 2004 was $34,820, with a range running from less than $23,130 to a high of more than $57,860. Elementary and secondary schools were the highest paying venues in this field, with a median annual wage of about $44,300.