Start a Child Welfare Social Work Career

What is child welfare social work?

Childhood should be a happy time, filled with memories of warmth, love, and carefree times. Unfortunately, not every child is blessed with loving parents and stable home lives. Some children are forced to cope with upheaval and problems at home, such as abuse, neglect, alcoholism, drug addiction, and poverty. Even in the United States, one of the most advanced countries in the world, some children still want for even the most basic of necessities, including food, shelter, health care, and appropriate clothing.

Child welfare social work is a field of social work that involves making sure children’s needs are taken care of. First and foremost, professionals in this field keep the best interests of all children in mind. They work hard to protect them from deplorable situations and make sure that their needs are met.

Working as a child welfare social worker can be both rewarding and very heart wrenching at times. In most cases, for example, you will be assisting children and families in need of assistance and support. On the other hand, however, you will inevitably run across at least a handful of heartbreaking cases in your career. These are the cases in which you may have to remove children from their homes, or worse yet, cases in which you witness children tolerating deplorable and even dangerous living situations.

Why do we need child welfare social workers?

Children who grow up in happy homes where all of their needs are met, typically grow up to become happy, stable, and well adjusted adults. On the other hand, those that grow up surrounded by unpleasant and dangerous situations often grow up suffering from mental and emotional unrest. They are plagued by the memories and images from their childhood, and some may even repeat the behavior that they witnessed, thinking that it’s normal. For example, studies show that children that grow up with abuse either go on to become abusers themselves or find themselves trapped in abusive relationships.

Although some families may see child welfare social workers as nothing more than nuisances, they serve a very important service. These professionals help ensure that troubled children are cared for properly and have their needs met, so they can grow up to become happy and well adjusted adults.

What do child welfare social workers do?

If you pursue a child welfare social work career, you will find yourself working with children and families in need. Many times, you will deal with children that are in poor living conditions, but you will also find yourself working with children with special needs and behavioral problems as well.

One of the first duties of a child welfare social worker is to identify children or families that may be in need of their services. This might happen when the social worker receives a report of possible problems from such sources as mandated child abuse reporters, teachers, or simply anonymous citizens. In some cases, a child welfare may be able to spot a possible child in need, particularly if she works in a school or other facility that caters to children.

Signs that a child may be in need of the intervention of a child welfare social worker may vary. Children who are frequently getting in trouble, dealing with behavioral issues, or show signs of neglect or abuse are often the children that catch the eye of these types of social workers.

Abuse and neglect, however, are major concerns for most child welfare social workers. The signs of both neglect and abuse can be very subtle at times and difficult to spot to the untrained eye. As a child welfare social worker, you will be trained to recognize signs of neglect and abuse in children and investigate. Below are a few examples of identifying signs of neglect and different types of abuse.

  • A child comes to school on a cold snowy day dressed in shorts, a t-shirt, and without a warm coat for the third time in a week. Upon further investigation, a child welfare social worker notices that the child has not bathed. After interviewing teachers and other school faculty members, the social worker also finds out that the child rarely has a packed lunch nor does he have money to buy lunch. The child welfare social worker then has reason to believe that the child is being neglected.
  • A child that often comes to school with bruises and cuts misses school because she has a broken wrist. During the interview with a child welfare social worker, the child seems withdrawn and fearful, as if she’s going to get in trouble. At one point during the interview, she flinches when the social worker tries to put her arm around the child’s shoulder. By observing the physical injuries and actions of the child, the social worker has reasonable suspicion that the child may be being physically abused.
  • Teachers report that a child has extreme behavioral problems in the classroom. Also, although he is very intelligent, the child constantly states that he is “stupid” or an “idiot”. A social worker notices that there seems to be little attachment and warmth between the child and parents during an interview, and that the parents seem to be overly critical. After witnessing this, the social worker might be able to assume that emotional abuse might be taking place.
  • Other boys in a class report that one boy has been repeatedly touching them in their “private areas” during recess. During an interview with a child welfare social worker, the child exhibits sexual knowledge that is inappropriate for his age, and “playing” with dolls involved taking their clothes off and positioning them sexually. This behavior might indicate to the social worker that the child is being sexually abused.

After determining the possible problems that a child may be having, a child welfare social worker will then usually assess the child’s home life. This is usually done by interviewing the child, teachers, and family members, and most importantly, by visiting the child’s home. Home visits can also give a social worker insight on possible causes of problems in the child’s life. A thorough assessment can also give the child welfare social worker an idea of how at risk a child is in his current living conditions.

If a child is at a low risk of being immediately injured or otherwise hurt, the social worker will work closely with the child and family to remedy problems in the home. This usually involves setting goals and making a plan to better their situation and fix any problems that may be present. A poverty stricken family that can’t afford proper housing or food, for example, may be given help to find and utilize different government assistant programs.

Periodic evaluations are very important in child welfare cases. Child welfare social workers will frequently meet with children and their families in order to monitor their progress. If few or no positive changes are made, the social worker may then change the original plan and goals.

There may be some cases, however, in which a child welfare social worker may determine that a child’s health or general well-being is at risk. This may happen when the child is being abused, for instance, or when the parents deny that there are any problems in the household. In these situations, the social worker may need to make the decision to remove that child – and possibly any other children – from the home. When this happens, the social worker will arrange for a safe place for the child to stay, such as a foster home, and monitor his progress. In many cases, the social worker will also work with families who try hard to change their situations in hopes of being reunited with their children.

Where do child welfare social workers find employment?

The majority of child welfare social workers find employment in government social work facilities, at the local, state, or federal level. Child and youth service offices and family services offices, for example, often hire these professionals.

Community health centers and schools might also hire child welfare social workers.

What are the education requirements for a child welfare social work career?

If you are considering a child welfare social work career, you should complete a social work bachelor’s degree program. In most areas, you will also have to complete several hours of supervised fieldwork to graduate with this type of degree.

Find a social work degree program here.

The majority of these professionals also choose to earn master’s degrees in this area, since advanced degrees are now required by many employers and may be required for licensure in some areas. Even if a graduate degree is not required for entry level positions, you should consider completing a graduate degree program, especially if you wish to advance in this field.

What is the salary of child welfare social workers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that social workers that worked with children, families, and schools had a median salary of $40,680 and $19.56 median wage in 2011.