It is impossible to overstate how important social workers are to the US. From helping the elderly find resources to working with pregnant women needing quality prenatal care, social workers serve a wide range of individuals and make a big difference in everyone they help.
Perhaps one of the most critical social worker specialties is child social work. Children deserve happy, healthy, and safe childhoods filled with the opportunities they need to thrive, but not all have that chance without outside help. Child social workers work with families, outside agencies, and the foster care network to secure much-needed resources for struggling families. This article explores how to become a child social worker and how their work benefits children nationwide.
According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), child social workers build and strengthen families and communities to ensure that children grow up in loving and safe environments. This sometimes includes removing children from dangerous situations, but more typically means working closely with parents and other caregivers to remedy potential issues so that children are as healthy and happy as possible. There are two main categories of child social workers:
- Child welfare social workers
- Child, youth, and family social workers
Both operate in child social work, and they play critically important roles.
Child social workers are focused on child welfare. They are a crucial part of child protective teams, including prominent government departments and local organizations focused on the well-being of children. In many instances, this translates to helping parents understand how to parent properly and safely, allowing their children to thrive and become healthy, well-adjusted members of society. In this capacity, they typically work directly with parents to secure resources such as housing, food, and education to ensure the child has a safe and stable living situation.
Child social workers are sometimes called in to help children adjust to a big change or tragedy. A child losing both parents, for example, and being taken into state custody is often referred to a child welfare social worker to ensure they have the resources to grieve and adjust. In circumstances where parents pass but the child has family to take them in, social workers sometimes work directly with the family to do much the same. The goal is always to ensure the child has the tools to recover and lead a healthy and happy life.
Unfortunately, not all adults are committed to building safe environments for children. This is why child welfare social workers are so important! While they often work with families who genuinely want the best for their children but need a bit of help, sometimes child social workers interact with families that neglect or even abuse their children. In these situations, the social worker often investigates allegations of mistreatment and, if necessary, removes the child from the situation. They often work closely with courts, schools, and other agencies to build a case plan tailored to the child’s needs and unique situation.
In this last role, especially, social workers are critical to the well-being of youth. To disadvantaged children, a social worker can be a superhero flying into a burning building to save them. In cases where a child needs medical treatment or mental healthcare such as counseling, social workers help secure both of those resources, too.
However, this doesn’t mean that social workers are primarily involved in removing children from their homes. On the contrary, child social workers generally do everything they can to help families thrive. This includes helping parents or other caregivers better understand their actions’ impact on the child and how to support them better. If needed, they can involve counselors for group therapy and secure financial resources to take some of the pressure off the family while they heal. Child social workers can be considered partners in guaranteeing children’s welfare. If there is anything they can do to keep families together, rest assured that child social workers will do it. When child social workers have no choice but to remove children from an unsafe situation, they do everything possible to reunite families and get them back on track for a happy future.
Child social workers do more than work with families to address potential parenting issues, such as specializing in child, youth, and family social work. In this capacity, they work to ensure children and youth with special needs receive the care they need to thrive. Children and youth struggling with clinical mental health issues, for example, often require help beyond what a pediatrician can provide. Finding the right mental healthcare for youth can be difficult, with many families unsure where to turn. Social workers performing child, youth, and family social work are key resources in these situations. They help secure appropriate and comprehensive care for children and youth living with issues such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), among many others.
Child, youth, and family social workers focus on long-term and short-term group therapy as necessary for families, youth, and individual children. This kind of social worker can be found in various locations, from hospitals to schools and everything in between. They often emphasize mental health needs and work tirelessly to ensure that those struggling with mental illnesses or disorders have all the resources they need to grow and build happy and healthy lives. Some child, youth, and family social workers focus specifically on children who have lost a parent or are adopted, doing their best to guarantee the child has the tools needed to recover from trauma.
By design, child, youth, and family social workers cover some of the same areas as child welfare workers. While child welfare social workers focus on uniting together general resources to help families and children thrive, child, youth, and family social workers dive deeper into specific issues. They typically have specializations and sometimes work with the same families for years.
Child social workers must master numerous skills to fulfill their societal roles effectively. This included educational needs, background knowledge, and more.
Individuals must complete a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree to become a social worker. They must complete coursework in specific classes and degree specialties to qualify.
Beyond completing a comprehensive education, aspiring child social workers must also have a wealth of knowledge in several different areas to ensure they have the answers and resources families need. This includes knowledge of basic social service resources and programs designed for children. Such programs include Head Start and nutritional assistance programs, among others. Child neglect and abuse reporting policies and laws are other critical pieces of knowledge for child social workers. In addition, social workers need a basic understanding of general child development milestones along with the impact childhood trauma has on children later in life.
Furthermore, potential child social workers must be familiar with healthy family functioning, systems, and dynamics. This helps them recognize potential problems and take appropriate action to remedy them.
While there are many skills needed to become an effective social worker, here are some of the most important skills aspiring social workers should work to master first:
- Interpersonal, empathy, and listening skills.
- Documentation, record-keeping, and organizational skills.
- Professionalism and ethics.
- Assessment, intervention, and other clinical mental health and counseling skills.
- Time management skills.
- Making good decisions under pressure,
- Advocacy skills.
- Oral, non-verbal, and written communication skills.
Thankfully, these skills are complementary, and mastering one gives a social worker a huge advantage over dominating another. For example, perfecting interpersonal, empathy, and listening skills tends to strengthen written and oral communication skills. Improving organizational and record-keeping skills often leads to enhanced time management skills.
Prospective social workers shouldn’t be overwhelmed by the skills listed above. Once they get started, they will likely discover that some come naturally, and while they will likely require some strengthening, very few of the skills listed above will be completely new.
Becoming a child social worker is a worthwhile goal, but sometimes, deciding where to start can be difficult. Thankfully, the process can be split into four steps. From completing education to receiving a license, here is the path individuals will take towards becoming a child social worker, making a positive difference in the lives of those around them.
Earn a bachelor’s degree.
The first step to becoming a child social worker is to complete a bachelor’s degree. There are a few different fields students can focus on with an undergraduate degree. If the school of choice offers a Bachelor’s in Social Work (a BSW), social work students should work towards completing this. If it does not, that’s okay – they can still get there! They can look for degrees in related fields, such as early childhood education, psychology, and childhood education. Gaining experience in the industry to complete the educational process and get started is also important.
Gaining experience working with children is crucial to becoming a child social worker. Students can do this in a few different ways. Some BSW students participate in internships and field placements, for example, while others attend lectures and training sessions designed to build practical and theoretical skills. Others volunteer their time at organizations dedicated to helping children recover from abuse and their families move forward. For example, CASA trains volunteers to be Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) for children during court hearings. A CASA volunteer gains experience in working with families, children, and the foster care network.
Of course, CASA is just one example, and other organizations can help students gain experience in the industry. This work should continue throughout the master’s degree program unless the attended school has another residency program to consider.
Earn a master’s degree.
Once students have completed an undergraduate degree and have some experience, it is time for them to find the right master’s program for their journey.
An online social work program designed with busy students in mind is a good choice, especially if students plan to work or volunteer while studying. Cleveland State University, for example, is a good choice for anyone looking for a comprehensive master’s degree program for child social work. The course covers human behavior and social environment, social welfare policy and disparities, diversity, and inclusion. Respected universities like Cleveland State University are good candidates for an online degree as they have experience adapting their coursework in many different program areas and typically have it down to a science.
Earn a license
After completing a master’s degree, it is time for them to move on and begin working toward licensure. There are various requirements they will need to meet that vary from state to state. Still, they typically include at least two years working in the industry after completing a graduate degree, completing a specified number of supervised hours by a licensed social worker, and passing the clinical exam created by the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB). Finally, graduates can apply for a license and, hopefully, start working independently.
It is also not uncommon to be asked to complete additional requirements after applying for a specific license or role, particularly if it is highly specialized. With a little extra work, students should be able to pass with flying colors.
Finding the right job
Once social workers have completed their educational requirements, gained experience in the field, and have a license, they can start looking for their ideal job. It is a good idea for candidates to consider where they might want to work after graduation while volunteering and completing their degrees. This allows them to build contacts in the field and clearly understand what the job entails. Students can always discuss their options with an advisor or professor, too. Speaking with an experienced professional is always a good way to improve understanding of a certain field and how to get started.
Those interested in becoming a child social worker and willing to attain the education, experience, and licensure needed are poised to make a huge difference in the lives of children across the nation. With numerous specializations, a range of work locations, and transferrable skills, becoming a social worker leads to a long and rewarding career.