There are many routes you can take within a career in social work. Jobs in child welfare, geriatrics, criminal justice, addictive behaviors, and more. You may work within many of these fields throughout your career until you find your passion. Here are a few potential roles in the child welfare sector:
Family Support Worker
Family support workers focus on equipping parents and families with the skills needed to thrive. They teach mechanisms for coping with stress, aid in developing communication strategies, educate families about physical and emotional self-care, and connect families with local resources. In addition to their work with families, support workers often work in teams alongside other child and family specialists, such as psychologists, child protective service employees, and school social workers. In general, family support workers are employed at governmental protective service agencies.
Duties for family support workers include:
- Intervening in difficult or combative circumstances within a household
- Working with families to develop success strategies
- Educating parents and children regarding healthy habits, positive communication practices, and skills for achieving permanency
- Finding resources within the community that can help families work toward self-sufficiency
The average salary for a family support worker who is new to the field is around $32,000 per year. Salaries increase with experience and may vary by location.
Entry-level family support work positions may only require a high school diploma and state-specific certifications. However, some agencies may call for a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work or human services. In addition, training courses are often required to prepare employees for the specific situations they may face when working in family services.
Family Service Coordinator
Family service coordinators combine administrative skills with care for families to bring about lasting change. They work with parents and families to locate resources – from Head Start programs to assistance with food and housing – and help those families to develop a plan for success. Knowledge of available community supports is vital for family service coordinators, as is the ability to communicate effectively with families and local agencies. Following an initial round of referrals to these agencies, family service coordinators stay in contact with families to ensure that members’ needs are being met and that these resources are improving their physical and emotional well-being.
Their responsibilities include:
- Interviews with family members
- Creation of success plans, which include referrals to local agencies as needed
- Networking with community support agencies
- Follow-up with families to determine progress toward self-sufficiency
Family service coordinators are often employed by state and local government agencies. Salaries vary by location and average around $40,000 per year nationwide.
Various states have specific education and licensure requirements for service coordinators. Most positions require an undergraduate (and sometimes a graduate) degree in a human service field, such as a BSW or MSW. Many social work degree programs have coursework focused on working with children and families, so graduates of these programs may gain knowledge and experience that will help them to find employment in the field. In addition, many states have specific training courses or licensure exams/procedures that employees complete before they can specialize in the field of family services.
Child and family case managers work to ensure the safety of children, preventing abuse and neglect and advocating for the rights of children and adolescents. They conduct home visits to evaluate families’ living conditions, manage the process of reporting abuse, finding a safe environment for children, and testifying in court when needed. In addition to removing children from dangerous situations, case managers also work to unite children with their families whenever possible, making sure that families are educated with communication and coping tools that allow them to interact in healthy ways. Case managers work in environments across communities, such as homes, schools, and community agencies, to protect and advocate for at-risk children and adolescents.
Their specific duties consist of:
- Crisis interventions at homes and schools, assessing the threat of potential abuse or neglect
- Working with schools and other agencies to ensure appropriate action is taken when problems are reported
- Removing children from unsafe environments and placing them in safe, healthy locations
- Testifying about abuse or neglect in court cases
- When possible, uniting children with their families and educating families with strategies for safe, healthy communication and care
Salaries for family case managers average around $36,000 per year. Level of education, experience, and location can all affect case managers’ incomes.
Most entry-level case management positions require at least a bachelor’s degree with a human service focus. Candidates with graduate degrees in social work or related fields may be eligible for higher-level roles. In addition, government agencies (where many case managers find employment) often require employees to complete specific training courses and/or obtain social work licensure. These requirements vary by state and are often tailored to the needs of a particular agency.
Youth advocates may work in a variety of settings. In schools, they might help disadvantaged students to obtain reliable housing and transportation to/from school, ensure that students have access to daily meals, and advocate for educational supports when needed. In areas with high numbers of immigrants or refugees, youth advocates may focus on the specific needs of adolescents who are acclimating to a new culture, learning a new language, and seeking access to local resources. In all cases, youth advocates are working on behalf of young people to increase their chances of leading healthy, successful, and robust lives.
Youth advocates’ responsibilities vary based on setting, but they often involve:
- Interviewing children and adolescents to assess their needs and challenges
- Working closely with school social workers, case managers, and other social service professionals to develop a network of care
- Defending the rights of disadvantaged and at-risk young people
- Helping adolescents to employ strategies for success in school and work environments and at home
- Referring young people to resources such as tutoring, mental health counseling, and free/reduced meal programs
Salaries for youth advocates vary greatly depending on location, specialty area, and
educational/licensure credentials. Positions exist within government agencies and schools, as well as private organizations which may focus on specific at-risk populations. For detailed salary information, it’s best to research positions available in your area.
As with salary rates, requirements for education and licensure are also diverse. Entry-level positions may just require an undergraduate degree and/or experience working with children and adolescents, while some agencies may call for social work licensure or specific certifications. In many settings, bilingualism is an ability that is in high demand.
Foster Care Specialist
Foster care specialists work with children and adolescents within the foster care system to ensure that their physical, emotional, psychological, and educational needs are met. Their roles include administrative duties, such as developing and maintaining treatment plans, as well as one-on-one interaction with children and their foster parents/families. Foster care specialists conduct assessments and interviews to confirm that children are in safe, nurturing environments, facilitate family visits when appropriate, and attend court hearings and school meetings on behalf of the children within their caseloads. They have many unique responsibilities, including:
- Initial and ongoing assessments of children’s foster care settings
- Transportation of clients to court appearances and other appointments
- Evaluation of children’s well-being and success at home and school
- Education of foster parents/families to teach and model healthy emotional support
- Supervision of approved interactions/visits with clients’ biological families
- Support for children and adolescents during court hearings
- Interaction with educators, school social workers, and other service professionals
Foster care specialists earn an average annual income of around $35,000. Location, type of employer (government agency or private organization) and prior education and experience all impact the salary that a foster care specialist can expect.
Many organizations require foster care specialists to hold a master of social work degree, as well as a clinical social work license. Because the needs of children in the foster care system can be unique and challenging, most agencies require specific training and certifications to work with this population.
Adoption and Permanency Specialist
Adoption specialists work in a variety of ways to place children with loving, nurturing families. Adoption and permanency specialists train and prepare families to welcome children and adolescents – and to address the challenges that adopted children may encounter. They also conduct home visits before and after the adoption takes place; completing assessment reports and supporting families throughout the process of welcoming a child into the home. Additionally, permanency specialists interview potential adoptive parents, following an agency’s ethical standards to confirm that families are ready for the responsibility of adopting children and have the tools they need to succeed.
Adoption and permanency specialists handle tasks such as:
- Interviewing potential parents and families
- Conducting home evaluations to review candidacy for adoption
- Completing post-adoption home visits
- Equipping parents and families with strategies for effective communication and support
Adoption specialists earn an average annual income of around $55,000. Experience, licensure, and certifications can impact salary potential.
Many adoption specialist positions require a master’s degree in social work, as well as clinical licensure. Depending on the state and agency, additional training or certifications may be required. Some agencies prefer to hire employees with prior experience in a child welfare environment.
Child Protective Services Specialist
A child protective services (CPS) investigator or specialist is responsible for assessing a child’s immediate environment for symptoms of abuse and neglect. CPS specialists evaluate current and future risk to a child’s safety, gathering information via interviews and forensic investigations. Their roles may involve removing children from their homes in order to protect them, testifying in court, and handling crisis situations during home visits. Since these job duties can be stressful, CPS investigators and specialists must be able to balance empathy and objectivity as they interact with children and their families.
Child protective services specialists handle tasks such as:
- Crisis intervention visits
- Investigatory home assessments
- Interviews and forensic evaluations with children and their families
- Removing children from abusive environments
- Testifying in court regarding abuse allegations
- Recording and reporting all observations and assessments with child protection agencies
Most CPS specialists and investigators work for government agencies, so salaries and benefits vary by state. Entry-level positions may offer a starting salary around $35,000, with opportunities for growth and salary as high as $57,000 per year for employees with experience and advanced degrees or certifications.
States may require various levels of education for CPS specialists. Some states offer the position at the bachelor’s level, while others call for an advanced degree in social work. Additionally, CPS investigators often need to take specific courses provided by their state or employment agency. To obtain higher-level CPS positions, clinical social work licensure may be required.