Career Spotlight: Child Welfare Social Work

Child holding a balloon.

While it may initially seem daunting, child welfare social work is actually an extraordinarily rewarding and important career. More than 3 million children are referred to child protective services each year, according to the National Children’s Alliance. As a vulnerable population, children require the protection of professionals uniquely qualified to meet their needs. Child welfare social workers are specialists who are charged with ensuring the safety and care of children facing abuse.

The Issue

According to Childhelp, the statistics on child abuse in the United States are truly sobering. Did you know…

  • A report of child abuse is made every 10 seconds?
  • Adults who live through a high number of “adverse childhood experiences” (six or more) tend to live up to two decades less than those who don’t?
  • Child abuse has a high correlation with increased risk factors (such as drug and alcohol abuse) later in life?
  • Financially, the lifetime estimates of lost worker productivity, health care, special education, child welfare and criminal justice costs have been calculated at $124 billion? (This is enough money to send 1.7 million children to college.)

It’s clear that child welfare social workers are needed now more than ever. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services identifies four overarching responsibilities for these professionals:

  • Assessing child safety
  • Intervening to protect children from harm
  • Strengthening the ability of families to protect their children
  • Providing either unification or an alternative, safe family for children in question

All other duties of child welfare social workers are in service of these primary goals.

Job Description

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects social worker positions to grow 12 percent by 2024, a faster than average rate. Child welfare social workers make a median annual pay of $45,900. They often work in government agencies, nonprofits, foster care and adoption agencies, or organizations that specialize in child advocacy.

A survey done by the National Association of Social Workers found that child welfare social workers:

  • Generally have longer work tenure than social workers in other fields
  • Generally make higher salaries
  • Tend to have slightly less administrative burdens
  • Have smaller caseloads
  • Generally feel safer making home visits
  • Have found higher satisfaction with their supervisors
  • Believe they have adequate opportunities for professional training

Responsibilities of child welfare social workers can be found within seven phases of the process they use to interact with clients, explains the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


Social workers may evaluate reports of suspected abuse and educate others about official statutes and guidelines regarding child abuse and neglect.

Assessment and Investigation

They may investigate homes to ensure children’s physical safety, establish relationships with their family members and evaluate potential future maltreatment.

Family Assessment

Child welfare social workers may identify and address factors that place children at risk in their current living situation.

Case Planning

They may develop safety plans, find alternative permanent housing for clients or design ways for families to reach goals that will enable them to continue keeping their children in their home.

Service Provision

Child welfare social workers may help the family implement a case plan. They may also refer or arrange for community services.

Assessing Family Progress

They may help the family achieve goals and address the effects of maltreatment on both children and their family.

Case Closure

At this phase, they may have end conversations with families and complete paperwork.

To succeed as a child welfare social worker, individuals must also meet certain professional requirements.

Professional Requirements

Child welfare social workers generally need, at minimum, a Bachelor of Social Work. Many earn their Master of Social Work as well. For those seeking work in clinical settings, they must have two additional years of supervised experience. Special training that focuses on working specifically with children, youth and families is also encouraged.

Required skills for child welfare social workers include active listening, problem sensitivity and excellent interpersonal skills. Anyone seeking work in this field must be excellent in conflict resolution, planning and prioritizing work, advocacy and social perceptiveness.

These skills come from both innate abilities and practical training. Mastery is key for individuals to be successful in the field.

Becoming a Child Welfare Social Worker

Protecting the most vulnerable of us is a noble and worthwhile career choice. For individuals called to this work, an online BSW degree or an online MSW degree from Brescia University can help provide the quality education needed to get started in a rewarding profession. Both programs offer a relevant curriculum designed to easily translate to the real world.