Child and Family Social Worker

Child and family social workers serve important roles in their communities by connecting families in need with services and monitoring the well-being of at-risk children. Social workers assist in abuse and neglect investigations and help place children in safe environments. They also help arrange adoptions and foster homes for children, facilitate transitions and assist families through fostering and adoption processes, and assist in reuniting separated siblings and families.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 16% growth in social work jobs between 2016-2026, making right now a great time to enter this important field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 16% growth in social work jobs between 2016-2026, making right now a great time to enter this important field. To become a family social worker, you must follow certain academic paths toward earning the degree and credentials required to practice. This guide will introduce you to the field of child and family social work and answer many of the common questions students have when considering a job in this field.

Social workers work in a primary location, like a social services office, but will also have to travel around their local area to visit with clients in their homes. These home visits ensure the well-being of the children and families on each social worker's caseload outside of in-office appointments. Through both office and home visits, social workers must identify any academic, behavioral, and social problems affecting the children and families under their care and facilitate the necessary steps to correct these issues in healthy, sustainable ways.

Child, family, and school social workers also work within schools to identify at-risk children. They respond to teacher and staff reports and reach out directly to students and their families should they determine assistance is needed. Social workers may then work with teachers and school staff to implement methods for helping the student in need thrive in a healthier academic environment -- both in school and at home. All social workers also write up case notes on each case they have after a meeting. These case notes serve an important purpose in monitoring each client's progress, better understanding their individual needs, and determining which services would help them the most.

What's the Difference Between a Child and Family Social Worker and a Child and Family Counselor?

It may seem as though child and family social workers and child and family counselors operate in the same capacity, but they actually serve in very different roles. Both professionals do work with students, children, and families, but how they work with them differs. Social workers come in on a more action-oriented front; they work to connect people in need with community and social services, monitor the safety and well-being of their clients, and take action to correct and improve any unsafe or unhealthy situations.

Social workers need a minimum of a bachelor's degree to practice, while counselors often need at least a master's degree.

Counselors, while they do have a concern about the safety and well-being of their clients, work primarily in therapeutic settings, providing behavioral therapy and counseling. They may, however, contact social services or a social worker should they notice any red flags or have any concerns with a client; the social worker can then intervene.

Counselors and social workers also have different academic backgrounds. Social workers need a minimum of a bachelor's degree to practice, while counselors often need at least a master's degree. Both must meet specific state standards and earn specific licensure.

Education Needed to Become a Child and Family Social Worker

Child and family social worker education requirements vary based on the capacity in which each professional ultimately practices. A bachelor's degree and licensure will allow social workers to practice at an entry-level position, while a master's degree would allow them to practice at a more advanced level, offering services such as counseling to their clients.

The master's in child and family social work degree can potentially take around two years to complete, but this time frame might not include the field experience and internship required by most programs. Students seeking social work licensure generally complete a set number of supervised clinical hours in a social work setting prior to earning their license. The requirements for these internships may vary from state to state and program to program.

Below, you'll find more information about the levels of social work degrees you can earn, how each degree will benefit you as you work toward becoming a child and family social worker, and where you can find more detailed information about each type of degree.

  • Bachelor's Degree in Child and Family Social Work

    The bachelor's in social work generally prepares students for eventual graduate study in the field. It also provides the credentials necessary for some entry-level jobs in social work. Students in these programs will often take general education courses.

  • Master's Degree in Child and Family Social Work

    The master's degree in child and family social work often serves as the minimum degree required to practice in this area. Master's programs in social work generally include a practicum or field experience in the form of a supervised internship.

  • Doctoral Degree in Child and Family Social Work

    The doctoral degree in social work prepares social work professionals to practice at an advanced level. Depending on the program, this degree may emphasize a more clinical career path in social work, such as counseling, or a more research-centric approach, preparing for a supervisory role in the field.

Accreditation for Child and Family Social Work Programs

Earning your degree at an accredited institution is the first step toward starting your child and family social worker career. When a school has accreditation, it means certain agencies have vetted the rigor and quality of the school's academic programs to assure they meet or exceed set standards. When you attend an accredited school, your degree will hold more weight with future employers than one from a nonaccredited school. Attending a nonaccredited school will also prevent you from meeting the requirements for social work licensure in most states.

Apart from institutional accreditation, social work programs often have programmatic accreditation. This programmatic accreditation most often comes from the Council on Social Work Education. Many states require you to earn your degree from a CSWE-accredited program before you can sit for licensure exams, so you can use the directory of accredited schools on the CSWE website to ensure your program has this accreditation.

Licensure and Practicum Requirements to Become a Child and Family Social Worker

To earn either level of this license, you must attend a CSWE-accredited program and pass the required exam from the Association of Social Work Boards.

All social workers must have a license in order to practice -- even those working entry-level social work positions with a bachelor's degree will need to meet certain state licensure requirements. You can earn specialized credentials and certifications in children, youth, and family social work, both at the bachelor's and master's level of practice and licensure.

To earn either level of this license, you must attend a CSWE-accredited program and pass the required exam from the Association of Social Work Boards. Social work degrees prepare you for these exams and include the necessary internships and supervised practicum hours you must complete prior to taking them. You may incur certain fees when you apply for licensure and for license renewal, and these fees vary by state. Below, you'll learn a bit more about state licensure and what each state requires.

Before you begin a child and family social worker degree, make sure you research the specific licensure requirements for social workers in your home state. These requirements can vary depending on where you practice, so gear your academic path to that state's requirements. Many states will allow you to carry over an earned license from another state, but you may have to complete some paperwork in the process. You also have to renew your license, often every two years, depending on the state you practice in. Certain ongoing education requirements and practice standards have to be met in order to maintain your license. You can learn more about your home state's requirements below.

The need for qualified social work professionals continues to increase across all areas of the field. Child and family social workers practice in a variety of settings, such as private, charter, and public schools. Child and family social worker salary averages vary based on where they practice and the types of certifications and licensure they hold. For example, child and family social work exists as a specialization under the general social work practice umbrella, but some of these social workers may also hold additional certifications, like in counseling or clinical social work, that allow them to practice in different capacities and potentially earn different salaries. The amount of time you practice also influences how much you earn. The table below shows the average salary for child and family social workers based on experience.

Average Salary by Experience for Child and Family Social Workers
Entry Level (0-5 Years) $37,000
Mid-Level (5-10 Years) $40,000
Experienced (10-20 Years) $43,000
Late (20+ Years) $44,000
Source: PayScale (June 2018)

How to Find a Job as a Licensed Social Worker

Earning extra certifications during the course of your degree may provide you with an advantage on the job market, as you'll have more marketable skills and specializations and likely have the ability to work in a wider range of settings. You may wish to start with local government agencies and family services centers in your community, as these industries tend to hire the most social workers. You can find many positions through job boards within social work organizations such as the Social Work Job Bank, the career center at the National Association of Social Workers, and the job board at the Society for Social Work Leadership in Health Care.

Child, Family, and School Social Workers by Industry
Industry Employment Annual Mean Wage
Individual and Family Services 76,480 $42,300
State Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals 63,100 $48,020
Local Government, Excluding Schools and Hospitals 54,450 $54,680
Elementary and Secondary Schools 39,940 $62,690
Other Residential Care Facilities 9,670 $38,540
  • American Council for School Social Work The ACSSW works to support and promote the work of school social workers. They provide continuing education programs, resources for social workers and the public, and access to journal articles and research in the field.
  • School Social Work Association of America The SSWAA supports school social workers and their practice. Members can take advantage of practice liability insurance protection, resources for social work students, and professional advocacy.
  • National Association of Social Workers The NASW provides a depth of valuable information to social work students and practicing social workers alike, including information on licensure, academic programs, practice, and advocacy.
  • Social Work Graduate Application Guide This guide provides valuable insight on making your application to graduate social work programs as strong as possible. It offers information on the types of programs that exist and what you'll need to enroll in them.
  • Social Work Today Resources Both students and practicing social workers will find these resources useful; here, you'll find links to various social service programs and organizations as well as many national social work associations.