Child Welfare Social Worker Career Overview

A social worker touches the shoulder of a smiling child client.
A social worker touches the shoulder of a smiling child client.

Child welfare issues may require that officials step in. Programs and social services that focus on the overall well-being of children and families can mitigate the immediate and long-term effects of both maltreatment and family separations. For example, the bipartisan Family First Prevention Services Act, signed into law in February 2018, takes steps to provide resources and support to protect children and keep families intact when abuse and neglect are suspected. 

Child welfare social workers who have received an education in social work are an integral part of the care process, from the instant a service organization is made aware of child neglect or abuse, to resolutions that result in families that are well-functioning units with more hopeful futures.

What Is Involved in Child Welfare Social Work?

Child welfare systems have two primary goals: to protect the most vulnerable and to keep families together. Building on the strengths and addressing the challenges of family units, child welfare social workers identify and support children who suffer from abuse and neglect and work with families to end the dysfunction and repair the damage. 

Welfare systems are made aware of possible child abuse cases through the reporting of family members, teachers, healthcare providers, counselors, neighbors and even strangers who have reason to believe that a child is at risk. When such a call is made, a child welfare social worker is assigned to the case, and the work begins.


Upon receipt of a suspected child abuse situation, the child welfare social worker’s first job is to interview the child and any other people who may have important information about the case. This can include household family members, doctors, teachers, friends, relatives, neighbors and babysitters. Building or dismissing a case of neglect, however, requires interviewing the child in a way that reveals an accurate account of what happened.

Assess, Document and Inform

After completing the interview process, the child welfare social worker reviews the information gathered, which has been carefully documented each step of the way, and makes a professional assessment of the situation. If abuse or neglect is evident, the child welfare social worker creates a plan designed to ensure the child’s immediate and future safety. This plan will always consider what is best for the child first, from educational and developmental needs to social, cultural and spiritual needs. Plans for documented incidences of child abuse and neglect may include:

  • placing the child or children in foster care or with a family member
  • providing supportive services, like day care
  • determining changes that must be made if the children remains in their own home
  • follow-up visits
  • monitoring how well the plan contributes to the child’s recovery


Besides working directly with victims of child abuse and their families, child welfare social work involves collaborating with local agencies, organizations and schools to find the most appropriate support available. They assemble multi-disciplinary teams, which may include teachers, faith leaders, doctors, law enforcement and school social workers. Some members of the team work with the family members while others work directly with the child. 

How to Become a Child Welfare Social Worker

To become a child welfare social worker, aspiring candidates must understand the skills, education, experience and professional licensing process required for the job.


Before pursuing a future in child welfare social work, it is important to recognize the qualities and skills that lead to success. They include: 

  • Confidentiality. Information gathered by child social workers must be treated with the utmost care to ensure that the privacy and confidentiality of the family and children are preserved.
  • Empathy. When children and families experience challenges they cannot manage on their own, child welfare social workers must have empathy in order to effectively connect and build rapport with them.
  • Decision-making. When families are in crisis, child welfare social workers have to make difficult decisions as they focus on the well-being of at-risk children. 
  • Communication. While sharp communication skills are required in most professional settings, child welfare social workers must be able to deliver difficult information when families are in crisis. 
  • Cultural awareness. Case workers must also be sensitive to cultural differences and practices. 
  • Respect. Child welfare social workers often see families when they are not at their best, but everyone involved should be treated with respect.
  • Social worker self-care. It is essential that child welfare social workers practice regular self-care to avoid burnout and maintain their own emotional, physical and mental health.

Education and Experience

To be considered for a social worker position, most organizations require at least a bachelor's degree. Often, a Master of Social Work (MSW) is required. 

Coursework in many programs includes internships and field work, but additional on-the-job experiences are generally required to begin work as a child welfare social worker.

Because of the complexities of working with families and children at risk, a child welfare endorsement may be recommended, particularly one that includes specialized coursework in child welfare, working with families or trauma-informed care.


The Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB) develops and oversees the tests and assessments most states use to grant licenses to qualified social workers. The requirements and application process varies from state to state. 

In Michigan, for example, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in social work can earn Licensed Bachelor of Social Work (LBSW) certification after completing at least 4,000 hours of supervised experience and passing the ASWB’s bachelor’s exam. To become Licensed Master’s Social Workers (LMSWs), graduates with a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree must complete at least 4,000 hours of supervised experience and pass the ASWB’s clinical or advanced generalist examination. In addition, Michigan maintains different requirements for earning a limited practice license or working in the public school system. 

In other states, however, such as California and New York, a master’s degree and additional clinical experience, as well as other specific requirements, may be necessary to obtain a social work license. 

What Are the Job Prospects for Child Welfare Social Workers?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that job prospects for social workers will increase by 9% from 2021 to 2031, which is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations. 

The BLS also reported that the median annual wage for social workers was $50,390 in May 2021.

Make a Difference In the Lives of Children as a Child Welfare Social Worker 

The National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System reported that between October 2019 and September 2020, about 3.5 million children were maltreated. If you want to help children who are at risk in their own homes, consider a career in child welfare social work. 

The faith-based Online Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from Spring Arbor University prepares students to understand the complexities of working with individuals and families, research design, social welfare policies and human behavior. Spring Arbor University’s program, accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), also provides internship opportunities where you can put theory into practice. 

Discover the rewards and challenges of helping society with a spiritual perspective by supporting our most vulnerable populations as a child welfare social worker. 

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