What Are Child and Family Social Workers?
Also called community social work, social services work, or human services, this branch of social work involves direct services to individuals and families in government, nonprofit, or other community settings. They are a much-needed safety net for people experiencing socioeconomic challenges and heroes for children and families in need of advocacy.
You can find human services social workers in child welfare agencies, community youth programs, shelters, or other non-clinical settings. The primary focus of social services is to help people care for themselves and their children while meeting their basic needs. Social Services workers aim to prevent or remove barriers to self-sufficiency and restore social functioning. They are caseworkers, delinquency prevention counselors, case managers, child advocates, prevention educators, mediators, and adoption facilitators.
Issues your clients bring to the table might include substance abuse, mental health, anger management, domestic violence, poverty, unemployment or underemployment, poor life management skills, or trauma. Human services social workers address these concerns through basic counseling, psychosocial or environmental assessment, information and referral, collaboration with community partners, coordinating out of home placements or adoptions, life-skills coaching, provision of resources, advocacy, case management, and ongoing monitoring. Often, this subfield is what the general public thinks of when they think of social work. Child and family social workers make up nearly half of Americans employed in the social work field.
How Do I Know If Social Services Is Right For Me?
How well do you read people? In social services you may be charged with determining the best placement for a child or family of children. In some states, you are designated as their legal guardian until they are reunified or permanently split from their biological parents. You will need to be good at assessing people’s emotions and behaviors.
Ask yourself, why do you want to be a social worker? Social services work is notoriously demanding for comparatively low pay. Workers carry hefty caseloads and the work can be emotionally taxing. Consequently, there is a high turnover rate in this field.
How well do you control your emotions? Since many of the families you work with are in crisis, it is important that you not join them in that state of anxiety. Your clients need to trust that you will be calm in the face of adversity.
How Much Do Human Services Social Workers Make?
Social services workers are not in it for the money. Financially speaking, these social workers are at the bottom of the totem pole, making between $20,000 and $42,000 annually to start. The median salary for this subfield is $41,530. However, longevity is definitely rewarded here and some human service social workers with twenty or more years of experience are making as much as $102,000 annually.
The job market for this group of social workers looks good. With higher than average turnover and the increasing need for this type of services, particularly during hard economic times, social services workers are in high demand.
What Are The Requirements?
For many social services jobs, a Bachelor’s in Social Work is all that is required, particularly for government agencies. Supervisory positions or team leaders, those who work in the private or nonprofit sectors, and those with more clinical roles will require a Master’s in Social Work. Some states have specific certification or post-graduate courses processes required for social workers that are specific to your career. Since these jobs are less clinical, it is less likely you will need to go through a full state licensure process. Getting licensed, however, might help you advance in the field, particularly if you are interested in an administrative role.
A Day in the Life of a Youth and Families Social Worker
As a frontline youth and family social worker, you receive reports of abuse and neglect from a hotline respondent or law enforcement and are charged with investigating these allegations. You are typically assigned to go into the home and assess the child’s safety, determine if the child is safe in the home or needs to be removed immediately, and identify ongoing services. A plan is developed for both the child and the parent, which may or may not include criminal charges or a plan for reunification. Social workers then monitor the child and family on an ongoing basis.
Conducting investigations of abuse and neglect includes individual interviews with family members, teachers and other school staff, neighbors, and any service providers already involved with the family. You may provide reports to the district attorney’s office, share your findings in court, and monitor parental compliance with the court’s recommendations.
For children removed from their parents’ custody, if there is a plan for reunification, you work with the parents on a treatment plan to address the concerns leading to your referral. This might include: overseeing repairs to the physical habitat, connecting parents with clinical resources (i.e. addiction treatment, anger management counseling), assistance with their basic needs (i.e. job-seeking, financial assistance), transporting and supervising family members for visits with the removed child, meeting with children in their foster homes and communicating with the foster parents, providing updates to the courts, and reassessing and monitoring the child’s safety after they are returned to their parents. As a human services social worker you have one of the most important jobs in the world: keeping children safe.