A Career in Child and Family Social Work

The importance of human relationships within the context of clients’ lives is a cross-cutting principle in the field of social work.1  Child and family social workers draw on their understanding of a complex web of relationships (not to mention their knowledge of theories, practice, policy, and research) to assist vulnerable clients in developing healthy interactions within their families and broader social systems. Helping children and families to cope with trauma, loss, mental illness, substance use, interpersonal and/or community violence, and to navigate intricate social service systems, are key components of the helping process. Work in this field takes place in a wide-range of settings, and the scope of responsibilities can be vast.

What Does a Child and Family Social Worker Do?

Whether you’re working with children living in unhealthy and/or unsafe situations, visiting a school to help a child with academic or social and emotional challenges, assisting parents interested in adopting children, coordinating among agencies on behalf of a child or family, supervising case managers, or helping parents/primary caregivers to cope with social, emotional, financial, legal, or other issues, a career in child and family social work requires a tremendous level of skill, flexibility, and commitment. The stress level can be high, but the potential benefits to children, families, and society as a whole are far-reaching.

What is the Career Outlook for Child and Family Social Work?

The market for well-trained and highly qualified child and family social workers is strong and a growth rate of 6 percent (roughly 19,000 new positions) is expected through 2024.2  The median salary for this career is $42,350 with a low rate of unemployment. Notably, salaries in this sector are higher than for mental health and substance use counselors. There’s also room for career advancement as well as job flexibility in many settings. According to national rankings, child and family social work is ranked 8th in the list of best social service jobs.

What Education is Needed for a Career in Child and Family Social Work?

A bachelor’s (BSW) degree is required for jobs in child and family social work, although you’ll have a greater likelihood of obtaining more specialized and/or leadership positions with an MSW. The Widener MSW Program curriculum3  provides the necessary depth and breadth for those entering the field. Course requirements include social work practice, theories of human behavior, policy, and research. Electives are offered in work with children, adolescents, couples, families, and groups. Widener’s Master of Social Work program is also trauma-informed, which means that information regarding trauma is infused across the curriculum. Following publication of the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study,4  as well as an explosion of knowledge regarding neurobiology and its role in childhood development, there’s been a much greater emphasis on the impact of trauma, particularly in our understanding of and working with children and their families. Widener offers a course on the treatment of trauma as well as a trauma certificate program for those interested in advanced level training.5

What Licenses are Required to be a Child and Family Social Worker?

Obtaining a license for child and family social work is not required across all jobs in the field, but, as in most areas of social work, it can certainly open doors to increased responsibilities, job opportunities, and higher salaries. (Be aware that licensure requirements differ from state to state.) Certifications are also available for those seeking increased specialization. The Certified Children, Youth, and Family Social Worker and Certified School Social Work Specialist credentials require post-graduate experience and continuing education.6

If you would like to prepare for a future career in child and family social work, Widener’s Master of Social Work program can provide you with the knowledge and skills to achieve your career goals. Contact a program manager at 844-386-7321 to learn more or request more information.

About the Author

Eric Stein, DSW, LSW is a Clinical Assistant Professor at Widener University’s Center for Social Work Education. He received his master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to teaching at Widener, he has taught at UPENN, Rutgers, Marywood, and Stockton University. He has been involved in the field of social work for more than 15 years in clinical and administrative positions both in Philadelphia and San Francisco. His practice has included mental health and community-based services for individuals, children, youth, and families living in marginalized and oppressed communities.


1National Association of Social Workers, “Social Work Code of Ethics.” Accessed January 10, 2017, https://www.socialworkers.org/About/Ethics/Code-of-Ethics
2Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Occupational Outlook Handbook,” Accessed January 10, 2017, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/social-workers.htm
3Widener University, “Curriculum, Master of Social Work,” Accessed January 10, 2017, http://www.widener.edu/academics/schools/shsp/social_work/

4Centers for Disease Control, “Adverse childhood experiences: ACEs.” Accessed September 30, 2016, https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/
5Widener University, “Certificate Programs , Master of Social Work,” Accessed January 10, 2017, http://www.widener.edu/academics/schools/shsp/social_work/graduate/

6National Association of Social Workers, “NASW Professional Social Work Credentials and Advanced Practice Specialty Credentials,” Accessed on January 10, 2017, http://www.naswdc.org/credentials/list.asp