Become a Child and Family Social Worker

By Janice Monti
Last Updated: September 25, 2020

Social workers have always advocated for society's most vulnerable individuals, especially at-risk children and families. A child and family social worker provides crucial services, protecting neglected, abused, and economically disadvantaged children and providing struggling families with support and resources.

A BSW or a bachelor's degree in a related field is the most common educational requirement for entry-level social work positions. However, professionals in most states must hold an MSW and licensure to provide clinical services.

While social work salary levels depend on several factors, including specialty and degree, the job and salary outlook continues to outpace many other occupations. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), child, family, and school social workers receive a median annual salary of $47,390.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What degree is required to become a child and family social worker?

    Both bachelor's and master's degrees can lead to ample employment opportunities. While a BSW or similar bachelor's degree prepares graduates for social work assistant, casework, and generalist positions, MSW-holders pursue advanced, specialized, and clinical roles. All states require a master's degree for licensure, although some jurisdictions may offer BSW licenses.

  • Where do child and family social workers work?

    These professionals provide a variety of services to individuals and families in a spectrum of clinical and non-clinical settings, including nonprofit, government, and community organizations. They work in hospitals and healthcare clinics, schools, and child welfare agencies. In addition to human and social services employment, they often find positions in law enforcement agencies, residential facilities, and shelters.

  • How long does it take to become a child and family social worker?

    A bachelor's degree, necessary for most beginning-level positions and as a prerequisite for graduate work, requires approximately four years of full-time attendance. A master's program usually takes an additional two-years to complete, although many schools offer part-time or accelerated options that may shorten or lengthen the time needed to finish the degree.

  • Is a child and family social worker a mandated reporter?

    Because these social workers provide children and families with direct services, they are designated as mandated reporters in all 50 states. While specific standards vary by state, all mandated reporters must report any suspicions of child maltreatment, abuse, neglect, or exploitation or conditions in the home that may result in abuse or neglect.

Roles and Responsibilities of Child and Family Social Workers

Child and family social workers who focus on child welfare take on roles and responsibilities like prevention, parenting and family support, foster care and adoption services, residential and group home placements, and independent living arrangements. Social work professionals who primarily provide services for adolescents must understand adolescent development and offer support and resources for youth coping with family, community, and school difficulties.

Child and family social workers generally express satisfaction with their professional lives, providing positive outcomes for at-risk and vulnerable children and adolescents, and their families. However, they also experience serious challenges that can lead to burnout and a high turnover rate. According to a National Association of Social Workers (NASW) survey of child welfare specialists, these social workers cite the issues confronting their clients as more challenging than workplace problems like heavy caseloads, safety concerns, or the need for professional development.

Top Paying Industries for Child and Family Social Workers

The BLS aggregates industry and earnings data for all social workers, combining child and family social worker salary information with other specialties. As of May 2019, local and state government (excluding education and hospitals), ambulatory healthcare services, and individual and family services ranked as the highest paying industries for all social work specialties. The annual median social worker salaries for all the top-paying industries ranged from $49,090 to $55,500, with the highest earnings paid by local government agencies.

Top Paying States for Child and Family Social Workers

The BLS provides employment and salary data for each state, placing child, family, and school social workers in one occupational category. The East Coast of the United States offers the highest average salaries for these social workers. The District of Columbia provides a mean annual salary of $71,590, followed by New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Maryland, which pay annual incomes between $61,000 and $69,000 a year.

Unsurprisingly, the most populated states employ the most child, family, and school social workers. California, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Illinois employ the highest levels of these professionals. Of these states, New York and California pay the highest mean salaries, offering $60,380 and $59,990 respectively.

Top Paying Metropolitan Areas for Child and Family Social Workers

Child, family and school social workers can find the best paying positions in the nation's urban regions. Connecticut's Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk and Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford regions and the Trenton, New Jersey urban center rank as the top paying metropolitan areas, offering annual average salaries above $70,000.

The nation's three largest metropolitan areas, which include the regions in and around New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, provide the most employment opportunities for these social workers. New York-Newark-Jersey City employs 24,950, paying a mean yearly salary of $63, 590. The Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim region provides jobs for 16,160 with an average annual income of $63,810. The Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metro area offers 10,600 jobs at an average salary of $55,660 a year.

Salary and Job Growth for Child and Family Social Workers

Employment prospects continue to expand for social workers overall. The BLS projects positions for all social work fields to grow by 13% in 2019-2029, much faster than the average for all occupations combined.

Child, family, and school social workers can expect a projected 12% job growth rate through the decade, slightly lower than the growth rate for all social workers. This is primarily due to federal, state, and local budget constraints impacting new positions and replacement hires. However, this lag in growth should not deter students from pursuing careers as child and family social workers. Career opportunities, particularly for clinical social workers with MSW degrees, remain strong.

How to Become a Child and Family Social Worker

Child and family social workers can enter the field with a BSW or a bachelor's degree in a similar field, while clinical positions require an MSW and a state license. Although the National Association of Social Workers offers certifications for BSW and MSW graduates, the MSW degree, licensure, and master's-level certification lead to broader career opportunities.

According to a survey from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), BSW graduates face a limited job market. Only 59% of BSW-holders found employment after graduation, and less than half of this group entered positions in social work.

A bachelor's does provide the academic foundation for a graduate degree, which opens up more advanced career prospects. The CSWE reports that the majority of BSW graduates plan to earn a graduate degree in social work. Almost 95% of survey respondents are currently enrolled or plan to enroll in an MSW program.

Licensure and Certification Requirements

While licensure requirements vary by jurisdiction, the majority of state licensing boards require an MSW to practice. Graduates with BSWs and MSWs may both obtain voluntary certifications from the NASW.

The BSW-level credential, the Certified Children, Youth and Family Social Worker (C-CYFSW), requires a BSW degree and a BSW state license. Applicants must document 20 continuing education credits in bio-psycho-social issues, interventions, or the dynamics of working with children, youth, and families, and at least 1,500 hours of supervised post-BSW work experience.

The Certified Advanced Children, Youth and Family Social Worker (C-ACYFSW) requires an MSW degree and an MSW-level state license. Candidates must have completed 20 hours of population-specific continuing education credits and at least 3,000 hours of supervised, post-MSW work experience.