Is an Undergraduate Degree in Criminal Justice a Good Foundation for a Career in Social Work?

The basic education for a social work career is normally a bachelor's degree related to social work. However, most social work positions require a master's in social work (MSW). Therefore, a criminal justice degree lays an excellent foundation for certain social work careers.

What Degree do Entry-Level Social Workers Generally Have?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor's degree in social work (BSW) is the standard educational requirement for most social work jobs. Similar degrees in psychology or sociology are also acceptable. However, the education requirements for social workers are currently changing to include law and criminal justice degrees. This is because social workers, who are employed by State Child Welfare agencies, spend most of their time dealing with attorneys, family judges and court administration. To illustrate, child protective service (CPS) social workers are mandated to remove children from neglectful or abusive home environments. The removal of children will only take a few hours, but the mountain of legal paperwork and the bureaucratic processes will take months to years.

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Why Study Criminal Justice?

Abusive parents aren't the only ones who may engage in criminal behaviors. In fact, many foster children who permanently end up in the child welfare system are more likely to engage in criminal behavior, abuse drugs and run away from their foster home. This is because they are often traumatized by their experiences. These vulnerable foster children will benefit from having a social worker with a background in criminal justice. For example, criminal justice programs focus on report writing and communication, which are major parts of every legal or law enforcement job. However, as previously mentioned, they are a big part of a social workers' job. Social workers must clearly document every communication and interaction with clients. For example, clients who have had their children removed by the State are guaranteed weekly, supervised visits. The visit documentation will be reviewed by family court judges and attorneys during the trial process to make important legal decisions. Excellent documentation that demonstrates positive progress will help reunite reformed parents with their children.

How Will Criminal Justice Coursework Benefit a Social Worker?

A criminal justice degree is a suitable education for a social work career. First, criminal justice degrees focus on criminology and police work. Social workers must often communicate and interact with law enforcement. In fact, CPS child abuse investigation departments often work in law enforcement buildings with local police child abuse detectives. Second, criminal justice programs teach the student about court and prosecution processes. Social workers are often subpoenaed to testify in family court. They will be grilled in court by a judge and the attorneys' of abusive parents who often attempt to win back custody of their children through bureaucratic manipulation. Therefore, CPS social workers must have a strong background in court processes and proceedings in order to protect their foster children from being placed back with abusive parents who refuse to change.

A criminal justice degree is an excellent choice for any student who wishes to work as a CPS social worker. A criminal justice degree is the proper education for a social work career because it prepares students to work with law enforcement, create legal reports and protect the public.

See also: Top 25 Most Affordable Master's in Social Work Programs