Career Spotlight: Child Welfare Social Worker

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Child welfare social workers can have positive effects on children’s lives.

Child welfare social workers make positive impacts on children’s lives, working with families to prevent risks and with government agencies to eliminate dangers. Social workers are critical to safeguarding the physical, psychological, emotional, and social well-being of children.

Working as a child welfare social worker involves talking to children and their family members, collecting evidence, and determining an appropriate plan of action. They interact with law enforcement, health care professionals, and education leaders to help minors through difficult times.

A career in social work for child welfare can help reduce the shortage of child protection workers nationwide. A vital component to success in the field is preparation, which could include a master’s in social work, researchers with the Social Work Policy Institute found.

“In the child welfare field, research shows that those who are most prepared to do the job are also the most likely to remain on the job,” the organization’s leaders said. “Numerous studies indicate that professional commitment is a major factor in continuing to work in the child welfare field.”

Data shows there is a great need for more child welfare workers in the United States. Child protection service agencies investigated an estimated 4.1 million child maltreatment allegations nationwide in 2016, according to the latest federal data. Of those, 2.3 million allegations (involving 3.6 million children) were determined appropriate for further evaluation. Researchers said as many as 3,000 children died in 2016 as a result of abuse.

Child protection workers most often work with local and state agencies. Their daily jobs are diverse and demanding.

Working as a Child Welfare Social Worker

Child protection social workers spend their days engaging in a multitude of tasks, from counseling parents and documenting interactions to scheduling meetings and attending court hearings. While no two days are ever the same, some of the general functions include:

Investigating allegations

The first and foremost job of any child welfare social worker is to review allegations of abuse or neglect. To do this, they must speak with children, parents, associated adults, law enforcement, school administrators, physicians, and other parties that may have information. Interviews can be used to collect evidence (also called a forensic interview) or get information. Law enforcement usually conducts its own investigation into the allegations for possible charges. The social worker focuses on the needs of the child, while law enforcement determines whether a crime has been committed.

Removing children from abusive and neglectful situations

When allegations are substantiated, child protection social workers work with the legal system to remove the child from the home. In many states, social workers must have orders from a judge to remove a child unless the caseworker determines the child is in imminent danger.

Children who are abused and removed from home can be placed in protective custody with a suitable relative or in foster care. In many states, children can only be kept in protective custody for a predetermined number of days.

In most cases, adults accused of neglect or abuse must appear before a judge to decide how the case will proceed. The hearing does not address any criminal charges. Child welfare social workers attend court proceedings for their cases to provide insight and information.

Working with families

When a case is determined unfounded, child abuse investigators provide families with additional resources for assistance. The interventions may include access to anger management or parenting classes, counseling, and financial aid.

In some cases when the findings are unfounded, child abuse social workers may continue services for the family to watch for other possible problems. In other situations, the case is closed with no further follow-up.

Collaborating with local, state, and federal resources

Child welfare social workers collaborate with private and public agencies for resources that can help children and their families. These collaborations and partnerships can be with individuals such as physicians, educators, and law enforcement or with entities including communities and neighborhoods. Studies show these collaborations play a positive role in child safety.

Outlook for Child Protection Social Workers

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said child, family, and school social workers earn on average $48,430. From 2016 to 2026, the demand for child, family, and school social workers is expected to increase by 45,000, or 14 percent.

The Social Work Policy Institute said child social work professionals who earn a master’s in social work are viewed more positively by clients. Busy professionals who are considering a career in social work or who want to advance their established social work career can turn to online master’s in social work programs. Such online programs provide flexible and convenient learning opportunities.

At Ohio University, the online Master of Social Work (MSW) program also provides students with the chance to learn from some of the leading social workers in the nation. The curriculum aims to help students understand the struggles facing children and families, particularly in rural areas. 

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Social Work (MSW) Program

Ohio University’s online MSW program provides an in-depth education for anyone who wants to help children and families in need. The innovative and engaging coursework allows students to expand their existing knowledge about the field. At the same time, the field practicums, an integral part of the curriculum, offer students direct social work experience while working under top professionals.

Accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), the university’s MSW program meets the national standards in curriculum. The university is also accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, one of the leading accreditation agencies in the United States.


Child Welfare Information Gateway, Child Maltreatment 2016: Summary of Key Findings
Childhelp, Child Abuse Statistics & Facts
Oklahoma Department of Human Services, A Day in the Life of a Child Welfare Specialist
Child Welfare Information Gateway, Collaboration
U.S. Department of Labor, Careers in Social Work: Outlook, Pay, and More